Geographies of connectivity: a relational perspective on ‘autonomous’ Eco-villages in Romania

Flora Sonkin, MSc. International Development Studies at Wageningen University, followed the course of Global Sense of Place (RSO-55306) of the Rural Sociology Group. For the course, she wrote an essay on Eco-villages. Below, a summary of her essay.

IMG_7978.JPGDebates in contemporary social theory and political geography on the use of relational theory as a conceptual framework (found in the works of Escobar, Harvey, Massey and others), have generated a fertile ground to the deconstruction of the concept of place as bounded space. Through the use of a relational approach, space is seen as a social construction (Harvey, 1994). Consequently, it becomes a result of interactions, which are neither static nor limited to boundaries. In other words, thinking space relationally means that place is not defined as a locality or mere geographic position, but as a complex network of relations, a product of multiple trajectories and practices (Massey, 2004).

The aim of the paper I wrote on eco-villages is to contribute to the academic and activist discussion on the creation of different realities or “other worlds” in the present, using the case of eco-villages and the Global Ecovillage Network to illustrate the possibility to live within alternative forms of socio-economic organization without withdrawing from mainstream connections and social relations. Here, eco-villages and the global network are first characterized as a social movement which aims for self-sufficient living, being also put into the category of an ‘autonomous geography’ (Pickerill & Chatterton 2006). Continue reading

Re-making of place in Maramures, Romania – MSc-thesis reserach

By Anthonet Baijense, MSc-student International Development Studies (Research Master Variant).

Currently, I stay in Romania were I will spend my summer to learn the language, visit friends, do some traveling and last, but most importantly: to gather data for my master thesis. I am pleased to write once and a while about my experiences and research here and I hope you enjoy to read it!

Some students visited Romania last February as part of the Intensive Programme, and wrote some blogs with their reflections: e.g. on Traditional food. It was very nice to read about your experiences! Indeed, the Romanian saying goes that ‘my favorite vegetable is meat’ and for a vegetable freak as me, it was a change of diet! Amazing what people here eat for breakfast! It took me some time to get adapted! I stay in the North of Romania, in the district called the Maramureş, which is on the border with Ukraine. Because traveling around here is –let’s just say- complicated, my research focuses mainly on one village: Poienile Izei (see photo’s).

Let me now introduce you to my research as well. If you go on Google to find some pictures of the area where I stay, you will gain the impression that the Maramureş is indeed –as often described- a rural area overflowing of traditions and with a traditional style of life and architecture.

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Traditional foods at IP in Romania (7) Student reflection

Four previous blogs reported on the Intensive Program on Traditional Foods in Romania which took place during the first weeks of February. Students who participated were asked to reflect on their experiences.

Written by Rineke Boonen.

Saturday the 28th of January the time was come. Four students from Wageningen University replaced Wageneningen for two weeks Cluj-Napoca in Romania. We went to the cold Romania (-20C!) to take part at the Intensive Programme (IP) with the subject:”Microbes and traditional Foods: Competitors or allies”. Continue reading

Traditional Foods at IP Romania (6) Student reflection

Four previous blogs reported on the Intensive Program on Traditional Foods in Romania which took place during the first weeks of February. Students who participated reflect on their experiences.

Written by Hylke Sibtsen

While watching the airplanes departing from Schiphol airport take-off from a runway with perfectly white lanes of snow on either side I wondered what the IP in Cluj-Napoca Romania would bring. Besides a little bit of information concerning the topic, “Microbes and traditional foods: competitors or allies?”, and that each participating country would present several traditional products of their country or region, I didn’t know what to expect from the IP.

Continue reading

Traditional Foods at IP Romania (5) Student reflection

Four previous blogs reported on the Intensive Program on Traditional Foods in Romania which took place during the first weeks of February. Students who participated reflect on their experiences.

