IES Graduate Conference: Understanding the Countryside

by Charlotte Campbell and Evan Gong

On Monday, September 9, the Institute of European Studies (IES) and the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES) hosted the graduate student conference “Understanding the Countryside: Rural Europe in a Post-Global World” at the International House. This multidisciplinary event was organized by Alberto Sanchez Sanchez (PhD candidate in Architecture, UC Berkeley) and brought together over 30 graduate students in fields as varied as anthropology, architecture, ecology, international studies, landscape architecture, and political science, from Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Oregon, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, and UC Berkeley.

Students shared their current research projects on the European countryside, going beyond established clichés that tend to oversimplify rural issues by merely comparing them with their urban counterparts. Respondents included John Connelly, Charles L. Briggs, Greg Castillo, Kathryn de Master, Mia Fuller, María Teresa Gómez Villarino, Johanna Schenner, and Andy Shanken.

Student presentations were followed by the keynote lecture “Complicating the Countryside: Reflections on Land, Labor and the Law” by Martha Lampland, Professor of Sociology and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. During her talk, Lampland shared anecdotes from her two years living and conducting field research in a remote Hungarian village. She sought to investigate how social attitudes changed when peasants turned over land to collective farms, and later when Hungary moved towards capitalism after the fall of its communist regime.

Lampland emphasized that social attitudes in the Hungarian countryside were historically more complex than meets the eye. Examining the history of agrarian labor in Hungary in the early 1920s, she showed that peasants had long been subject to dismal living conditions and oppressive state policies similar to those imposed by Stalinist collectivization. However, certain values such as privatization and individualism, typically associated with capitalism, were embodied in Hungarian rural society prior to and throughout the socialist period. These values, Lampland argued, can help explain peasants’ initial resistance to Stalinist Hungary’s violent and ineffective forced collectivization. Decades later, as Hungarian rural society embraced capitalism, these values of work and morality survived unscathed, aiding rural society in the development of capitalism. 

During the Q&A, Lampland addressed questions pertaining to the construction of meaning in rural communities, motivations for resistance against the communist state during the dictatorship and EU policies today. When asked about the current political situation in Hungary, Lampland noted the connection between the lack of secret voting in the countryside and support for Viktor Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz Party. Lampland also re-emphasized the lines of continuity in the history of Hungarian rural communities, while still refuting the idea that agrarian class configurations and identities have remained static. The keynote lecture was followed by a reception that allowed student presenters, faculty, and attendees to interact and discuss some of the ideas presented throughout the day.


Photo, left to right: Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez (Chair of the Organizing Committee), Jan DeLozier (MA Student in Italian Studies, UCLA), keynote speaker Martha Lampland, Katarzyna Krzykawska-Apolinarski (Artist and Associate Professor of Landscape Art, Warsaw University of Life Sciences), Samuel Maddox (Registered Architect), Director of the ISEEES John Connelly, Samuel Morgan (Ph.D. Student in Political Science, UC Irvine), Lindsey M. Foltz (Ph.D. Student in Anthropology, University of Oregon), Nicolás Delgado Álcega (Master of Architecture II Student, Harvard University), Jan Zdrálek (MA Student in International Economics and European & Eurasian Studies, Johns Hopkins University), and IES Director Jeroen Dewulf.