Citations for Past Winners of the Davis Center Book Prize

2016

Douglas Rogers for The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism (Cornell University Press)

The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism is a book that resists easy categorization. It is many studies in one: an organizational analysis of the transformations in the Russian oil complex from socialist to post-socialist times, a study in the cultural significance of oil, an exploration of the cultural politics of the Perm region, and a case study of the center-region relations in Russia today. The book is unique in that it approaches its central subject – the Russian oil complex – not only through a political and economic, but also a cultural and a social lens. In doing so, the author uncovers many striking connections between the organization of the oil extraction industry, state-corporate relations within this industry, and the place of oil in the region’s cultural imagination. The economic centrality of oil, and the uneven economic development associated with the oil industry, the book argues, informed the fervent cultural production of festivals and indeed the notion of “cultural depth” that they deployed in ways both comparable to, but also distinct from, the oil-state-culture nexus described in studies of “petro states” elsewhere. The book balances masterfully between its attention to inherent legacies of Soviet approaches to oil and culture on the one hand, and contemporary political and economic studies of global oil extraction, on the other. As such, it manages to paint a rich, complex, and profound picture of Russia’s oil industry at the intersection of culture, geography, politics, and the economy, that no scholar of Russia can afford to miss. 

2015

Valerie Sperling for Sex, Politics, & Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia (Oxford University Press)

Valerie Sperling’s book, Sex, Politics, & Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia, is the definitive account of Russia’s extreme new gender regime. In this volume Sperling revisits the terrain of her earlier path-breaking book, Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition (1999), in which she tracked the development of the Russian women’s movement as a lens onto the fraught democratization process in Russia. How things have changed, and yet remained the same! In Sex, Politics, & Putin, readers will find a fascinating and theoretically rich description of the current regime’s exploitation of feminism and homosexuality to create political legitimacy — an account that draws on a wealth of field interviews, case studies, social media resources, and Sperling’s long engagement with the topic of gender politics. Yet this is more than just a book about gender politics. Just as her earlier book anatomized and theorized the links between regime change and social activism in Yeltsin’s Russia, this newer work again sets the parameters for understanding civil society, legitimacy, and contentious politics in a re-authoritarianizing state.

Honorable Mentions

Yanni Kotsonis for States of Obligation: Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet Republic (University of Toronto Press)

Yanni Kotsonis’ book displays a remarkable depth of scholarship and helpfully contextualizes the Russian/Soviet experiences of taxation and citizenship within the broader field of comparative state-building.

Samuel A. Greene for Moscow in Movement: Power and Opposition in Putin’s Russia (Stanford University Press)

Samuel A. Greene’s Moscow in Movements provides a comprehensive study of social movements in Russia from 2005 through the summer of 2013 and offers a rich and refreshing analytical framework for thinking about social protest, elite strategies, and state-society relations under Putin.

2014

Erin Koch for Free Market Tuberculosis: Managing Epidemics in Post-Soviet Georgia (Vanderbilt University Press)

Free Market Tuberculosis is a groundbreaking book that makes important contributions to postsocialist studies, social studies of medicine, development studies, and others. In Free Market Tuberculosis, Erin Koch investigates the social life of tuberculosis and TB interventions in post-Soviet Georgia as she documents more broadly the intended and unintended consequences of global standardization in an era of neoliberal capitalism. The book is at once a detailed study of the TB crisis in Georgia and an impressive study of global health:  how a globalized system of treatment lands in a place that is lacking the resources – social, economic, and political – to implement it effectively, and how this affects both the treatment and the spread of the disease.  Koch also interrogates the ways in which the standardized treatment program endorsed by the World Health Organization (Directly Observed Therapy, Short-Course, or “DOTS”) has articulated with on-the-ground historical and cultural understandings about public health concerns such as TB, and Soviet practices associated with how health care is delivered.  Drawing on her own anthropological research conducted since 2000, as well as published historical sources, Koch illuminates the many paradoxes of standardization of global health protocols as she details the “social fight against tuberculosis” as a local project that is nevertheless imbricated in multiple historical, scientific, and rhetorical processes. Together, the perspectives of diverse actors—TB specialists, laboratory technicians, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization, prison officials, and the ethnographer herself—show how, as Koch argues, “tuberculosis is plural, not singular,” and as such demands interventions that go far beyond the primarily biomedical ones that comprise DOTS, the current global “gold standard” in TB treatment. Koch shows that the story of TB in Georgia today is one of structured uncertainties and competing logics of expertise amid the implementation of market-based health services, all of which are embedded in a vibrant culture of medicine that greatly pre-dates the Soviet period. Carefully researched and written in an engaging style, the book ultimately tracks how biopolitics and global governmentality operate as post-Soviet space is folded into and disciplined by global neoliberal capitalist institutions, systems and standards.

