A New Ecological Order provides a new perspective on the ways nature was mobilized by the developmental policies of Eastern Europe’s nation-states in their struggle to escape the periphery. Analyzing environmental changes and the way new ideas and new actors have been involved in this complex process, it offers an exceptional contribution to the history and anthropology of the government of nature.
The rise of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century forged a new ecological order in North American and Western European states, radically transforming the environment through science and technology in the name of human progress. Far less known are the dramatic environmental changes experienced by Eastern Europe, in many ways a terra incognita for environmental historians and anthropologists. A New Ecological Order explores, from a historical and ethnographic perspective, the role of state planners, bureaucrats, and experts—engineers, agricultural engineers, geographers, biologists, foresters, and architects—as agents of change in the natural world of Eastern Europe from 1870 to the early twenty-first century. Contributors consider territories engulfed by empires, from the Habsburg to the Ottoman to tsarist Russia; territories belonging to disintegrating empires; and countries in the Balkan Peninsula, Central and Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. Together, they follow a rhetoric of “correcting nature,” a desire to exploit the natural environment and put its resources to work for the sake of developing the economies and infrastructures of modern states. They reveal an eagerness among newly established nation-states, after centuries of imperial economic and political impositions, to import scientific knowledge and new technologies from Western Europe that would aid in their economic development, and how those imports and ideas about nature ultimately shaped local projects and policies.
Surely destined to become a classic, this innovative book focuses on how the complex region that is Eastern Europe employed natural resources to bring about economic benefit and growth. Explaining the intertwined and ever-changing sociopolitical national regimes and their histories, these well-researched case studies offer tantalizing comparisons with other parts of the world.
Did the ‘West’ colonize the ‘East’ of Europe with infrastructure projects? The answer—laid out in this excellent collection—is no, or at least, not quite. But the case studies . . . achieve even more than resetting the colonial narrative. They bring nature into the story and discuss how nationalistic bureaucracies planned its exploitation. . . . The contributors to this volume not only bring fresh perspectives, they also expertly fill a gap, not least by showing how much more such studies we need for a fuller picture of European environmental history.
This volume is an indispensable source for understanding the vital, and often tragic, link between the conception of nature as a ‘resource’ and factor of production and the process of modernization and state making in Eastern Europe. Original, broad-ranging, and analytically sophisticated, A New Ecological Order represents an intellectual port from which much subsequent research will set sail. Ştefan Dorondel and Stelu Şerban have made a path-breaking contribution to environmental history with this volume.
Convincingly applying the notion of ‘regional modernities’ to argue for a broadened space for Eastern Europe, A New Ecological Order is a ground-breaking volume tout court. The dozen erudite and meticulously researched studies spanning a period of 150 years show remarkable continuities in the state practices of transforming nature for modernizing purposes regardless of opposing state ideologies. With a keen sense for nuance, the volume subtly distinguishes between dependence and colonial predicament, and demonstrates a convergence of interests despite the asymmetry in power relations between Western and Eastern Europe.
Ştefan Dorondel is a senior researcher at the Francisc I. Rainer Institute of Anthropology of the Romanian Academy and affiliated with the Institute for South East European Studies, Bucharest. He is the author of Disrupted Landscapes: State, Peasants, and the Politics of Land in Postsocialist Romania and coauthor of When Things Become Property: Land Reform, Authority and Value in Postsocialist Europe and Asia.
Stelu Şerban is a sociologist at the Institute for South East European Studies, Bucharest, with an interest in postsocialist transformations in South East Europe, everyday life in rural societies, ethnicity, and political ecology. He is the author of Elites: Parties and Political Spectrum in Interwar Romania.