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  • 1 The Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities
  • | 2 Department of Applied Social Sciences, Faculty of Technical and Human Sciences, Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania, Romania
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Abstract

The village today is only partially what we used to know of in the past, our previous image rooted in a sinking world, nothing but memories. In the 21st century, even in rural communities, the daily routine, practices and strategies of economic life are determined by the processes of modernization and globalization, in conjunction with information and communication technologies along with the wide-ranging proliferation of digital devices. It can be said that life in the 21st century village also shows a simultaneous constraint of modernization (the constraint of evolution and change) and the presence of masses incapable of changing (even if their number is continuously decreasing). The coexistence and confrontation of these opposing forces and ideologies characterizes the Hungarian/Transylvanian rural space in Romania during the 21st century. All these have led to the degradation of previous community patterns, resulting in the faltering position of tradition as well as a major change in the role it plays in the life of said communities.

Abstract

The village today is only partially what we used to know of in the past, our previous image rooted in a sinking world, nothing but memories. In the 21st century, even in rural communities, the daily routine, practices and strategies of economic life are determined by the processes of modernization and globalization, in conjunction with information and communication technologies along with the wide-ranging proliferation of digital devices. It can be said that life in the 21st century village also shows a simultaneous constraint of modernization (the constraint of evolution and change) and the presence of masses incapable of changing (even if their number is continuously decreasing). The coexistence and confrontation of these opposing forces and ideologies characterizes the Hungarian/Transylvanian rural space in Romania during the 21st century. All these have led to the degradation of previous community patterns, resulting in the faltering position of tradition as well as a major change in the role it plays in the life of said communities.

This paper presents the theoretical foundations of our recently completed research, titled Párhuzamos ruralitások. A vidékiség mai (lét)formái négy erdélyi kisrégióban [Parallel and incompatible ruralities. Rural realities in four Transylvanian (Romania) microregions], funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (Hungary),1 while outlining some of the research results. It also presents a thematic block covering rurality in this issue, the articles of which provide a selection of the project results.

The basic objective of the research was to explore the present and the recent past of Transylvanian rural society (which is preserved by the memory of the individuals, along with data that can be reconstructed on the basis of archival documents), analyzing the coexistence, interlocking and conflicts of the archaic (but nevertheless continually changing) and formerly inextant, newly manifesting (e.g., online) cultural behaviors over the past fifteen years. While conducting the research, we counted/examined the forms of rurality specific to the 21st century, attempting to offer a new, comprehensive frame of interpretation for the ethnographic approach to rurality and to the understanding of recently emerging rural attitudes.

1. Hermann Bausinger argues that the “shifting of the horizon” has the consequence that tradition, hitherto seen as organizing the world, loses its universal validity (cf. Bausinger 1995:81–83). The disruption/disappearance of the traditional peasant environment, the transformation of the economic structure, and the dissolution of traditions and their normative force have resulted in the disappearance of the village as a social organization with an autonomous identity. A similar conclusion was reached by Alexander V. Chayanov, who in his book The Theory of Peasant Economy saw the disappearance of the village primarily as a result of modernization. In his approach, the backwardness of the Third World is not explained by the slowness of modernization, but by the dependency relations created in the process of modernization (Chayanov 1986). Regarding the aforementioned processes of transformation in rural settlements, Terry Marsden writes that the self-sufficient village has transitioned into a rural area centered on consumption (Marsden 1999). At the same time, it is also worth mentioning Imre Kovách's work summarizing the process of transformation in rural society in the 20th century, in which the author writes that what we call rural areas are those where there are no peasants, only a memory of the peasantry in various forms and institutions (Kovách 2012).

In order to describe the space bounded by the horizons mentioned by Hermann Bausinger, Arjun Appadurai uses the concept of locality. “I view locality as primarily relational and contextual rather than as scalar or spatial. I see it as complex phenomenological quality, constituted by a series of links between the sense of social immediacy, the technologies of interactivity, and the relativity of contexts” (Appadurai 1996:178). Globalization, with its economic, cultural, social and information processes that transcend nations and continents and operate all over the world, thus changes practices and meaning-making that are bound to place and time. It does not, however, abolish local tradition, but only offers it a new horizon of meaning. Globalism is not the opposite of localism, but the framework in which localism is created (as a technique and identity-forming mechanism for resolving the alienation generated by globalization).

In another essay, Hermann Bausinger uses the concept of parallel non-synchronism introduced by Ernest Bloch to describe “the simultaneous existence of heterogeneous parts”, a situation where “the obsolete bursts forward” and the present “reaches back to earlier desires and conditions” (Bausinger 1989:24–25). According to Bloch's definition, parallel non-synchronism actually means simultaneity i.e. “the simultaneity of different elements determined by different historical forces.” Expressed even more concretely, “it is a question of the simultaneity of concepts and ways of life, of ideas and ideologies existing simultaneously in the present” (Bausinger 1989:25).

