Local State and Social Security in Rural Hungary, Romania, and Serbia

September, 2008 to August, 2011
Volkswagen Foundation
Research Area: 

Political and economic changes in the former socialist countries created a great diversity in the forms of the local state and the ways that social security is conceived, arranged and delivered. This project investigates these two concepts in a comparative framework to create new theoretical insights into the working of the state in rural settings and its interrelation with other networks of power. By adopting an anthropological definition of social security, the project seeks to overcome dichotomies between formal state and informal help and between state and non-state actors. Instead, the focus is on the interrelatedness and embeddedness of state actors in local social security arrangements. The project concentrates on two major fields of state action as analytic domains: access to productive resources in agriculture/forestry and access to social assistance. The research objectives of the project are:

- to develop a research concept and comparative methodology for the study of social security and local state formations
- to provide empirical accounts of the different types of relations between local state formations and social security in rural areas
- to identify relationship patterns between local state formations and social security
- to contribute to an improved understanding of the 'state of the post-socialist state'
Nine case studies will be carried out by doctoral and post-doctoral students to capture the diversity of arrangements in rural Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. The organizational set-up includes several cross-visits of researchers, the co-ordinator, and the advisers, as well as meetings with the co-operation partners involved. Activities across the field sites will be carefully coordinated to maximize the scope for comparison and ultimately to develop analytical models for analysing state formations in relation to social security.

The detailed qualitative analysis provided by this project will help to bridge the gaps, which so often exist between policy planning at the national or international level and policy implementation at the local level. The research, therefore, has considerable practical relevance.

Within the programme 'Unity amidst Variety? Intellectual Foundations and Requirements for an Enlarged Europe' the VW Foundation is providing funding for a three-year comparative investigation. The lead researcher for this project is Dr. Tatjana Thelen from the University of Zurich. There are three post-doctoral researchers, three PhD students and an advisory board which includes the Center for Policy Studies. Our role is to advise on some of the policy implications of the work, and to help integrate these questions into the fieldwork and data analysis.