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Inglorious Heroes of Labor. Transcarpathian Seasonal Workers during Late Socialism

Dates:
  • Fri 15 Mar 2019 15.00 - 17.00
  Add to Calendar 2019-03-15 15:00 2019-03-15 17:00 Europe/Paris Inglorious Heroes of Labor. Transcarpathian Seasonal Workers during Late Socialism

This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of seasonal labor migration during the late Soviet period and it is specifically focused on Transcarpathia, a region with a long tradition of seasonal labor migration. While tracing the Soviet authorities’ reactions to seasonal migration during the period of 1950–1980s, I observed that despite the state’s attempts to limit and control seasonal migration by administrative means, seasonal workers found ways to bypass all constraints and managed to establish durable work contacts with employers in other Ukrainian regions, as well as in, for instance, Latvia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. How this persistence, in view of the authorities’ explicit disapproval, can be explained? By bringing together scattered archival sources, Soviet publications and oral histories of veteran seasonal workers from Transcarpathia, I claim that the persistence of seasonal labor migration from this region was informed by complex relationships between the late Soviet economic condition and the cultural dispositions of seasonal workers. I trace these relationships on different levels of social interactions: state regulations, community culture, individual agency, and mediating agents – such as procurement agents and collective farms chairmen, who became important actors in the networks of the informal distribution during the late Soviet period. I contend that while providing the Soviet formal economy, prone to labor shortages, with flexible and relatively more productive labor, the workers engaged in informal practices that undermined the Soviet ideas of distributive justice. In the context of the late Soviet informal liberalization , individual economic initiatives (within the boundaries of the planned economy) were glossed over or even encouraged, though they were still politically and morally condemned, since they were said to go against the prescriptions of communist values. These moral conundrums were discussed in the Soviet media, where seasonal workers, known as shabashniki were often portrayed as dishonest . The workers themselves, however, resisted or ignored these marginalizing accounts, as their self-esteem was rooted in their result-oriented work ethic, coordinated productivity and the appreciation of their earning capacity in the local communities of Transcarpathia. With their earnings from seasonal labor, they obtained an opportunity to significantly upgrade their houses, which became the main symbol of relations of ownership and social distinction after collectivization in the Transcarpathian countryside.

Sala del Torrino - Villa Salviati- Castle DD/MM/YYYY
  Sala del Torrino - Villa Salviati- Castle

This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of seasonal labor migration during the late Soviet period and it is specifically focused on Transcarpathia, a region with a long tradition of seasonal labor migration. While tracing the Soviet authorities’ reactions to seasonal migration during the period of 1950–1980s, I observed that despite the state’s attempts to limit and control seasonal migration by administrative means, seasonal workers found ways to bypass all constraints and managed to establish durable work contacts with employers in other Ukrainian regions, as well as in, for instance, Latvia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. How this persistence, in view of the authorities’ explicit disapproval, can be explained? By bringing together scattered archival sources, Soviet publications and oral histories of veteran seasonal workers from Transcarpathia, I claim that the persistence of seasonal labor migration from this region was informed by complex relationships between the late Soviet economic condition and the cultural dispositions of seasonal workers. I trace these relationships on different levels of social interactions: state regulations, community culture, individual agency, and mediating agents – such as procurement agents and collective farms chairmen, who became important actors in the networks of the informal distribution during the late Soviet period. I contend that while providing the Soviet formal economy, prone to labor shortages, with flexible and relatively more productive labor, the workers engaged in informal practices that undermined the Soviet ideas of distributive justice. In the context of the late Soviet informal liberalization , individual economic initiatives (within the boundaries of the planned economy) were glossed over or even encouraged, though they were still politically and morally condemned, since they were said to go against the prescriptions of communist values. These moral conundrums were discussed in the Soviet media, where seasonal workers, known as shabashniki were often portrayed as dishonest . The workers themselves, however, resisted or ignored these marginalizing accounts, as their self-esteem was rooted in their result-oriented work ethic, coordinated productivity and the appreciation of their earning capacity in the local communities of Transcarpathia. With their earnings from seasonal labor, they obtained an opportunity to significantly upgrade their houses, which became the main symbol of relations of ownership and social distinction after collectivization in the Transcarpathian countryside.


Location:
Sala del Torrino - Villa Salviati- Castle

Affiliation:
Department of History and Civilization

Type:
Thesis defence

Contact:
Francesca Parenti - Send a mail

Examiner:
Laura Downs (EUI)
Marsha Siefert (CEU)
Lewis H. Siegelbaum (Michigan State University)

Defendant:
Kateryna Burkush (EUI - Department of History and Civilization)

Supervisor:
Pieter M. Judson (EUI - Department of History and Civilization)

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