Our first basic assumption is that the individual regions do not have the same approach and attitude due to phase shifts in development and differences in historical development, i.e. regions with different developmental trajectories and value systems, practices, technologies and products left over from different periods live side by side at the same time within a region/settlement. This mosaicism characterizes Transylvanian rurality and rural ways of life today.

In addition, we consider it important to mention the social processes of both detraditionalization and heritagization, which are simultaneous, but working in opposite directions, as one of the most tangible ambivalences of contemporary rural communities. The first term refers to a kind of questioning of community authority and tradition, while the second refers to the opposite: to the reinterpretation, consolidation and survival of tradition in the community (cf. Morris 1996; Heelas et al. eds. 1996).

In the above sense, rurality is understood here as a construct of specific cultural characteristics and historically developed cultural features, not primarily economic or social, but cultural.

Simultaneously, while the dichotomy of reality into urban and rural deeply entrenched in the social sciences is unavoidable (Kovách 2007), the emplacement of rurality within current, more complex and global forms of society leads us beyond this duality since rurality proves to be a far more convoluted issue. Therefore, our second basic premise is that without an exploration of the present and the tangible recent past of rural society and its effects and memories still present, and without a description of the coexistence, intertwining and conflicts of archaic/traditional – but constantly changing – and previously non-existent, new (e.g. online) cultural behaviors that have emerged over the last ten years, it is neither possible to understand the global and local co-movements and their combined effects, nor to address and understand the resulting social problems in depth. Seen from this perspective, the two central concepts of the research are therefore modernization and its communicative universe, social communication in the broad sense (cf. Gagyi 2009a).

2. In the period following the changes of 1989, the evolution of rural life in Transylvania and its relationship to land ownership was based on the triple structure of land distributors, local entrepreneurs (i.e., the prospering) and subsistence farmers (see Gagyi 2007). However, looking back almost 30 years later, the fundamental question is whether Romania's accession to the EU can be considered as an epochal boundary, which, precisely because of normative rules, strategies and practices that transcended nations/countries, brought about such significant changes in the life of the Romanian and, more narrowly, Transylvanian countryside that it is perceived/interpreted as a new era, not only in political discourse but also in local society and in socio-scientific thinking. In other words, does the post-2007 EU accession era have actors and key players similar to those mentioned above, and if so, from which social strata?

The broader context of the study is therefore the processes that emerged after 1989, but which are still at work today. After de-collectivization, the countryside was characterized by an increase in mobility (working abroad) and the resulting consumer lifestyle (characterized by a transformation of the material environment, new service institutions and new consumer identities) as well as by new media disseminating these patterns and the continuous mediatization of the contextualization and meaning of these patterns. “This too – writes József Gagyi – is an adaptation of local society to the great transformative processes of society, this time global, a process based on technical and social change in a new context. What is really exciting about this is the overlapping of processes that further west are successive in time and impact further west.”2 (Gagyi 2009a:30.)

Continuing József Gagyi's line of thought in agreement with the previous quote, this is why “it is very important and fruitful to take a social science approach that seeks to develop relevant knowledge about this society, concerning its adaptation to change, by studying the culturally coordinated and hidden resistance behind/underneath the surface social gestures, or the parallel non-synchronous actions” (Gagyi 2009a:30–31).

This is also necessary because, although Transylvanian ethnographic research has indicated and recorded the transformation of traditional peasant society and the farming village, it has still failed to answer the question of what the new rural society born in the wake of modernization following accession to the European Union has become. To what extent have differences in traditional peasant culture resulting from the landscape fragmentation been maintained? Or is the historical embeddedness of the mentality in each region so strong that it is able to resist the uniformizing effects of global processes geared to consumption?

3. If we look at the history of rural transformation in Europe, we might get the impression that the processes we in Eastern European countries have experienced in the last 30 years are the same as those experienced by the West about 100 years earlier. Apart from the “phase shift” which is historically and traditionally the case in East-West relations, this can be traced back to two basic reasons: during the post-World War II period, in the midst of and as a result of the struggle to establish and consolidate the power structure in Eastern European countries, the village was characterized by both (1) the slow nature of development and (2) lacking the organic integration of external influences.3

Nevertheless, in Eastern European countries during the 20th century –- including Romania – “the move away from the ‘primary work,’ i.e., agriculture, continued” (Füzi 2009:19),4 with the result that the economic and cultural distance/difference between village and city gradually began to decrease.

First, the socialist transformation of the country's economy and social structure had a powerful transformative effect on Romanian village life. Then, over the last 30 years, other forms of economic and cultural change, such as the market economy, globalization and the emergence of the information society, have been the forces with a transformative impact on the village world, and as a result the differences/distances between village and town have shrunk even further.

