Visions of Agency: Imagining Individual and Collective Action in Nineteenth Century Romania
Supervisors: Prof Wendy Bracewell, Prof Zoran Milutinovic
External Advisor: Prof Susan Morrissey
This project demarcates a political and cultural history of visions of agency in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Romania. Taking as a theoretical starting-point the dynamics of perceiving and ascribing a capacity to act, it will illuminate tensions and contradictions in the project of Romanian state-building and national consolidation, engaging broader theoretical discussions of theories of nationalism, nineteenth-century European cultural history, and Romanian political and intellectual history.
My project is prompted, on the one hand, by the conspicuous exclusion of the peasantry from the sphere of politics, and, on the other, its exaltation as the nation itself; the originality of the research lies in the attempt to identify common analytical factors underpinning the conflict between the restrictive liberal vision of 'capacity', as inscribed in a logic of restricted suffrage, and the tremendous scope for collective action, as imagined by nationalist rhetorics. My working thesis is that the tensions caused by increasingly heterogeneous perceptions of 'who is seen to be capable of doing what, by whom', combined with the dismal material condition of the Romanian peasantry, stimulated the project of national construction. Through a series of case-studies, I will show that these negotiations simultaneously sharpened the social and ideological cleavages in Romanian society, eventually detonating in the Great Peasant Revolt of 1907 - Europe's last major jacquerie.
The primary sources for my project shall be selected
journals, pamphlets and parliamentary debates ranging from the late
1870s to 1908 and spanning the entire political spectrum, as well as a
cross-section of literary works and social scientific and medical
tracts. The critical methodological step lies in the selection of those
contexts that bring agency to the fore, highlighting it as the common
question to which a number of motifs and practices which were not
necessarily labeled as crucial - or, indeed, as discrete 'practices' -
were the answer at the time.