Dr Dace Dzenovska

dace dzenovska web

 

Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration

I am a social cultural anthropologist interested in the changing relationships between people, places, the state and capital in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. To that end, I have studied how residents of Latvia were summoned to change their understandings of self and community via European Union supported tolerance promotion projects. I have also studied what it means for the Latvian nation and state when most of its subjects migrate to live and work in other states—for example, in the United Kingdom. Currently, I am researching the emptying towns and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia in order to understand what it means to live in and govern emptying places, as well as what such places can tell us about how flows of capital and shifts in political authority are reconfiguring the world we live in.

I hold doctoral and master’s degrees in social cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an interdisciplinary master’s degree in humanities and social thought from New York University.

I am co-convening (with Nicolette Makovicky, OSGA) a work-in-progress forum for faculty and students working on themes related to socialism and post-socialism, broadly defined (please see here). This work-in-progress forum is “on sabbatical” for the 2020-2021 academic year.

I am on research leave for 2020-2023, but I continue to work with doctoral students. I welcome applications from students interested in nationalism, liberalism, statehood, sovereignty, capitalism, and migration.

Contact

Email: dace.dzenovska@compas.ox.ac.uk
Twitter: @DaceDzenovska

Current research

My book School of Europeanness: Tolerance and Other Lessons in Political Liberalism (2018, Cornell University Press) examines efforts to instil liberal political virtues in the Latvian society and political institutions as part of postsocialist liberalization and democratization initiatives. The book argues that Eastern Europe should be viewed as a laboratory for the forging of post-Cold War political liberalism in Europe. The book’s chapters focus on: the moral landscape surrounding the history of European colonialism, Soviet socialism, and Latvian nationalism; minority politics; critical thinking; injurious language; and asylum politics and border control. The book shows that Europe’s contemporary liberal democratic polities are based on a fundamental tension between the need to exclude and the requirement to profess and institutionalize the value of inclusion. It also provides insights with regard to the current crisis of political liberalism from a moment in time when its proponents were still confident and from the perspective of a place and people that were thought to have never been liberal.

Since 2010, I study the formation of post-Soviet capitalism and European integration in the Latvian countryside. I analyse leaving and staying as tactics of life in conditions when the countryside is being abandoned by capital and the state. I have also followed those who leave to Boston, Lincolnshire, where they become migrants for the residents of Boston and diaspora for the Latvian state. I have published a Latvian language book on the basis of this research (Aizbraukšana un tukšums Latvijas laukos: Starp zudušām un iespējamām nākotnēm, Zinātne, 2012). I am currently re-writing this book into English.

I have just begun a five-year long European Research Council project entitled Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Democracy After Postsocialism (2020-2025). The project studies the emptying cities, towns, and villages in Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia through the lens of “emptiness” as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed. It proceeds from the observation that many towns and villages across the former socialist space are being abandoned by capital, the state, and people and that there is a proliferation of popular and scholarly imaginaries and discourses of emptiness as the ruination of material, social, and economic life, and the coming of a radically different future. And yet, the material, social, and political contours of emptying and emptiness are poorly understood. This has considerable effects for how people act upon the concrete challenges that emptying and emptiness present. The project thus aims to: (1), study the experiences and narratives of emptiness and emptying; (2), examine the politics and governance of emptying and emptiness; and (3), use postsocialist “emptying” and “emptiness” as lenses for analyzing global reconfigurations of relations between capital, the state, people, and place at a time when capital flows and statecraft are increasingly concentrated in “global cities,” with the rest of urban and non-urban spaces becoming radically disconnected. This article outlines the vision at the basis of the project.

Current DPhil students

Dace also co-supervises Marija Norkunaite (OSGA)

Former DPhil students

Dora Olivia Vicol (2018) 
Hope, help, duty, and disappointment: Romanian mobility and its discontents 

Olivia built her doctoral research on an ethnography of a Romanian migrant network. Using the concept of economy of favours, her thesis showed how the instrumentalisation of personal connections, traditionally seen as a product of dysfunctional socialist economies, was also an essential tactic of getting by in a neoliberal regime where good work and housing are in short supply, and where a little help from friends becomes an everyday mode of navigating precarity. Olivia's doctoral work prompted her to found the Work Rights Centre, a charity that provides free specialist advice and uses evidence based research to advocate for policies that support migrants' social mobility. As the charity's director, she leads on strategy and policy development.