Examining the transformation of peasant society in the 20th century and the results of ethnographic research on the subject, we can see that socialist modernization, the development of industry, the construction of road networks and the institutionalization of transport (railway network, regular bus services) in the mid-20th century had a great impact on the mobility of the rural population, often leading to the development of “amphibious” ways of life (cf. Gagyi 2009b). However, small-scale farming as a form of production typical of the peasantry and the associated “work ethic, farming and farm organization traditions and community norms inherited from the past” were not eliminated, which resulted in a specific mixture of “peasant and non-peasant elements” (Kőrösi 2006:144). Based on István Márkus’ research in Nagykőrös during the 1970s, this is what ethnographic-sociological literature calls post-peasantizetion (Márkus 1979). Miklós Szilágyi calls the cultural system that was developed during the period of socialism and accepted by the whole of rural society a post-peasant tradition, which comprised a mixture of elements of the old and the new world. It was a way of life offered to all members of the community, and it also meant “a determined conformity to the dominant elements of the fragmenting peasant tradition beneath the surface of worker and employee life” (see Kőrösi 2006:144). Examining the question of post-peasantizetion, on the other hand, Balázs Balogh points out that in the phenomena, structures and economic behavior that can be understood more narrowly as “economic”, underlying intentions are revealed, such as the possibilities and strategies of expressing value orientation, social rank and prestige (Balogh 2002).

By contrast, the great socio-economic transformation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was characterized by both a rapid succession of waves that caused change in a variety of directions: on the one hand, decollectivization, repeasantization and demodernization led to regressive processes, while on the other, globalization, digitalization and the industrialization of agriculture5 were the effects that led to the adoption of different life strategies, everyday practices and scenarios, not only from one region to another but also from one family to another.

In addition, media researchers point out that the spread of computers, smartphones and the internet in rural areas has not only created new varieties of virtuality, new communication environments, but also glocalities,6 specific local varieties of globalization. This means that “although we continue to live in certain physical places, we are now increasingly sharing information with and about people who live in places other than our own. More often, we come into contact with experiences and messages that were originally intended for people in other places” (Meyrowitz 2005:31). So, in glocality, the global and the local coexist (Meyrowitz 2005:32). Even so, what this means in terms of culture, economic structure, individual and community identity and the organization of everyday life is a different question and could well be the subject of further research. The dissemination of the internet, the computer and the smartphone in rural areas constitutes “tools that change value horizons, support adaptation to changes in the world, or generate cultural changes and cultural coexistences (synchronisms)”7 (Gagyi 2013:58).

4. Based on our research experience, we argue that Romania's accession to the EU in 2007 is not only the boundary of a new epoch in terms of political history, but one that has affected almost all aspects of rural society, from the destination choices of migrant workers (migration) to the farming (e.g., land use) and lifestyle habits of those who stayed. Even new forms of traditional culture use (heritage creation, heritage use) are evolving under the influence/pressure of EU regulations and patterns (cf. JakabVajda 2018). As József Gagyi aptly put it, the widening of elbow room and the availability of more funds through the EU grant system have started/accelerated the transformation of the infrastructural environment. New management and life management strategies have been established and perpetuated, new material worlds have been built, new relationships have been established, new desires and new interpretations have been born (cf. Gagyi 2009a).

The key question in relation to this new situation is what impact the rapid infrastructural transformation of rural settlements, changes in farming and income structure and social stratification, the changed mechanical environment (farming machinery, personal motor vehicles, or the computer and the mobile phone within the intimate, family environment), along with the use and function of these tools, have on rural lifestyles, economic practices and strategies as well as their impact on landscape use, the communicative and cultural memory of communities, biographical narratives, narrative behavior, and traditions in the broad sense. These questions have only been examined sporadically in ethnographic studies of Transylvania (cf. Ilyés – Jakab eds. 2013; Jakab – Vajda eds. 2018; Jakab – Vajda 2019, 2020).

The changes that have taken place in Romania in the nearly one and a half decades since its accession to the European Union have not only meant a blurring of cultural differences between village-urban areas and areas with different landscape-historical-cultural roots, a unification of economic practices and daily life, but also the increasing frequency and extent to which the population living in rural areas organize and live their lives in the nearby urban centre. The village has ceased to function as a living space (see Egyed 1981:250), and rural life can no longer be imagined without urban services. Despite the fact that the strong opening of rural habitat towards the city was already a feature of Romanian society in the second half of the 20th century, defined by forced industrialization and urbanization, the changes of the last decade and a half have brought about the complex dependence of the village on the city because the recent changes in village-town relations have been much more intense and drastic.8 Today, it is not only the workplace that links rural areas to the city, but also institutions and services that provide health services, education, culture, recreation and entertainment, and even shops for clothing and daily food. The last decade and a half have therefore seen the virtual disappearance of self-sufficiency.

At the same time, in the wake of the move away from the traditional peasant way of life, rural communities have, in the words of Jacques Barzun, who characterizes the last decades of the 19th century, “replaced tradition by comfort” (cited in Füzi 2009:22).9 In the years following the reprivatization of the land, manual cultivation, typical of the pre-collectivization period, was definitively abandoned, replaced by the use of various herbicides and machinery (see Vajda 2019:40). While in the last decade of the 20th century all the stages of haymaking – from mowing to drying, collecting and transporting – were done manually in most farming families, in the last decade the whole process is mostly done by machine. In other words, the industrialization of agriculture, and the emergence and spread of machinery on small rural farms has made much of the agricultural work redundant, just as domestic machinery has done with much of the domestic work. This transformation, with the widespread use of machinery, has freed up a significant manpower, but the full picture is that it has only made life partially easier, and often created new burdens (see Füzi 2009:22), since these machines need constant repair and care (cf. Gagyi 2020).

