Chapter 35: Postsocialist Societies
Chris Hann The term ‘postsocialism’ is used primarily with reference to the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies, where socialist rule disintegrated in the years 1989–91. Self-proclaimed socialist governments have existed in other parts of the world and some of the varieties have been investigated by anthropologists (Hann 1993a ), but the discussion here will be focused on Eurasia. Even here there is considerably variety. For some comparative purposes it makes sense to include China and Vietnam, where reform processes have led to changes almost as dramatic as those in the former Soviet bloc. Although some countries of the region were open to Western anthropologists in the socialist period, access improved greatly almost everywhere in the 1990s. The ‘transition’ has been investigated not only by scholars with experience of socialist antecedents, but also by young newcomers to the field. This has generated a sense of excitement and even occasional, no doubt exaggerated claims that investigations of postsocialism might open up a new phase in the discipline, analogous to the focus on colonial African societies and on Melanesia by past generations. The postsocialist space is vast and the spectrum of anthropological work here is very wide. Even within economic anthropology, the range of this work is considerable. It deserves attention not only within the discipline but also among other social scientists, particularly those whose models and predictions have been refuted by recalcitrant realities. After brief outlines of general theoretical, descriptive and applied contributions, I shall highlight some of the...
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