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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Anthropology

Year Degree Awarded

2018

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Dr. Krista Harper

Second Advisor

Dr. Jacqueline Urla

Third Advisor

Dr. Richard Wilkie

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Eastern European Studies | Folklore | Migration Studies | Rural Sociology | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Abstract

The processes of industrialization and modernization, as well as those emerging from them, have produced radical changes in the lifestyle of the peasantry. These transformations went hand in hand with the degradation of community lifestyle and of the customs it contained. Among the many rituals performed by rural communities, this dissertation focuses on mummers' plays. The present paper is an attempt to outline a brief history of mummers' plays beginning with an age when they were simple community rituals and going to the recent decades when they entered a rapid decline, and when state institutions together with international organizations such as UNESCO introduced projects meant to safeguard them.

Based on an extensive field research in Iași County, Eastern Romania, where peasant customary communities are still active today this dissertation takes a path different from most of the peasant studies that preceded it. It focuses on peasant mummers’ plays in two rural settlements and scrutinizes them in relation to the peasant economy and the peasant system of values specific to the rural universe. It analyzes their role in cementing peasant social networks and their contribution to the dynamic of peasant communities and culture. At the same time, this dissertation embraces a global perspective and observes closely the transformation of rural customary communities' forms of culture under the great transformations inflicted during the last seven decades by modernization and the advent of modern forms of entertainment (sports competitions, TV, internet, computer games). Being more appealing to people, these have replaced mummers’ plays in the human consciousness despite mummers' success in small-scale agricultural societies throughout centuries. Nevertheless, of all the realities produced by the Industrial Revolution, international labor migration has proven to be the most corrosive, leading not only to the erosion of rural customary communities but also of their forms of culture such as mummers' plays.

These transformations of rural culture have become very visible and have been observed by folklorists, state authorities, and the peasants themselves. Unfortunately, the methods implemented for safeguarding rural culture are not always appropriate to the rural culture intended to be safeguarded, or to rural communities themselves. At least in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, the methods most often used to patrimonialize mummers' plays have been folklore festivals (Cash 2012). Far from being perfect tools, these festivals involve political, economic, and power relations to which peasants are always subordinate. The close follow-up of these processes shows that, just as peasants take the path of cities in search of better resources, their traditions, too, migrate to the cities through three processes: festivalization, urbanization, mass-mediatization. Thus, peasants' rituals like mummers' plays turn into simple consumer items devoured by spectators through TV broadcasts and Facebook-like social networks. I used the Bourdieuan symbolic violence concept to show how, by participating in such festivals, the peasants themselves not only become the victims of an external aggression directed against their own culture but also active agents of this transformation and of the processes that lead to their subordination.

In contrast to this type of patrimonialization, accompanied by symbolic violence, the dissipation of peasant culture through international labor migration has actually spread this culture across all the major cities and countries of the world. Through the story - a companion of human life and culture for millennia, people living in peasant cultures become involuntary agents of safeguarding rural culture in general and mummers' plays in particular and make their traditions cross the borders of the small rural locality where they were born, to finally become transnational cultural forms.

Employing a series of anthropological methods and strategies - ranging from historical analysis, archive study, participant observation, unstructured interviews, life histories, to visual methods such as filming, taking pictures of winter rural rituals, and photo elicitation, I aim at analyzing and understanding a “social arena” (Bourdieu 1993) mined by the ambiguities and ambivalences of peasants’ commitments and apprehensions concerning the promotion/practices of intangible cultural heritage forms. Simultaneously, I aim at understanding the way intangible cultural heritage is produced, promoted and contested in a postsocialist landscape of inequalities, the restructuring of the old community values, and the intensive labor migration to Western Europe, dramatically depleting the local peasant populations and the social fabric where such rituals used to be anchored in the past.

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