At the same time, the rise of convenience over tradition has also led to the emergence of new consumer behaviors and the intensification of the desire to consume (see Füzi 2009:29). In rural life, too, homemade and handmade (i.e. not manufactured) tools and buildings produced from natural materials have been relegated to the background, replaced by mass-produced goods.

The emergence and widespread use of machinery has had an impact not only on labor requirements and the quality of work, but also on the amount of time spent with it. The mechanization of agriculture (and to some extent livestock farming) has speeded up certain processes and in many ways shortened the time needed to work the land. In the case of the rural population, the time thus freed up was appropriated mainly by three areas: television, the pub, and local festivals. It is also characteristic that the period of strong motorization in agriculture, and of rural activities in general, saw an increase in village festivities and commemorations.10 In addition to village fairs and feast day celebrations at local churches, there is a proliferation of commemorative events, generational meetings, special days and Sundays for the elderly, choir meetings, and traditional festivals.11

The decline of the farming lifestyle and the shrinking size of backyard farms, and in the case of most families their complete disappearance, is the most accurate measure of the gradual and accelerating decline of agrarian character in rural settlements. It is the surest sign of the socio-cultural transformation/disappearance of the peasantry, and with it the traditional village. Even now in transition, and although in many respects no longer peasant or rural in the classic sense of the word, this world is not becoming urban. The question is, then, what is it that most distinguishes this rural environment from the urban? If not agricultural work and backyard farming, then what is the characteristic feature of the 21st century village/rural area? In our interpretation, this distinction can best be captured by the concepts of scarcity (see Gagyi 2005:87) and constraint (see Peti – Szabó 2006:7).

It was not only traditional farming that disappeared by the end of the 20th century (Füzi 2009:21). As a result of economic changes, the family also ceased to function as a productive unit, giving way to the virtual family (see Boreczky 2004). The extended family – which included grandparents, siblings and distant relatives – gets together around the holidays instead of/alongside work. The frequency of meetings has decreased, but the time spent is quality time.

“Natural”12 or unprocessed foods are also losing ground in rural life. The differences in dietary habits between town and village will be smoothed out, with both being dominated by (often semi-prepared) food from markets and supermarkets. However, the process of levelling out the differences is much more complex. During the communist period, and even in the early 1990s, urban populations with rural roots regularly “visited home” to buy a significant proportion of their basic foodstuffs (e.g., vegetables, pork). At the same time, after the introduction of rationing, the rural population was excluded from buying some foodstuffs (bread) and had limited access to others (butcher's meat, butter, etc.) due to the social institution of queuing and the operation of clientele systems.

Farming increasingly takes place in the background of social life (Füzi 2009:19). This is true not only of the rural environment, but also of society as a whole. For this reason, although a significant part of the rural population is still (also) engaged in farming and animal husbandry, the image of the village and also the daily life of individual families does not show the typical features of the agrarian way of life.

This change in the rural environment is influenced by simultaneously opposing forces: on one hand, the rural population is trying to break away from its agrarian past at an accelerating pace, to organize its daily life away from the built environment and the economic and cultural routines typical of peasant life (see Vajda 2019), while on the other hand, routines and mentalities that can be traced back to this way of life, and which are wished forgotten and transcended, are constantly surfacing and being activated. These belief-based explanations of the world derived from the past and popular culture, and the resulting breakdowns and pauses, “as bumps or stops in the way of overly rapid pattern-following,” are what Hermann Bausinger calls regressions (see Bausinger 1995:44; cf. Gagyi 2020). At the same time, as a kind of compensatory exercise (Marquard 2001), forgotten traditions are sought out and revived (Vajda 2016, Keszeg 2018a:33–38). Another characteristic feature of the countryside today is therefore attachment to antecedents (see Füzi 2009:19).

The peasant continent (Gagyi ed. 1999:29), with the village as its site, has finally sunk, and what remains is a multiplicity and diversity of islands and reefs, a structure in which change has radically transformed certain levels/areas while leaving others untouched. In other words, the transformation has produced a “multiplicity of variations”, and “these transitional forms are proving to be very resilient” (Gagyi 2009c:145). Nevertheless, certain attitudes in the rural environment – strongly linked to the traditional village and to the peasantry – are not only preserved, but also reproduced.

Today's village is only partly nourished by memories of that once existing, but now sunken, world. In the 21st century, the processes of globalization and modernization as well as the widespread diffusion of information and communication technology and smart devices are shaping the daily routines, practices and strategies for organizing (economic) life in rural communities. It could be said that a kind of modernization imperative is present, in which the need for progress and transformation alongside masses who are unable to transform (even if the latter are dwindling in number) are simultaneously present in 21st century rural life and that 21st century Romanian/Transylvanian/Hungarian rural areas are characterized by the combined presence of these conflicting and opposing forces and ideologies.

