The Making of the Peasant in Romanian Ethnology
Otilia Hedeşan, Vintilă Mihăilescu
 

?Between the Euro-American traditions one may also distinguish between anthropologies of ?empire-building? and anthropologies of ?nation-building?. The character of anthropological inquiry in Great Britain has been primarily determined by experience with dark-skinned ?others? in the overseas empire. In contrast, in many parts of the European continent, the relation of national identity and internal otherness tended, in the context on nineteenth century movements of cultural nationalism, to be a more focal issue; and strong traditions of Volkskunde developed quite distinctly from Völkerkunde. The former was the study of the internal peasant others who composed the nation, or potential nations within the imperial state; the latter was the study of more distant others, either overseas or farther back in European history ?(idem: 172).

These different types of otherness are not just physically different, one being more distant then the other. They mean different things and answer to different problems. In both cases, the problem - a crucial political one - is what to do with the Other? But there are different stakes in the two cases, empire- and nation-building being two originally different ?reasons? of anthropological investigation too: it is not the same thing to rule over ?exotic? others of remote colonies and to govern your own others, from eventually different regions! And it is also different to study your own people, speaking the same language as you, and to try hard to get accepted by strange strangers faraway. It is not by chance that most of the representatives of this ?nation-building anthropology? never studied other communities then their own one. Taking the case of Yugoslavia, for instance, ?it is no accident,? Aleksandar Bošković states, ?that no research was done in the various parts of Yugoslavia by members of ?other? ethnic groups (?nations?) from within the country: Croats studied the folklore of Croatia, Serbs that of Serbia, and Slovenians that of Slovenia? (Bošković, 2005: 13). The same in Transylvania: Romanians are studying Romanian folklore, Hungarians their own folklore, and Saxons do not want to interfere with either one or the other of the two communities.

These rather political characteristics are accompanied by methodological differences too. The empire-building anthropology ?became possible starting from a triple experience: the experience of plurality, of alterity and that of identity,? all of which have to be think together(Augé, 1994: 81).Committed rather to specificity, nation-building ethnologies are not submitted to this triple bound Augé is speaking about, and are usually omitting plurality and alterity in their research designs.

Finally, there are many other different ?national conjunctures? beyond this main political and methodological split between nation and empire-building anthropologies. In the case of Romanian ?anthropology,? for instance, one can wonder to what extent and in which way ?the Romanian peasant? was indeed the ?inner other? of this discipline. Our own other, the peasant was rather turned, in this case, to the national Self-being thus the object of sociology too, conceived as it was as a ?science of the nation? (Gusti, 1938).

A first and preliminary question thus arises: having the Peasant as object instead of the Primitive, and a special kind of peasant because of special ?national conjunctures,? can the Romanian anthropology be considered as an ?international anthropology? in the sense discussed above? Is it part of the same story? I believe not. I believe we can not--and should not--speak about anthropology (a ?native anthropology,? for instance, or a genuine Romanian experience in ?doing anthropology at home,? as suggested by Gheorghiţă Geană in 1999). Rather should we take over the suggestion of the international conference of European ?folk ethnographers? held in 1955 in Arnhem to use the general term of  ?national ethnology? when referring to all kinds of scholars of ?folk culture? in the frame of a national space (see Tamás, 1968). In this way, ethnography and folk studies--the main ?anthropological? disciplines in the Romanian case--can be bridged in a common approach, and their common invention of the Peasant may be better understood.

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