Written by Cho-Ye Yuen

picture: Stefanos Nastis - Valea Draganului

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived in Cluj-Napoca, where it was minus 15 degrees during the day and minus 20 during the night and everywhere was covered with snow. The first day started off well, students from different countries brought their own traditional food and held a presentations about it. Afterwards there was this big tasting where we enjoyed parmigiano reggiano aged 12 and 48 months, French saucisson, different kinds of cheeses and cakes, smoked bacon and off course accompanied by some drinks: strong liquors from Poland and Romania such as plum brandy. The next day was more serious and started with lectures from professors all over Europe. Assignments were given and working in groups with different nationalities was not unfamiliar when you come from Wageningen.

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Traditional foods at IP in Romania (4)

As argued in previous blogs on the IP in Romania, the category ‘traditional’ is socially constructed by social relations based on current perceptions of ‘tradition’. Foods celebrated and successfully marketed now as traditional, a positive category which offsets itself against placeless, mass-produced, standardised foods, can have a troubled social history. Some of these foods came into being as a result of social inequality, social injustice or exploitation. This part of the history usually disappears in current marketing efforts which show romanticized images of the countryside and small-scale farming. Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania (3)

At the IP in Romania (see two earlier blogs) students study various aspects related to traditional foods, from discussions over micro-organisms and hygiene rules to marketing and rural development. The category ‘traditional’ is a social construction, what is considered traditional changes with time and cultural context. Tradition is influenced by new techniques and innovations; which one is allowed and which one is not? But also by current food cultures and the customer base to which traditional foods appeal. Traditional foods often carry one or more labels to protect these products against imitation. This is necessary as customers are usually cultural outsiders, urban consumers, tourists or consumers in other countries. Without a cultural reference point, they can’t judge on their own whether the product is traditionally produced and thus as authentic as claimed. Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania (2)

At the Intensive Program for two weeks in Cluj-Napoca, students from France, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands study the relationship between traditional foods and micro organisms. Next week, they will receive lectures in micro-biology and they will go on a study trip to the mountains to learn about Slow Food in Romania. This week, they study traditional foods from a social science point of view, with lectures from sociologists and economists. Some of these lectures deal with how to market traditional foods, which are credence foods. Adding the category ‘traditional’ adds value/credence to the food, similar to the category ‘organic’ or ‘healthy’. An apple is not just an apple anymore but an órganic apple, which brings a world of associations and symbolic connections to the product. Once a credence food, it is vulnerable to cheating practices, how to distinguish the ‘real’ traditional food from its wannabee imitations? (see short BBC item on camenbert) Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania

Two weeks of Intensive Program are currently in progress in Cluj-Napoca, in the North West of Romania. Coming from 7 different countries, 42 students are learning about Traditional foods in relation to micro organisms. The course is international and interdisciplinary, this week they first had lectures in Sensory Analysis from colleagues of France, Belgium and Denmark and yesterday they started with the social science part in which I gave the first lecture on Food Culture & Authenticity.

We started the week on Monday with student presentations of Traditional Foods from their countries which we closed with a tasting session on the many products they brought. I used many of their examples in my lecture yesterday. For example, not one of the products presented was related to the ‘breakthrough’ of new preservation techniques (such as freezing) which developed simultanously with industrialisation. Of course, but without realising I found out, everybody had chosen products that had ‘old’ preservation techniques such as salting, smoking and fermenting.

A product such as sour cabbage was presented as typical for Romania but disputed by other students, for sauerkraut – zuurkool  is a typical winterfood in many Eastern and Northern European countries. Cabbage, Pork, Cheese, Fruits such as plums, Walnuts were among the main ingredients of many traditional foods presented. Traditional because these products are rooted in rural self-subsistance household preservation. Pork, for example, is the pride of Romania. One of the traditional foods presented by a Romanian student group was the Ignat on the 20th of December. On this day, families in rural areas gather together and sacrifice the pig they have kept for this reason. It is a big ritual with particular techniques involved and roles to play for different members of the household. More than once, I heard the ‘joke’ that pork is the vegetable for Romanians.