All of this has eroded the previously existing models of community organization, undermined the position of tradition and led to a major change in its role in the life of communities.

Whereas in traditional village society the individual's life was lived in the eyes of the community, with the approval of the community, the power of tradition to organize life and to produce life paths has now been eroded. In the traditional village, there are some (mostly ritual) occasions when the village confronts its own morals and takes responsibility for its actions. Tradition as a normative framework has created/maintained many contexts in which norm-breaking and moral lapses could be excommunicated. These rituals, as a valve for local society, were intended to eliminate internal tensions and restore order to society.13 In the case of the 21st century village, however, these rituals, this kind of discussion of norm violations in the community, is no longer possible. This is mainly because, on the one hand, traditional communities have disappeared, and on the other hand, the community norms and the kind of public opinion that used to operate the rituals are no longer in place.14 To put it a little more bluntly, it could be said that the normative role of public opinion has been definitively taken over by official regulation.

However, in terms of the transformation in rural areas during the 21st century, a process opposite to the one outlined above has also been taking place. The emergence of modern rural life has not only been determined by external forces that have been intensifying over the last quarter of a century. The roots of this transformation can be traced back to traditional rural society itself. In other words, the patterns of behavior we see in the rural areas today do not all come from outside the town/village. It could be argued that the village as we know it today has been shaped from the very beginning of the 20th century, but mostly in its last third. At least it was during this period that the traditional worldview disintegrated, when life models and behaviors as well as the technical/machine environment (such as the tractor and the car, to mention only the most important elements in terms of lifestyle change) that widely spread in rural communities over the last 20 years first made their appearance. Thus, László Füzi's statement about the 20th century, according to which “this century has not been able to «spread» its technological world in the wider world to the expected level (…), but has created new exclusions” (Füzi 2009:30) is even more emphatically true and for an even longer period of time (until the late 2000s) in the case of the rural areas.15 This explains why the Romanian (Transylvanian/Hungarian) rural population adapting to the challenges of the changed economic, cultural and technical environment and abandoning the traditional way of life in the first half of the 2000s had already entered the path toward joining the European Union back in the 20th century, but with the advent of free movement and employment opportunities throughout the territory of the European Union and the entry into force of EU standards and legislation on agriculture and livestock farming, they suddenly found themselves in the 21st century.

The research and its results

Consequently, in the light of the above, three types of rurality seem to have emerged in Transylvania: (1) liminal rurality, for the interpretation of which the key concepts are “identity,” “boundary,” and “transport”; (2) rurality as determined by the vicinity of the metropolitan area, for which one should concentrate upon its function as a suburb, along with developments aided by large investment projects and the radical transformation of consumer behavior; and (3) the so-called “deep rural” area, the characteristics of which are the negative change of population number, the rising number of Gypsies, and the general ageing of the population (e.g. typically in the valley of the Nyárád/Niraj river), along with the continuity of peasant farming and landscape usage (e.g. Székelyföld/Szeklerland). In the latter case, “heritage”, viz. “heritage use” seem to be the central concepts which can explain the characteristic phenomena for this type of rurality (see Gagyi 2004).

The just-concluding NRDIO-study examined and tried to capture the responses to the changes that have taken place over the last almost 15 years by case studies. In other words, we were exploring different versions of the disappearance and survival of the peasantry, parallel ruralities constructed by cultural patterns of disappearance and survival, and elite-led resurrection. It is therefore justified, even inescapable, to use the basic categories of global/local and, in this context, glocality as a specific 21st century way of being, alongside the categories of multiple modernization, detraditionalization and heritagization, digitalization and mediatization (see above).

In the course of our research, the following research topics/areas were touched upon, through which slower or faster-paced structural changes and acculturation processes can be apprehended, exemplified, and interpreted:

  1. The transformation of the concept of modernization which explains changes – from the conception “Stalinist modernization” through to pseudomodernization (Roth 2002) to the reflexive modernization of Ulrich Beck and the several existent theories of modernization (Beck 2008:146–159; Beck et al. 1994). “Modernization – writes József Gagyi – is still a political slogan, a political priority. The question is at what pace this has happened, and what regional and local differences lie behind the general use of the term” (Gagyi 2009a:32). Our research suggests that, in the areas we study, a kind of two-faced (or Janus-faced) modernization was most prevalent not only in the period following the collectivization of land ownership but also after Romania's accession to the EU. This not only means that while the modernization of the rural areas was/is indispensable and the inhabitants of these areas themselves, looking back from the present, interpret this process as a success, for the individuals who directly suffered the events, it has also meant terrible burdens, great annoyance, major disappointments and insecurity, as well as a strong cultural shock; hence, from the point of view of the traditional values and the world view of rural society, modernization seems to be as much a means of tyranny and destruction as a vital and constructive force for prosperity and comfort.

