Emptiness in Romania

A roundtable hosted by Londohome on 5 Sep 2022, 6.00pm-8.00pm (see video recording link below)

Contrary to the widespread narratives about global urbanization, many of Europe’s cities – and not just villages – are shrinking rather than growing. While global cities, such as London, Delhi, and Beijing, are seeing population growth, the places in-between – both cities and villages – are losing people, jobs, and infrastructure. There are reports of emptying villages and towns in Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, and Spain. Uneven economic and geographic development is reflected in record emigration from Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Lithuania. Wars are becoming an additional factor in producing spaces of destruction and desertion, as we see in reports from Ukraine’s Mariupol and Kharkiv.

A group of anthropologists from Oxford explore these processes within the comparative project Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Democracy after Postsocialism. For us emptiness is a complex social formation that consists of an observable reality, in which places rapidly lose their constitutive elements: people, schools, services, social networks, jobs, the future; a way of life that emerges as residents attempt to make life go on; and an emic interpretive frame local residents use to describe and make sense of the new reality. In dialogue with Romanian scholars, we reflect on the following questions:

Is emptiness a product, a by-product, or an unintended consequence of individuals’ actions, capital, and/or the state?

What does emptiness mean for the state, for people, and for capital when large territories become empty or when its subjects leave in large numbers?

What does it mean to plan for shrinking rather than development?

Who comes to (re)inhabit the emptying territories, and what forms of life emerge in the margins of capitalism and statecraft?


  • Dr Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford)
  • Dr Volodymyr Artiukh (University of Oxford)
  • Maria Gunko (University of Oxford)
  • Friederike Pank (University of Oxford)
  • Dr Stefan Dorondel (Francisc I Rainer Institute of Anthropology Bucharest of the Romanian Academy)
  • Dr Liviu Chelcea (University of Bucharest)
  • Dr Calin Cotoi (University of Bucharest)
  • Dr George Iordăchescu (University of Sheffield)
  • Razvan Dumitru (Social Insights)

Collaborate with us

If you would like to find out more about the project or contribute a blog on a resonant aspect of your own research to the Field Reports section of our website, please get in touch by writing to emptiness@anthro.ox.ac.uk.