Ágnes Eitler Institute of Ethnography, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary
Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network, Hungary

Search for other papers by Ágnes Eitler in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open access
Taylor, Mary N.: Movement of People: Hungarian Folk Dance, Populism and Citizenship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2021. 316. ISBN 978-0-253-05783-9

In 2021, a year before the 50th anniversary of the birth of the peculiar social phenomenon known as the táncház (dance house) movement, the monograph Movement of People, written by an anthropologist from the United States, was published with the stated aim of explaining the social aspects of an Eastern European folk dance–based associative practice to a broader international audience. With respect to its formation in the 1970s, the táncház movement has been recognized by many scholars as cultural opposition, or as a kind of counterculture-building practice among the youth of socialist Hungary, deeply embedded as it was in the context of the Eastern Bloc's political economy. Other standard works have attempted to uncover the antecedents of the táncház in previous folk movements dating back to earlier periods of Hungarian history. Going beyond narrow temporal and spatial contexts, Mary N. Taylor provides analytical frameworks that enable the reader to understand this social movement in the longue durée (see p. 3), from its forerunners to the recent struggles of heritage regimes in a global context. Moreover, this substantial work invites us to rethink the role of the táncház movement in the processes of the formation of the modern state and the creation of its citizens.

The ambiguous title of this book refers both to the collective, disciplined physical practice of the táncház-goers, as well as to the social practice of “civic cultivation.” In this work, the táncház is examined as belonging to the kind of folk movements that valorize folk practices by promoting them as the foundations of civic cultivation and citizenship. However, in Taylor's analysis, the cultivation of modern citizens is inextricably bound up with the formation of modern nation-states. This explains the author's insistence on demonstrating the position of folk movements (especially that of the táncház) among the various competing civil society–building projects throughout the different political eras in the twentieth century. In order to present an accurate historical perspective, Taylor operates with large-scale sources when dealing with historical processes. Beyond the literature already published on this topic, Taylor also analyzed archive material. Furthermore, as part of her extensive fieldwork, she conducted interviews with prominent figures and former participants in the táncház movement. The quotations from these interviews contribute multivocality to her text.

At this point, it should be emphasized that the volume is more than a historical overview of a particular folk movement and its political and economic contexts. Taylor suggests that the táncház events, by providing frameworks for associative life, represented an arena for transformative and constituting practices. To understand this intersubjective dynamic, she conducted fieldwork in Hungary and in Transylvania (Romania) in the context of several shorter visits and one year-long period during which she lived permanently among revivalists in the 2000s. This fieldwork experience, collected during visits to táncház events and summer camps, represented a robust anthropological approach, besides giving the author an historical perspective. Methodologically, participant observation was a key element in understanding the identity-building, and even the political personhood-constructing mechanism of the táncház, which operates through an intersubjective physical practice among the practitioners. Brief but essential presentations of Taylor's own impressions and experiences are organically integrated into the text: excerpts from her fieldnotes, evoking particular situations and interactions at táncház events, reveal significant details about the phenomenon under investigation and the research process itself. By examining the historical processes and analyzing recent empirical material, Taylor aims to answer the following question: How did the táncház produce and reproduce “(…) particular constellations of collective memory about Hungarianness that cultivate the senses and inform the political personhood of táncház participants.” (ibid.)

In this brief review, I provide a focused insight into the content of the volume, emphasizing the key concepts and terms essential in following the author's argumentation. An introduction presenting the theoretical framework of the volume is followed by Chapter One, which covers the period of the consolidation of nation-states in Eastern Europe at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Hungarian state formation project consisted of two cohesive processes: national awakening accompanied by the creation of a national culture, and social transformation, the latter being the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Citizenship was built on the idea of a common national language, and folklore texts served as important resources in its cultivation. In a broader sense, the ethnographic material collected in this era served as the basis for the construction of national symbols and played a crucial role in the production of national identity. In relation to the initial successes of Hungarian ethnography, another notable assertion is made here: Since the material was collected in the territory of Hungary before 1920, it represents the folk culture of historical, so-called Greater Hungary. Taylor argues that this factor would prove determinative in terms of how later waves of folk revivals have (re)produced Hungarianness.