And what is at least as important as the above issues: nowadays, developers are active even in these formerly remote places (micro-regions and larger areas), and the future of these regions has become the subject of development plans. How do locals react to these facts? They view the advocates and administrators of various development plans and the proponents of different concepts of territorial autonomy with “suspicion, even as they gain political and personal economic advantages from this situation. They are trying to understand ‘what these (Hungarians or Romanians) want (with us), and what does the EU want?’” (Gagyi 2009a:31).

  • 2.  An analysis of the capacity for adaptation in local society, which is increasingly defined by communication based on (progressively more widespread) tools of information technology, along with the number and quality of relationships (primarily outside the community, aimed at knowledge gain and use, based on mobility and mediatized), including the spread of new media, its use and the local adaptations of global processes, new roles, attitudes, routines and beliefs formed during the process of using new instruments and techniques (see Gagyi 2009a:31). According to József Gagyi: “Today, even »closed« and »exotic« communities are connected with the larger world by roads, several means of transportation, children and grandchildren visiting from remote places or creating their living environments in the respective locality and investing in it, their representation on the World Wide Web, and the curious gaze of the tourists” (Gagyi 2009a:31). Alongside the spread and use of new media, the proliferation of migrant work abroad and trips to other countries are creating local adaptations of global processes, new roles, habits, routines, beliefs and worldviews associated with new situations and the use of new tools and techniques.

  • 3.  Heritage and patrimonialization as the “creation” of traditional cultural elements used in a novel context and with new meanings. Local and regional identities are being formed and transformed within projects aimed at the creation of heritage. The last few years have also seen a proliferation of cultural heritage projects in Transylvania, the issue of heritage has been frequently addressed in the media, in political discourse, and even by economists and rural development planners who are developing economic/rural development strategies, as a cornerstone of local development (see Vajda 2016; Jakab – Vajda 2018:7). The reason for the proliferation of heritage approaches is twofold: (1) the changes that occurred with the fall of the dictatorial regime at the level of society (re)actualized the past and the socio-cultural practices of the period before the dictatorship, while the accelerating historical changes of the first half of the 2000s have made it necessary to reassess this revived past, to confront the past and the heritage passed down from the past (Gagyi 2004:53); (2) tourism has resumed, which has led to the appreciation of the role of heritage in the identity strategies of local communities, as “the local community must articulate, reveal, visualize and narrate (not least sell) its past, its heritage, itself. (…) If the community has not had its own past before, now it must have one, its own heritage” (Gagyi 2004:50).

  • 4.  Research on minorities and ethnicities within a new context, due to the increasing number of challenges. Since the regime change, an aggregation of processes and a system of activities which both challenges and confirms ethnic and national identities can be witnessed, along with a political and social need for their understanding. From this perspective, one has to take into account the danger of the aggressive dynamics of these processes, which can become associated with economic instability – and even with moral crises –, thus threatening the abolishment of the legitimacy of systems administrated by the state (Gagyi 2009a:31–32).

  • 5.  Practices and formations of memory: the biographical, communicative, and cultural memory of both the determining historical events of the 20th century and everyday routines, the spaces, occasions, and contexts of memory and commemoration, their related narrative basis and narrative strategies. The latter two are justified because (a) communication is the medium in which the conflict between changes and traditional forms gain specific meaning and can be interpreted, and (b) since the research primarily relies on one of the preferred methods of ethnography and anthropology, i.e. the interview, and as such, the analysis of the narrative behavior and the communicative, viz. cultural memory of the researched community of speakers as a practice formed within everyday life and interview situations is indispensable.

In the light of the processes and situations outlined above, on 11–12 October 2019 we organized a scientific conference in Nagykároly/Carei entitled Ruralitás és gazdasági stratégiák a 21. században – a KJNT vándorkonferenciája [Rurality and economic strategies in the 21st century – travelling conference of the Kriza János Ethnographic Society]. Our professional forum continued and complemented the current and highly topical issue of the rural environment and its transformation (Jakab – Vajda eds. 2019).

The 2019 conference can thus be regarded as the direct continuation of the 2018 conference Párhuzamos ruralitások. A vidékiség formái Erdélyben – a KJNT vándorkonferenciája [Parallel Ruralities. Rural Realities in Transylvania] (Gernyeszeg/Gornești, 21 September 2018).16 The presentations at the conference then sought to focus on three dimensions of changing ruralities: (1) the cultural dimension: identity, the upholding of traditions, detraditionalization, patrimonialization, and globalization; (2) the social dimension: changed relationship systems, population movements, new strategies for searching contacts, and new (occasionally virtual) forms of community; (3) the economic dimension: the transformation of rural farming, project-based developments, modernization, economic migration, and other individual and community strategies.

The 2019 conference covered the following topics: (1) the relationship between the transformed economic structure and tradition; (2) the issue of environmentally conscious management and sustainable economic strategies; (3) the examination of transformed individual attitudes and life management strategies (e.g. mate choosing practices, migration); (4) an examination of the transformation in the technical environment of local lifeworlds and its impact on everyday life; (5) an exploration of the impact of new/changing media environments on everyday life; (6) an examination of identity discourses and strategies in the context of interpreting the past and the use of space; (7) an examination of the role of religion in social change.

