Authoritarianism from Below. Lessons from Ethnographic Studies in Belarus

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Ronan Hervouet


Abstract: Belarusian society is often studied through a top-down perspective. My ethnographic approach aims to explore the effective ways through which “ordinary people” express their agency to build their everyday life inside this authoritarian context. The authoritarian system in Belarus produces harsh constraints. The article explores the ways people cope with these constraints, and how they sometimes succeed within them. Three topics of everyday life are analyzed. At the dacha, people transform deprivation and drops in social standing into the expression of a social status based on work ethics and technical competences. In subbotniki, they transform a political ritual into a social ritual celebrating the “us.” In the kolkhoz they defend some ethics governing their lives. Fieldwork in Belarus shows that the world of everyday life under an authoritarian regime may make sense for people. This sense is not the simple reproduction of ideology. Instead, this sense is composed by people themselves through situations and routines in which they sometimes borrow from official political discourse but do not mechanically model their thoughts and actions on them.


Keywords: Belarus, dachas, subbotniki, kolkhoz, everyday life, dictatorship



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Hervouet, R. (2013). Authoritarianism from Below. Lessons from Ethnographic Studies in Belarus. Anthropology of East Europe Review, 31(2), 19–29. Retrieved from