In Chapter Two, the author introduces civic cultivation, which is one of the key terms in her analysis, allowing her to examine the competing concepts of citizenship in the interwar period. Interpreting civic cultivation as a social project that raises people into citizens by means of education, this term refers to a process of social transformation. Among various, even overlapping cultivation strategies, “folk national cultivation” (nép-nemzeti művelődés) claimed a leading role for “folk” as a social group and its culture in the building of national culture. Beyond the claim of cultural emancipation through the valorization of folk practices and cultural knowledge, the népi movement stressed the concrete socioeconomic concept of improving the conditions of landless and poor peasants via the redistribution of land. The ethico-aesthetic and political projects of the népi movement that emerged in the Horthy era provided patterns inherited by later generations following the Second World War.

In the following chapter (Chapter Three), Taylor examines the complex context of the politics of socialist cultivation in which the táncház movement was able to emerge. The most important statements in this chapter are organized around the phenomenon of “houses of culture,” institutions that were regarded as the cornerstones of the project of socialist mass education. Despite their official recognition as tools for the building of socialism, cultural houses also provided a space for voluntary activities, since they served as public venues for associational life, including amateur artistic and leisure-time activities. The role of voluntarism in generating and maintaining a restricted but existing civil society in everyday socialist life cannot be overestimated.

Chapter Four focuses on the formation and institutionalization of the táncház movement from the 1970s, a process that the author identifies as the “táncház revolution.” Its revolutionary character was derived from the approach to folk dance adopted by the early táncház revivalists — choreographers, ethnographers, dancers, and musicians. The táncház revival involved the (re)thinking of dance within its social context as a social event. As a social form it was transferred from the Transylvanian village of Szék (Sic, Romania) into the new urban context of the Hungarian capital. Taylor describes how key features of the movement were its growing emphasis on the participatory aspect, as the passive role of the audience was superseded at táncház events, and its focus on particular rural localities as sites of authenticity. As a result, a new wave of village tourism emerged, since táncház practitioners were keen to explore rural settlements in Hungary and Transylvania in their quest for the locus of the so-called pure source.

From this point in the volume, Taylor concentrates on an analysis of the táncház movement, which she recognizes as a shared framework of sense, using the term coined by Alberto Melucci. In Chapter Five, she demonstrates how associative táncház events operate as socializing events, at which táncház-goers produce, share, and learn ideas about Hungarianness. Participants interiorize a particular set of concepts about nation and citizenship through specific spatiotemporal forms and material practices that are precisely explained in this section. These include forms of dance and music, etiquette, including gender roles, and place-based ethno-tourism. The process is based on the paradigm of “folk dance as mother tongue,” embodied in the so-called táncház method, a specific way of learning and practicing folk dances and music. Taylor draws the reader's attention to how, in a similar way to language, which played a key role in the process of national awakening, the concept of folk dance as “mother tongue” became a crucial manifestation of Hungarianness among táncház practitioners. Referring to one of her earlier statements, according to which the waves of revival have maintained a certain perception of the nation by relying on the image of the folk culture of historical or Greater Hungary, the author emphasizes Transylvania's central status on the cognitive map of táncház-goers, who recognize it as the “geographical placeholder for an imagined past” (see p. 174).

In the following chapter (Chapter Six), the author widens the analysis to the political and economic contexts of the above-mentioned processes of self-cultivation. Taylor assumes that the táncház framework of sense was repeatedly rendered visible in moments of collective public action in the political sphere. Such moments of danger (see Walter Benjamin) make the collective memory relevant and set the community of sense in motion. According to the author, by analyzing moments of danger it becomes possible to demonstrate the relationship between the framework of sense, collective memory, and politics. Taylor examines the shifts in political and economic contexts from the 1956 Revolution until her own fieldwork. In this particular period, she provides a detailed analysis of two moments of danger: the protests in Transylvania in 1988, and the period of political polarization between 2004 and 2005.

With respect to the transformation of cultural politics in the postsocialist states of Eastern Europe, the strengthening realm of culture talk is salient. The cultural turn, a global process that emerged as a result of the reduction of the state's functions and spheres of responsibility in neoliberal capitalism, has resulted in the instrumentalization of culture by its handling as a resource for the accumulation of capital. Chapter Seven outlines the effects of the cultural turn following the political transformation in Hungary, focusing on the contradictory practice of heritagization, which has become a dominant discourse worldwide since the 1970s in relation to cultural phenomena. In this chapter, Taylor argues that heritagization is “(…) both a sign of and a cultivator of the centrality of culture talk and its political and economic functions today” (see pp. 214–215). While heritage is promoted on the basis of enhancing universal values, heritagization may also lead to a differentiation between groups of people through the quest for uniqueness on various scales. The author here explains how the logic of heritage operates in the táncház movement and how heritagization (re)produces particular places associated with Hungarianness on various scales, from particular localities to the national cultural arena and the Hungarian state.