Mayanka Mukherji (2020)
Storeys of Emptiness 

Based on 12 months of ethnographic research in a luxury square and a council estate in Chelsea, London, this thesis questions widespread conceptualisations of empty homes as sites of decay and decline associated with a loss of community. It combines current debates about the transformation of homes into financial assets with the latest material culture approaches to land, belonging and the home, to offer unique insights into everyday experiences of living alongside empty homes. Through rituals and practices such as gardening, visiting the nearby cemetery, drawing family trees and carol singing, the participants in my research created strong feelings of belonging and identity amidst flows of capital and the financialisation of housing. By focusing on specific creative practices that residents engage in to battle or conceal emptiness across the two sites, the thesis extends beyond the policy-oriented approach of “solving” the problem of emptiness, while allowing for a critical interrogation of which homes fall within this problematisation in the first place. Mayanka argues that the perceived emptiness is less about absence and more about neglect towards particular forms of care. By paying close attention to practices of care and the trope of the community that is evoked across both my sites, my research transcends any simplistic binary narrative of emptiness as absence or crisis and reveals instead how the concept is linked with deeply ingrained patterns of ownership, cycles of renewal and long-lasting relationships to land.

Mayanka is a Social Anthropology Fellow at the London School of Economics. She teaches seminars on Economic Anthropology, Anthropology of Revolution, Kinship and Fieldwork Methods.

Claudia Hartman (2021) 
Translocal Intimacy. Understanding Contestations of Migrant Care Work in Adult Social Care in South East England 

The underfunded English adult social care sector struggles to recruit staff for low-waged direct care roles. Employers welcome migrant workers for these roles as they tolerate challenging working conditions. Still, employers fear that the ‘tap’ will soon be turned off as public attitudes disfavour low-skilled labour migration. Grounded in twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in South East England, this study examines migrant care workers’ everyday challenges across the scales of bodies, homes, physical distance, and national communities. It shows that the perceived ease with which the ‘tap’ of migrant care work flows is enabled by the hard-fought resilience of migrant care workers, adult social care service users, and their relatives, and grounded in socio-economic inequalities between people and between localities.

Emma Rimpiläinen (2022)
Mobility that Emplaces: Governance of Presence in the Aftermath of the Donbas War 

This thesis examines displacement in the context of the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that began in 2014. It argues that displacement has affected both those who left Donbas as well as those who stayed. While conventional definitions of displacement posit movement as part of the problem of displacement, the thesis argues that for current and former residents of Donbas mobility is often a means for overcoming it. The thesis is organised around experiences of the “mobile displaced,” that is, people who left from Donbas after 2014 but whose attempts at emplacement elsewhere were frustrated. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork in multiple sites in Ukraine and Russia carried out over the course of a year, as well as a rich selection of historiographical materials, books, and films.

Emma is currently working with the Finnish Refugee Council advising displaced people from Ukraine in Helsinki and briefing government agencies and NGO actors about the societal and political context in Ukraine. In the fall of 2022, she will join the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) at Uppsala University, Sweden, as a postdoctoral researcher to work on her book manuscript provisionally titled "Displacement, Loss of Place, and Mobility that Emplaces: War-Induced Migration from Ukraine’s Donbas Region since 2014.