Our 2018 and 2019 conference proceedings also presented the results of the ongoing research funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, including both theoretical papers and case studies (Jakab – Vajda eds. 2019, 2020).

In 2020, we also edited a thematic issue of the journal Korunk, focusing on current social, economic and mental changes affecting rural societies, using our research findings (Jakab – Peti eds. 2020). Our authors have been asked to work on one of the following topics: (1) changes in local and external attitudes towards rurality (e.g. the valorization of cultural heritage); (2) changes in consumer attitudes towards the rural environment (tourism, moving to the village, using the village as a leisure space); (3) changes in the conditions and motivations for food production (leisure farming, the valorization of home-grown produce, the emergence of the idea of “quasi-organic” produce); (4) changes in the forms of cooperation.

The individual volumes are summaries of the specific area of research work. Gagyi József's volume analyzes the life story of Domokos Sztrátya, who was born in 1931 in the village of Jobbágyfalva/Valea in the community of Csíkfalva/Vărgata (Maros County, Romania). Peasant and intellectual at the same time, producing and arranging documents, Gagyi documents his own activity so that one can reveal the everyday life and the turning points of individual and community life. He possesses the intellectual abilities to do so as well as the writing technique (calculation, statistics) that he had learnt during military service. Walking through the villages, he was collecting the money for electricity, but he was also a curious observer of people, villages and the era itself. The book is about getting to know this man, sustaining the relation with him, accessing his knowledge and about the common and continuous articulation of this knowledge through “long conversations” (Marc Bloch) (Gagyi 2019).

Vajda András's volume analyzes the long process of transformation in the society and economic structures of Sáromberke/Dumbrăvioara. In many aspects, the village is developing dynamically and transforming rapidly, but otherwise holding on to its traditions, to the economic and cultural practices which are characteristic of rural societies. The book aims to identify, document and interpret the changes that have occurred within the economic and cultural structure of the communities, having the impact of turning points in their life (Vajda 2019).

Balázs Balogh and Ágnes Fülemile have largely explored aspects of the historical processes of regional group formation in the society of Kalotaszeg, similarly to their 2004 volume (Balogh – Fülemile 2004). They have examined theoretical issues and specific experiences of their decades-long multi-local fieldwork in Kalotaszeg (Balogh – Fülemile 2019). They have also analyzed the ways and changes in local society, peasant society and tradition preservation (heritagization) in relation to the research (Balogh – Fülemile 2020).

In his latest book, József Gagyi summarizes his research on the rural environment conducted over the decades, presenting the socio-cultural phenomena that characterized the coexistence of machines and people in his era. Technological and social progress in rural areas is inextricably intertwined with the impact of millennia-old magical-religious beliefs and their impact on the technical environment, the phenomenon of regression. Tractor drivers were the “heroes” of the first part of the era; their attitude to machinery is described in detail. At the same time, the rural world is also being fundamentally transformed by motorization. There is a transformation of (1) the social and individual relationship to space-time, and with it (2) its narrative framing/cultural insertion, and (3) its general evidence in relation to local and micro-processes (Gagyi 2021). In addition to the above, the research participants have published a number of studies not mentioned here, and which we cannot cover at this time.

A thematical block of this issue presents articles, including some examples from the results of the above project. András Vajda proposes an analysis of changes that have shaped parallel realities and temporalities of ways of life and mentalities in diversified ruralities over the past quarter century. József Gagyi describes the changing relationship to the land after the political transition in Romania in 1989. Levente Szilágyi uses the example of two Swabian settlements (Mezőfény and Mezőpetri) to illustrate that although they were already considered to be particularly wealthy settlements after the regime change in 1989, they decided – contrary to general practice – to opt for the cooperative form of farming. This was done in a way that consistently excluded external elements, be it foreign labor or even EU funds. Sándor Borbély's paper summarizes the first partial results of an economic anthropological research study in a Swabian settlement (Mezőfény) in Sathmar about the livelihood and income-earning strategies of the agricultural production groups in local society and to interpret the different forms of economic adaptation. The author interprets the emptying out of the symbolic role of land and its desacralization as a turning point, as a result of which the majority of the rural population had left behind the symbolic relationship with land for good, or even denied it. Gyöngyvér Erika Tőkés examines the topic of digital inequalities among different social groups and the characteristics of the third-level digital divide among elderly Hungarians in Romania.

Acknowledgements

This study was prepared under project K 120712, Párhuzamos ruralitások. A vidékiség mai (lét)formái négy erdélyi kisrégióban [Parallel and incompatible ruralities. Rural realities in four Transylvanian (Romania) microregions], funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (Hungary).

References

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1

The institutions involved include: the Research Centre for Humanities of the Institute of Ethnography of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Kriza János Ethnographic Society and the Department of Applied Social Sciences of the Marosvásárhely Faculty of the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. Participants in this research were: Balázs Balogh, Sándor Borbély, Ágnes Fülemile, József Gagyi, Albert Zsolt Jakab, Barna Kovács, Levente Szilágyi, Gyöngyvér Erika Tőkés and András Vajda.

