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1996). Reports to date on emerging property forms speak not of a wholesale shift from public to private ownership,1 but of mixes of these: different social actors hold different bundles of rights, and the definitions of the status of property are blurred and ambiguous.2

Among the tasks these investigations facilitate is a deeper inquiry into the very concept of property itself—what it means, and how property regimes are socially produced. Such an inquiry should also explore the ideological aspect of privatization as a centerpiece of the transition, for the neoliberal project of transforming public into private property has more than a practical aim (ostensibly easing the creation of markets, not to mention the interface with global capital); it has great ideological significance as well. This significance goes beyond the mere fact of constantly pressing for private property. If we see the transition as a project of cultural engineering in which fundamental social ideas are resignified—including not only democracy, markets, and private property, but also ideas about entitlement, accountability, and responsibility—then the (re)creation of private property is evidently a critical locus for this cultural project. The reason is that neoliberal property notions so often emphasize rights (entitlement) and obligations (accountability), whose subjects are normatively individuals (physical or jural) exercising exclusive rights. From this vantage point, all other arrangements look fuzzy.

The purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, I suggest that to understand property in post-communist contexts, one must go beyond defining it in terms of rights and obligations that assume individualized property subjects. I prefer instead a property analysis that invokes the total system of social, cultural, and political relations and inquires into, rather than assuming, the nature of property conceptions (Hann, 1993; Ghani, 1996). That is, I seek to broaden the way we study the property aspect of post-communism. Second, the chapter chronicles a specific moment in which a specific set of property conceptions was taking shape, which favored not individual but collective property rights based in collective labor. By investigating this moment, I hope to show the social processes through which a new property regime is produced. My data come from Aurel Vlaicu, a Transylvanian village undergoing decollectivization. The breakup of its collective farm has resulted in a complex array of property forms and claims, antithetical to what I believe the neoliberal architects of privatization had in mind; hence I label the outcome "fuzzy property."


It is common in much social science writing today to put scare-quotes around words whose customary meanings we want to question. The standard style for this volume precludes such usage; nonetheless, I ask readers to be aware that many terms appearing in this chapter are used in a way that questions their standard referents.


Opinions vary as to whether these mixed, ambiguous forms are a good or a bad thing. For Staniszkis (1991), they are the route to a Polish capitalism; for Cornea (1993), they are a ticket to economic stagnation and communist restoration; and for Stark (1996), they are flexible forms that are likely to prove adaptive in the shift to market economies.

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