Honorable Mentions

Anya Bernstein for Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press)

Bernstein adroitly integrates the study of postsocialism, Buddhism, and transnationalism to investigate how Buryats have “collectively developed…a characteristically Buddhist ‘body politics’” that allows them to maintain “their long-standing mobility—across the spatial borders of national-states and the temporal horizons between life and death, as well as across multiple sites of belonging” (p. 6). Bernstein investigates this Buryat Buddhist body politics across time and space by following the trails of numerous “emblematic” and “exemplary” bodies, such as the dead bodies of famous monks, the celibate bodies of Buddhist monastics, the temporary bodies of reincarnated lamas, the virtually dismembered bodies of lay disciples, and others. This ambitious project necessitated intensive fieldwork in three locations—Buryatia, the Drepung Monastery in southern India, and Dharamsala, India—as well as archival historical research. In examining these “religious bodies politic” Bernstein explores key themes of broad interest in the social sciences: different manifestations and regulations of bodies; intersections of religion and politics; negotiations of morality, and how morality and religion are intertwined; moralities and money/economics; and transnationalism. In this finely-crafted, stirring book, Bernstein shows how “a characteristic mix of the Buddhist, Russian Orthodox, Soviet, and postsocialist body politics, developed by Buryats over the centuries of borderland existence both within the Russian state and across the larger Tibeto-Mongolian world, have enabled extraordinary mobility across space, time, and even across life and death” (pp. 209-210). She argues convincingly that these flows have in fact helped recenter world Buddhism in the postsocialist period.  

Krisztina Fehérváry for Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary (Indiana University Press)

Fehérváry considers the material transformations to Hungarian domestic space from the 1950s to 2000 by tracking five successive “aesthetic regimes,” or “politically charged assemblages of material qualities that have provoked widely shared affective responses” (p. 3). The book investigates both how the aesthetics of everyday experience were politicized in socialist Hungary and how current standards of living—often assumed to be “new” articulations that emerged in the postsocialist period of neoliberalism—in fact have roots in late socialist consumer culture.  Fehérváry gracefully integrates an innovative conceptual framework with impressive methodology and thorough empirical analysis of the connections between socio-political systemic change, the shifting materialities of housing as imagined and materialized, and the production of socially mobilized subjectivities.  The author offers an impressive treatment of how this played out in the planned steel city of Dunaújváros (Hungary’s first model socialist town), in greater Hungary, and in the Soviet bloc more generally through a series of postwar shifts.  A defining contribution in the scholarship on material culture and changes over time in Soviet and post-Soviet cities, Politics in Color and Concrete is both a highly informative and thoroughly enjoyable read. 

 

2013

Gerald Easter for Capital, Coercion, and Postcommunist States (Cornell University Press)

The question of why we observe different regime outcomes across postcommunist states has been at the heart of the study of transition politics since the mid-1990s. Relying on an interdisciplinary framework, Gerald Easter’s masterful study transforms the debate to illuminate the complexity of state-society relations in the postcommunist context. The rich analytic narratives of tax policy and coercive capacity in two states, Russia and Poland, are rooted in history and combine a wide range of evidence to support the argument.  

Easter’s book is an outstanding contribution to the literature on regime change that is appropriate for graduate students and advanced undergraduates in a range of disciplines.  The committee agreed that this is one of the best-written, most accessible pieces of research to appear in recent years. As one committee member argued, “Easter has a way of finding just the right quote or turn of phrase to make the intricate world of fiscal politics easy to understand. More than this, he brings his subject to life for the reader.”

