Dr Dace Dzenovska

dace dzenovska web


Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration

I am a social cultural anthropologist interested in the changing relationships between people, places, the state and capital in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. To that end, I have studied how residents of Latvia were summoned to change their understandings of self and community via European Union supported tolerance promotion projects. I have also studied what it means for the Latvian nation and state when most of its subjects migrate to live and work in other states—for example, in the United Kingdom. Currently, I am researching the emptying towns and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia in order to understand what it means to live in and govern emptying places, as well as what such places can tell us about how flows of capital and shifts in political authority are reconfiguring the world we live in.

I hold doctoral and master’s degrees in social cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an interdisciplinary master’s degree in humanities and social thought from New York University.

I am co-convening (with Nicolette Makovicky, OSGA) a work-in-progress forum for faculty and students working on themes related to socialism and post-socialism, broadly defined (please see here). This work-in-progress forum is “on sabbatical” for the 2020-2021 academic year.

I am on research leave for 2020-2023, but I continue to work with doctoral students. I welcome applications from students interested in nationalism, liberalism, statehood, sovereignty, capitalism, and migration.


Email: dace.dzenovska@compas.ox.ac.uk
Twitter: @DaceDzenovska

Current research

My book School of Europeanness: Tolerance and Other Lessons in Political Liberalism (2018, Cornell University Press) examines efforts to instil liberal political virtues in the Latvian society and political institutions as part of postsocialist liberalization and democratization initiatives. The book argues that Eastern Europe should be viewed as a laboratory for the forging of post-Cold War political liberalism in Europe. The book’s chapters focus on: the moral landscape surrounding the history of European colonialism, Soviet socialism, and Latvian nationalism; minority politics; critical thinking; injurious language; and asylum politics and border control. The book shows that Europe’s contemporary liberal democratic polities are based on a fundamental tension between the need to exclude and the requirement to profess and institutionalize the value of inclusion. It also provides insights with regard to the current crisis of political liberalism from a moment in time when its proponents were still confident and from the perspective of a place and people that were thought to have never been liberal.

Since 2010, I study the formation of post-Soviet capitalism and European integration in the Latvian countryside. I analyse leaving and staying as tactics of life in conditions when the countryside is being abandoned by capital and the state. I have also followed those who leave to Boston, Lincolnshire, where they become migrants for the residents of Boston and diaspora for the Latvian state. I have published a Latvian language book on the basis of this research (Aizbraukšana un tukšums Latvijas laukos: Starp zudušām un iespējamām nākotnēm, Zinātne, 2012). I am currently re-writing this book into English.

I have just begun a five-year long European Research Council project entitled Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Democracy After Postsocialism (2020-2025). The project studies the emptying cities, towns, and villages in Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia through the lens of “emptiness” as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed. It proceeds from the observation that many towns and villages across the former socialist space are being abandoned by capital, the state, and people and that there is a proliferation of popular and scholarly imaginaries and discourses of emptiness as the ruination of material, social, and economic life, and the coming of a radically different future. And yet, the material, social, and political contours of emptying and emptiness are poorly understood. This has considerable effects for how people act upon the concrete challenges that emptying and emptiness present. The project thus aims to: (1), study the experiences and narratives of emptiness and emptying; (2), examine the politics and governance of emptying and emptiness; and (3), use postsocialist “emptying” and “emptiness” as lenses for analyzing global reconfigurations of relations between capital, the state, people, and place at a time when capital flows and statecraft are increasingly concentrated in “global cities,” with the rest of urban and non-urban spaces becoming radically disconnected. This article outlines the vision at the basis of the project.

Current DPhil students

Dace also co-supervises Marija Norkunaite (OSGA)

Selected publications
school of europeanness

2021. “Existential sovereignty: Latvian People, Their State, and the Problem of Mobility.” In Reeves, Madeleine and Rebecca Bryant (eds). The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty: Enacting State Agency. Forthcoming with Cornell University Press.

2020. “Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Freedom in the Latvian-Russian Borderlands.” In American Ethnologist 47(1):10-26.  

2019. “The Timespace of Emptiness.” In “Orientations to the Future,” Rebecca Bryant and Daniel M. Knight, eds., American Ethnologist website, March 8. 

2018. School of Europeanness: Tolerance and Other Lessons in Political Liberalism in Latvia. Cornell University Press.

2018. “Lessons for Liberalism from the ‘Illiberal East’” (with Larisa Kurtović). Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website, April 25, 2018.

2018. "The Insignificance of Latvia in the Battle Between Good and Evil." Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website, April 25, 2018. 

2018. “’Latvians Do Not Understand Greek People’: Europeanness and Complicit Becoming in the Midst of Financial Crisis.” In Loftsdottir, Kristin, Smith, Andrea & Brigitte Hipfl (eds). Messy Europe: Crisis, Race, and Nation State in a Postcolonial World. Berghahn Books. 

2018. “Emptiness and Its Futures: Staying and Leaving as Tactics of life in Latvia.” Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 80(1): 16-29. 

2018. “Desire for the Political in the Aftermath of the Cold War” (with Nicholas De Genova). Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 80(1): 1-15. 

2017. “Coherent Selves, Viable States: Eastern Europe and the ‘Migration/Refugee Crisis’.”  Slavic Review 76(2): 297-306. 

2017. “‘We Want to Hear From You’: Reporting as Bordering in the Political Space of Europe.” In De Genova, Nicholas (ed). The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering. Duke University Press. 

2016. “Independence is not always what it seems.” In Green, Sarah (ed). “Brexit Referendum: first reactions from anthropology.” Social Anthropology 24(4): 478-502. 

2015. “’Know your diaspora!’ Knowledge production and governing capacity in the context of Latvian diaspora politics.” In Sigona, Nando & Alan Gamlen, Giulia Liberatore, Helen Neveu Kringelbach (eds). Diasporas Reimagined: Spaces, Practices and Belonging. University of Oxford. 

2014. “Bordering Encounters, Sociality, and Distribution of the Ability to Live a Normal Life.” Social Anthropology 22(3): 271-287. 

2014. “Practices and Politics of Rural Living in Latvia: An Interdisciplinary View” (with Guntra Aistara). Journal of Baltic Studies 45(1): 1-16. 

2013. “Historical Agency and the Coloniality of Power in Postsocialist Europe.” Anthropological Theory 13(4): 394-416. 

2013. “The Great Departure: Rethinking National(ist) Common Sense.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(2): 201-218. 

2012. “Don’t Fence Me In: Barricade Sociality and Political Struggles in Mexico and Latvia” (with Iván Arenas). Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(3): 644-678. 

2012. Departure and Emptiness in the Latvian Countryside: Between Lost and Possible Futures [in Latvian]. Riga: Apgāds Turība. 

2010. “Public Reason and the Limits of Liberal Anti-Racism in Latvia.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 75(4): 425-454.