Reed Magazine February 2005
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Katherine Verdery '70 shines a light on a small Romanian village to expose the difference between land ownership and control.

By Greg Coyle

Katherine Verdery '70 is interested in people, in the social processes that connect and ultimately define us. She has since childhood occupied herself with trying, as she puts it, "to figure out how the world works."

This ambition led her to a degree in anthropology from Reed College and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. It also propelled her to teaching posts at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, where last year she served as the chair of the department of anthropology.

She has spent the bulk of her nearly 30-year career concentrated on socialism and Eastern Europe, principally Aurel Vlaicu, a small village in Romania's Western Carpathian Mountains. In that time, she has produced numerous articles and five books on the subject.

"Before 1989, I wanted to understand socialism, and after 1989, perforce, why it worked out so badly and how it was being dismantled," she says.

In the early '90s, the Romanian revolution revised her focus. The break up of collective farming ushered in a dramatic transformation from socialist collectivization to private ownership that galvanized the peasantry.

"Anthropologists want to bring to light the perspective of the people they work with," Verdery says. "I got interested in [land/property issues] because that was what my villagers were interested in."

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Reed Magazine February