2

In his cited study, József Gagyi points out that modernised access roads, the accelerating spread of motorisation and the spread of computers and internet use occurred during the same years (see Gagyi 2009a:31).

3

At the end of the 19th century, the modernisation of the predominantly rural and agrarian Romanian society was described by Titu Maiorescu, who developed Mihai Eminescu's theory as the adaptation of forms without content (forme fără fond) (see Maiorescu 1978:153).

4

Emphasis in the original; according to the author, “this continuing and accelerating process of disintegration in agriculture links the twentieth century to the centuries before it” (Füzi 2009:19).

5

By this we mean the shift to large-scale agriculture, where the entire work process is done by machines, during which people were replaced by machines, the place of the family as a productive unit was taken over by agricultural companies, and the practice of farming based on tradition and experience, which was geared to self-sufficiency, was replaced by large-scale management based on engineering. This change has affected not only the structure of the landscape – small-plot farming has been replaced by large-plot farming – but also the way of living within the landscape. The countryside became detached from the body of the village. This can be seen most clearly in the oft-repeated observation of people living in the village that one hardly ever sees people working in the countryside anymore, only machines.

6

More specifically: glocalities. Joshua Meyrowitz states that not only are we all living in “glocalities” today, but “each glocality is unique in its own way”. What they have in common is that “they are all influenced by global trends and global consciousness” (Meyrowitz 2005:30). Arguing in favour of glocalities, he adds that “no matter how sophisticated our technologies, no matter how hard we try to multitask, we cannot be in two places at the same time. The fixedness of experience is a constant, and the importance of place persists even in the face of massive social and technological change.” (Meyrowitz 2005:29).

7

The parallel to the concept used by Hermann Bausinger (see above).

8

It should be noted here that during the communist era, the village-town relationship was a much more organic intertwining. A large part of the urban population had rural roots and many links to the village in terms of daily food supplies. So, there was not only an opening of, and shift from, the village towards the town, but vice versa: an opening from the town towards the village.

9

Jacques Barzun's Hajnaltól alkonyig. A nyugati kultúra 500 éve [From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life] (2006) takes account of what are considered 20th century phenomena at the level of everyday life, but which were in fact already complete in the last third of the 19th century. Referring to this period, he says that “these are the decades when tradition was replaced by comfort” (quoted in Füzi 2009:22). In the countryside, the introduction of electricity, alongside motorisation, can be seen as one of the first steps in the development of a comfortable environment (see Gagyi 2009b, 2019).

10

In a different context, but for the 20th century, Albert Zsolt Jakab has made an inventory of the occasions, places and specialists of commemoration (see Jakab 2018). For rural commemorations, see also Pozsony 2006:262–280, 2015:235–264.

11

See Albert Zsolt Jakab's lecture Emlékállítás és (meg)emlékezési gyakorlatok vidéken a posztszocialista időszakban [Memory Construction and Memorial Practice in a Rural Context in the Post-Socialist Period] (Párhuzamos ruralitások. A vidékiség formái Erdélyben – a KJNT vándorkonferenciája [Parallel Ruralities. Rural Realities in Transylvania]. Gernyeszeg/Gornești, 21 September 2018).

12

E.g., traditional vegetables and cereals are being replaced by genetically modified varieties developed in laboratories.

13

E.g., the year-end rite of the “hill-calling” (hegybekiáltás) in the Transylvanian Mezőség region, during which “the young people of the village divided into two groups and went to the hill on either side of the village, from where they shouted out to each other the deviant events of the past year in an improvised ritual dialogue (…). The unwritten rule of this custom was that no one was to be offended or angry. The young people represented public opinion” (Keszeg 2018b:91).

14

Of course, we must mention that the unity, the community and the compulsory nature of peasant morality and the public opinion which supervised it had already been broken. As early as the 1950s, young people who went to urban schools and lived in urban environments “spoke of their mothers' customs with contempt” (Nagy 1989:283).

15

Emphasis in the original.

16

The conferences were also organised in the framework of NKFIH research organized by the three partner institutions mentioned before; the conference organising committee consisted of Albert Zsolt Jakab, president of the János Kriza Ethnographic Society, Levente Szilágyi, research fellow of the Institute of Ethnography of the Research Centre for Humanities of the Institute of Ethnography of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and András Vajda, lecturer at Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania.

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Editor-in-Chief: Ágnes FÜLEMILE
Associate editors: Fruzsina CSEH;
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  • Tamás MOHAY (Eötvös University, Budapest)
  • László MÓD (University of Szeged)
  • Attila PALÁDI-KOVÁCS (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities and Eötvös University, Budapest)
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Acta Ethnographica Hungarica
Language English
Size B5
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Foundation
1950
Volumes
per Year
1
Issues
per Year
2
Founder Magyar Tudományos Akadémia
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Address
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ISSN 1216-9803 (Print)
ISSN 1588-2586 (Online)