In this episode, we meet Dr. Jill Massino, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina Charlotte who is fascinated with researching everyday life under dictatorships. We discuss Ambiguous Transitions: Gender, the State and Everyday Life in Socialist and Postsocialist Romania (Berghahn, 2019). This book, which is based on more than one hundred oral histories and extensive work in libraries and archives, shows convincingly that people and societies are complex and elude clear-cut generalizations. The author looks through the prism of everyday life, following the cycle of growing up, marriage, parenthood, while also discussing the material circumstances that structures one’s life: accessibility of consumer goods and the efforts that go into procuring them when they are scarce. “For me the important thing about everyday life history is that it provides a fuller portrait of the politics, of the economic system, of the society you are focusing on, and it allows us to see how people were both affected by and responded to state policies,” Massino explains. People did suffer under the East European socialist regimes, the author says, and not only in prison and labour camps, but also in juggling careers and family responsibilities, witnessing the gulf between the state’s delusional propaganda and reality, and in queuing for hours in the cold or trying to find infant formula through connections. On the other hand, Massino shows that this was also a time of meaningful experiences – some people escaped poverty and followed their talents, pursued fulfilling careers, and spent their family vacations on the Black Sea.
Marina Kadriu is an international MA student in Anthropology at Simon Fraser University.