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Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Democracy After (Post)Socialism

Project description

Studying 'emptiness' in post-socialist towns and villages

The phenomenon of 'emptiness' is observed in towns and villages of former socialist countries that are being abandoned by capital, people, and the state. This phenomenon has been subject to popular and academic discourses defining it as the destruction of material, social, and economic life, resulting in its politicisation or aestheticisation. However, the reasons and the political shape of emptiness are not fully understood. The EU-funded Emptiness project will study the withdrawal of capital, state, and people in Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus by examining the experiences, narratives, politics and governance of emptiness and emptying. The project will analyse the relationship between capital, state, people and place, centring on the hypothesis that political and economic interests are shifting towards 'global cities', while the other urban and non-urban spaces are becoming increasingly disconnected.


This project proposes to study “emptiness” as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed. It is developed on the basis of the following observations: (1), many towns and villages across the former socialist space are being abandoned by capital, the state, and people; (2), 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; (3), emptiness and emptying are politicized, with some political actors pointing to the risks of emptying and others considering narratives of emptying as themselves threatening to the existing political order; and (4), despite—or because—of politicization, emptying is subject to governance, as in the case of “shrinking cities” in East Germany. 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 mobilizes emptiness as an emic discursive figure derived from ethnographic research in the Latvian-Russian borderlands to study the withdrawal of the state, capital, and people in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian Far East, and Belarus. The project 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. It argues that postsocialist emptying and emptiness prefigure emergent spatial organization of economic and political life, whereby capital flows and statecraft are increasingly concentrated in “global cities,” with the rest of urban and non-urban spaces becoming radically disconnected.



Net EU contribution
€ 1 929 263,00
Wellington square university offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)