Honorable Mention

Sonia Hirt, Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-Socialist City (Wiley-Blackwell)

Relying on a detailed and wide-ranging empirical study of Sophia, Bulgaria, Sonia Hirt provides a thoroughly researched and brilliantly written study of post-socialist urbanism that is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary urban politics, and especially questions related to the privatization of public spaces. This timely study focuses on the cultural forces that are reshaping the spaces and spatiality of the post-socialist city without losing sight of the importance of economic and political factors. A culmination of over a decade researching the social and spatial change in post-socialist Sophia, Hirt’s writing reflects a deep scholarly engagement and personal connection with the city, and at the same time gives voice to those taking part in and resisting these changes. This interdisciplinary study will find a broad audience in contemporary post-socialist studies.

2012

Gail Kligman and Katherine Verdery for Peasants Under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962 (Princeton University Press)

Peasants Under Siege is a fascinating account of the politics, policies, and lived realities of collectivization in Romania. Based on an impressive array of archival and interview material, Kligman and Verdery unearth the complex ways that collectivization was accomplished in Romania and its effects on those it targeted. The book is stunning in both its breadth and depth; it covers the policies and practices of the state’s takeover of private property as well as the many ways this changed the social organization and relationships of village life. And the book does all of this with skill and clarity, offering an account of striking complexity, nuance, and subtlety. The authors did a wonderful job grounding their historical analysis in on-going conceptual debates in the region—linking the Romanian case to discussions of the form and focus of the communist party/state and drawing out the relevance of collectivization for questions of personhood, property, and collective memory. As one member of the award committee put it: “This is what you get when you put two of the best minds in the field together: an empirically rich and conceptually provocative study that changes how we think about a significant chapter in history.”

2011

Kristen Ghodsee for Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria (Princeton University Press)

Kristen Ghodsee’s Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria is a sophisticated, nuanced analysis of shifting identities in post-socialist eastern Europe. Focusing on the Pomaks in a former mining town in southern Bulgaria, she argues that the rise of a more “orthodox” Islamic identity in Bulgaria is driven by a mixture of international factors and the local socioeconomic context. As result of these factors, Islamist institutions have become a viable substitute for both workplace and social supports that were damaged by the end of socialism, providing jobs, focus and community. Drawing on a wide range of evidence including ethnographic studies, evaluations of the use of public spaces, and analyses of economic conditions and religious publications, Ghodsee has written an exceptional book that makes an important contribution to our field and is relevant for a broad community of scholars.

Honorable Mention

Sarah Phillips, Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine (Indiana University Press)

The prize committee unanimously agreed that Sarah Phillips’ rich ethnographic study, Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine, deserves significant mention. This study provides an important perspective on civic organizations in new democracies. Phillips’ compelling and beautifully written narrative argues that civic organizations in Ukraine are largely driven by personal need and access to scarce resources. The study provides a rich history of state policy and social attitudes toward disabled citizens in the Soviet space. As such, Phillips’ study breaks important new ground in addressing the concerns of the disabled as well as the structural impediments to the formation of civic organizations in post-Communist states.

2010

Olga Shevchenko for Crisis and the Everyday in Post-Socialist Moscow (Indiana University Press)

Olga Shevchenko's study of contemporary life in Moscow provides an excellent balance of rich ethnographic research, an insightful theoretical framework, and engaging writing. She integrates many different aspects of urban life during this period, and offers the kind of ethnographic breadth and depth that is difficult to achieve in urban ethnographies. Her identification of "total crisis" as the defining feature of post-socialist life structures a fascinating analysis of the seemingly contradictory narratives and choices of the people she portrays through lively descriptions and skillful incorporation of different modes of research. Shevchenko invites the reader into everyday life in Moscow and offers insights into how people navigate the complicated world in which extended crisis becomes lived reality.

Honorable Mentions

Bruce Grant, The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus (Cornell University Press)

Bruce Grant crafts a smart and unique take on the complex and acrimonious relationship between Russia and the Caucasus. It is an issue of historic and contemporary importance, which Grant illuminates in this highly original case study, drawn from multi-media and interview sources and embedded in a rich intellectual discussion. It is a marvelously written and lyrical book.