Maayan Roichman (2022) 
Putting Your Heart On the Screen: An Ethnography of Young Filmmakers in Israel

Putting Your Heart on the Screen explores a new generation of Israeli filmmakers whose approach to filmmaking is defined by their conviction that they both must and can only make films about their own painful experiences—what they call their ‘heart’ (lev). It introduces a new approach to the complex subjective processes at play within film production via its focus on the intersections between this new genre of personal films and the subjectivities and lived experiences of the filmmakers who make them. The thesis argues that the widespread desire among the young filmmakers to make ‘personal films’ emerged from a regime of truth that has become dominant at the expense of other forms of truth telling—a regime in which the truth that the creative subject seeks to uncover and represent is her own ‘wounded heart.’ ‘The heart’ is analysed as a historically particular form of truth that lies at the centre of a complex discursive apparatus consisting of ethical practices, affective orientations, aesthetic forms, spatial components, and economic relations, all of which come to inform the creative practice of filmmaking. 

Maayan Roichman is an Azrieli International Postdoctoral Fellow, both at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the Department of Industrial Engineering, Tel-Aviv University. She is also a Postdoctoral Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Selected publications
school of europeanness

2021. “Existential sovereignty: Latvian People, Their State, and the Problem of Mobility.” In Reeves, Madeleine and Rebecca Bryant (eds). The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty: Enacting State Agency. Forthcoming with Cornell University Press.

2020. “Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Freedom in the Latvian-Russian Borderlands.” In American Ethnologist 47(1):10-26.  

2019. “The Timespace of Emptiness.” In “Orientations to the Future,” Rebecca Bryant and Daniel M. Knight, eds., American Ethnologist website, March 8. 

2018. School of Europeanness: Tolerance and Other Lessons in Political Liberalism in Latvia. Cornell University Press.

2018. “Lessons for Liberalism from the ‘Illiberal East’” (with Larisa Kurtović). Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website, April 25, 2018.

2018. "The Insignificance of Latvia in the Battle Between Good and Evil." Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website, April 25, 2018. 

2018. “’Latvians Do Not Understand Greek People’: Europeanness and Complicit Becoming in the Midst of Financial Crisis.” In Loftsdottir, Kristin, Smith, Andrea & Brigitte Hipfl (eds). Messy Europe: Crisis, Race, and Nation State in a Postcolonial World. Berghahn Books. 

2018. “Emptiness and Its Futures: Staying and Leaving as Tactics of life in Latvia.” Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 80(1): 16-29. 

2018. “Desire for the Political in the Aftermath of the Cold War” (with Nicholas De Genova). Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 80(1): 1-15. 

2017. “Coherent Selves, Viable States: Eastern Europe and the ‘Migration/Refugee Crisis’.”  Slavic Review 76(2): 297-306. 

2017. “‘We Want to Hear From You’: Reporting as Bordering in the Political Space of Europe.” In De Genova, Nicholas (ed). The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering. Duke University Press. 

2016. “Independence is not always what it seems.” In Green, Sarah (ed). “Brexit Referendum: first reactions from anthropology.” Social Anthropology 24(4): 478-502. 

2015. “’Know your diaspora!’ Knowledge production and governing capacity in the context of Latvian diaspora politics.” In Sigona, Nando & Alan Gamlen, Giulia Liberatore, Helen Neveu Kringelbach (eds). Diasporas Reimagined: Spaces, Practices and Belonging. University of Oxford. 

2014. “Bordering Encounters, Sociality, and Distribution of the Ability to Live a Normal Life.” Social Anthropology 22(3): 271-287. 

2014. “Practices and Politics of Rural Living in Latvia: An Interdisciplinary View” (with Guntra Aistara). Journal of Baltic Studies 45(1): 1-16. 

2013. “Historical Agency and the Coloniality of Power in Postsocialist Europe.” Anthropological Theory 13(4): 394-416. 

2013. “The Great Departure: Rethinking National(ist) Common Sense.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(2): 201-218. 

2012. “Don’t Fence Me In: Barricade Sociality and Political Struggles in Mexico and Latvia” (with Iván Arenas). Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(3): 644-678. 

2012. Departure and Emptiness in the Latvian Countryside: Between Lost and Possible Futures [in Latvian]. Riga: Apgāds Turība. 

2010. “Public Reason and the Limits of Liberal Anti-Racism in Latvia.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 75(4): 425-454. 

Articles