Seeing Like a Mayor

  • Verdery K
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Abstract

A decade after the law returning land rights to previous owners in Romania had been passed in 1991, the process was still incomplete; titling was delayed and lawsuits dragged on by the year. Contrary to widespread opinion, I argue that this delay came not primarily from a government that intended to postpone land restitution but from obstructionism by officials in the administrative units (communes) charged with implementing restitution. Using data from ethnographic research, I discuss a variety of ways in which mayors and their commune allies hindered the restitution process: through their structural relations with the center, their use of land to accumulate political capital and their control over the knowledge that counted most in pursuing a claim as well as through the abdication of responsibility by both lower- and higher-level authorities who might have checked mayors' ambitions. The results of their actions included undermining both the legitimacy of private property institutions and the strength of the emergent Romanian state.

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Authors

  • Katherine Verdery

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