In her conclusion, Taylor revisits the key concepts and terms that she introduced at the beginning of the volume as the critical theoretical framework for the analysis. Aspects of civic cultivation and the formation of nation-states are re-examined in the recent contexts of neoliberal governance, the postsocialist moment, and decolonial claims.

The volume is an extraordinary work that successfully combines the historical perspective with the emic approach of anthropology. The theoretical frameworks selected and used by the author are interwoven coherently throughout the text. Supplemented with Taylor's own field experiences, they provide a firm foundation for her argumentation.

  • Collapse
  • Expand
The author instructions are available in PDF.
Please, download the file from HERE


Senior Editors

Editor-in-Chief: Ágnes FÜLEMILE
Associate editors: Fruzsina CSEH;
Zsuzsanna CSELÉNYI

Review Editors: Csaba MÉSZÁROS; Katalin VARGHA

Editorial Board
  • Balázs BALOGH (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities)
  • Elek BARTHA (University of Debrecen)
  • Balázs BORSOS (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities)
  • Miklós CSERI (Hungarian Open Air Museum, the Skanzen of Szentendre)
  • Lajos KEMECSI (Museum of Ethnography)
  • László KÓSA (Eötvös University, Budapest)
  • lldikó LANDGRAF (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities)
  • 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)
  • Gábor VARGYAS (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities and University of Pécs)
  • Vilmos VOIGT (Eötvös University, Budapest)
Advisory Board
  • Marta BOTÍKOVÁ (Bratislava, Slovakia)
  • Daniel DRASCEK (Regensburg, Germany)
  • Dagnoslaw DEMSKI (Warsaw, Poland)
  • Ingrid SLAVEC GRADIŠNIK (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
  • Dmitriy A. FUNK (Moscow, Russia)
  • Chris HANN (Halle, Germany)
  • Krista HARPER (Amherst, MA USA)
  • Anya PETERSON ROYCE (Bloomington, IN USA)
  • Ferenc POZSONY (Cluj, Romania)
  • Helena RUOTSALA (Turku, Finland)
  • Mary N. TAYLOR (New York, NY USA)
  • András ZEMPLÉNI (Paris, France)

Further credits

Translators: Elayne ANTALFFY; Zsuzsanna CSELÉNYI; Michael KANDÓ
Layout Editor: Judit MAHMOUDI-KOMOR
Cover Design: Dénes KASZTA

Manuscripts and editorial correspondence:

Acta Ethnographica Hungarica
Institute of Ethnology
Research Centre for the Humanities
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
H-1453 Budapest, Pf. 33

Mészáros, Csaba or Vargha, Katalin review editors
Institute of Ethnology
Research Centre for the Humanities
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
H-1453 Budapest, Pf. 33
E-mail: or

Indexing and Abstracting Services:

  • Bibliographie Linguistique/Linguistic Bibliography
  • Elsevier GEO Abstracts
  • International Bibliographies IBZ and IBR
  • Sociological Abstracts
  • Worldwide Political Science Abstracts
  • CABELLS Journalytics


CiteScore 0.6
CiteScore rank Q2 (Music)
SNIP 0.369
SJR index 0.164
SJR Q rank Q2

Acta Ethnographica Hungarica
Publication Model Hybrid
Submission Fee none
Article Processing Charge 900 EUR/article
Printed Color Illustrations 40 EUR (or 10 000 HUF) + VAT / piece
Regional discounts on country of the funding agency World Bank Lower-middle-income economies: 50%
World Bank Low-income economies: 100%
Further Discounts Editorial Board / Advisory Board members: 50%
Corresponding authors, affiliated to an EISZ member institution subscribing to the journal package of Akadémiai Kiadó: 100%
Subscription fee 2025 Online subsscription: 632 EUR / 696 USD
Print + online subscription: 718 EUR / 790 USD
Subscription Information Online subscribers are entitled access to all back issues published by Akadémiai Kiadó for each title for the duration of the subscription, as well as Online First content for the subscribed content.
Purchase per Title Individual articles are sold on the displayed price.

Acta Ethnographica Hungarica
Language English
Size B5
Year of
per Year
per Year
Founder Magyar Tudományos Akadémia
H-1051 Budapest, Hungary, Széchenyi István tér 9.
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 1216-9803 (Print)
ISSN 1588-2586 (Online)