Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies

2009 Citation Recipient

Jessica Allina-Pisano

The Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, established in 2008 and sponsored by the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eurasia, or Eastern Europe in anthropology, political science, sociology, or geography in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Jessica Allina-Pisano
Title: The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village: Politics and Property Rights in the Black Earth (Cambridge University Press)

Allina-Pisano’s monograph reveals how private property reforms introduced into post-Soviet rural communities, long-organized along notions of collective ownership, led to impoverishment instead of prosperity. She deals with a complex of structural, cultural, and historical mechanisms that contribute to current rural conditions, and does so subtly, smartly, and with compelling style and grace. By uncovering the informal social constraints on formal economic rights, Allina-Pisano explains the transformation of state socialism’s former collective farmers into monopoly capitalism’s new rural proletarians. Her project is especially noteworthy for the extensive and intensive field work, conducted in rural villages in Ukraine and Russia. Meticulously building from the ground up, Allina-Pisano demonstrates that a well-constructed local ethnography offers invaluable insight into the unanticipated outcomes of post-communist economic reform.

Honorable Mention: Scott Gehlbach
Title: Representation through Taxation: Revenue, Politics, and Development in Postcommunist States (Cambridge University Press)

Gehlbach has produced a first-rate monograph on the emergence of variant tax systems among the post-communist states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He successfully challenges the long-held conventional wisdom in American political science that organized interests will be better represented in the halls of political power than will unorganized interests. Instead, Gehlbach shows how the state’s delivery of public goods had less to so with the organization of wealth, and more to do with its accessibility. His findings are enhanced by a mixed research methodology, combining game theory and statistical analysis with field work and contextual framing. Gehlbach’s monograph is a major contribution to the post-communist political economy.

Honorable Mention: Charles King
Title: The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (Oxford University Press)

Ghost of Freedom is very clearly driven by a social science question: what forces account for the bellicosity of Caucasus social history. It is a history only in the sense that it interrogates a broad sweep of time and is chronologically structured, but if one looks closely, almost every aspect of the book, every chapter, every historical anecdote, is in some way connected to the overarching problematics of colonial rule, politics, and strategic cooptation, struggles for independence and control of resources (political, social, geographic, and material), and the impossibly intricate interrelationships between communities, identities, and interests across the region, making it a work of politics in historic mode. The real accomplishment of this book is the way in which King consistently undermines a number of essentializing modes of explaining the Caucasus.