Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Fellow, Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Michigan
Talk, Text & Land Grabs: Negotiating Place in Eastern Europe's Breadbasket

The study of agrarian political economy is often approached in terms of substance and transaction: scholars and analysts discuss crop prices, soil types, hectarage, tractor sales, garden pests, and so on. Language seems to be a tool for describing the agricultural process, but is rarely considered something that participates in it. Yet agrarian society is permeated by talk and text: land deeds are exchangeable written artifacts; stories factual and supernatural add intangible value to dirt, seeds, and rain; and the work day, whether for fieldhands or business people, is driven by countless instances and layers of interaction. As Ukraine, the fabled ‘breadbasket of Europe,’ officially – and controversially – reopens its land market, ending a 20 year moratorium on the sale of land, considering language in, of, and as political economy has particular purchase. Ethnographically anchored in stakeholders’ practical navigation of the land reforms, my dissertation will examine how an array of linguistic phenomena interlock to create contested notions of ‘place’ in south-central Ukraine. By learning how small landowners, government bureaucrats, and interested buyers assemble and deploy the dossiers of documents required for claiming, appraising, leasing, and exchanging agricultural plots, I will investigate how the linguistic takes on, creates, and transforms value in a dynamic landscape.