Douglas Rogers, The Old Faith and the Russian Land: A Historical Ethnography of Ethics in the Urals (Cornell University Press)

Rogers shows that there is still considerable value in a village ethnography. The focus on ethical systems and their effects on the management of human capital is a valuable addition to the anthropology of post-socialism. It is especially noteworthy for the attention it brings to communities like Sepych, whose experiences and internal logic often contrast sharply with the visions and goals of policy-makers. The study is enriched by combining a historical approach with contemporary ethnographic research.

2009

Jessica Allina-Pisano for The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village: Politics and Property Rights in the Black Earth (Cambridge University Press)

Allina-Pisano's monograph reveals how private property reforms introduced into post-Soviet rural communities, long-organized along notions of collective ownership, led to impoverishment instead of prosperity. She deals with a complex of structural, cultural, and historical mechanisms that contribute to current rural conditions, and does so subtly, smartly, and with compelling style and grace. By uncovering the informal social constraints on formal economic rights, Allina-Pisano explains the transformation of state socialism's former collective farmers into monopoly capitalism's new rural proletarians. Her project is especially noteworthy for the extensive and intensive field work, conducted in rural villages in Ukraine and Russia. Meticulously building from the ground up, Allina-Pisano demonstrates that a well-constructed local ethnography offers invaluable insight into the unanticipated outcomes of post-communist economic reform.

Honorable Mentions

Scott Gehlbach, Representation through Taxation: Revenue, Politics, and Development in Postcommunist States (Cambridge University Press)

Gehlbach has produced a first-rate monograph on the emergence of variant tax systems among the post-communist states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He successfully challenges the long-held conventional wisdom in American political science that organized interests will be better represented in the halls of political power than will unorganized interests. Instead, Gehlbach shows how the state's delivery of public goods had less to so with the organization of wealth, and more to do with its accessibility. His findings are enhanced by a mixed research methodology, combining game theory and statistical analysis with field work and contextual framing. Gehlbach's monograph is a major contribution to the post-communist political economy.

Charles King, The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (Oxford University Press)

Ghost of Freedom is very clearly driven by a social science question: what forces account for the bellicosity of Caucasus social history. It is a history only in the sense that it interrogates a broad sweep of time and is chronologically structured, but if one looks closely, almost every aspect of the book, every chapter, every historical anecdote, is in some way connected to the overarching problematics of colonial rule, politics, and strategic cooptation, struggles for independence and control of resources (political, social, geographic, and material), and the impossibly intricate interrelationships between communities, identities, and interests across the region, making it a work of politics in historic mode. The real accomplishment of this book is the way in which King consistently undermines a number of essentializing modes of explaining the Caucasus.

 2008

Philip G. Roeder for Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism (Princeton University Press)

A political scientist, Roeder’s ambitious study asks why there are less than 200 nation-states in the world today, even though there have been more than 800 active nation-state projects. Drawing on the Soviet and post-Soviet experience, Roeder’s political institutional explanation is straightforward, original and convincingly argued on the basis of extensive historical analysis. This is comparative, multi-method research at its best, and a significant contribution to theories of the nation-state and conflicts over nation-states in the Soviet and post-Soviet world.

Honorable Mentions

Zsuzsa Gille, From the Cult of Waste to the Trash Heap of History (Indiana University Press)

A sociologist, Gille employs "thick description" to explain changing rationalizations, ideologies, and unintended consequences of industrial waste under state socialism and capitalism in Hungary. The book provides an original analysis and compelling case study, which poses intriguing questions about social conceptions of industrial practice and economic value.

Catherine Wanner, Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism (Cornell University Press)

An anthropologist, Wanner provides an expertly crafted and elegantly written study of the resurgence of evangelical Protestantism in Ukraine. Based on exemplary multi-sited ethnographic research in both the US and Ukraine, the book combines thoughtful and thorough historical contextualization with extended forays into the evangelical worlds and shows the processes through which international movements were able to establish a presence in disenfranchised communities as well as what they contributed to those communities.