Departure and emptiness in the Latvian countryside (in Latvian)

In the last three decades, significant numbers of Latvia’s residents have been leaving Latvia to live and work abroad. As a result, politicians and policy makers have begun to talk about the problem of emigration as a threat to the nation. Several policy initiatives have been launched with the aim to turn the flow of migration in the opposite direction. At the same time, ordinary Latvians continue to leave the country. Those who stay are faced with the effects of emigration in the form of severed family relations and empty towns and villages.

This book written and published in Latvian in 2012 asks what kind of a problem is emigration. How does emigration as a large-scale social phenomenon affect the social fabric in Latvia? How does it change peoples‘ lives, including their worldviews and their daily practices? Drawing on ethnographic research in Latgale and Kurzeme, the book analyzes emigration and the emptying of the Latvian countryside in order to show how these processes affect the life worlds of rural residents, as well as to trace the futures they foreclose or make possible. The author analyzes the problem of emigration in the context of post-Soviet political and economic reforms. She emphasizes the need for a detailed analysis of the present as the only way to imagine a future where life is livable in Latvia.

The chapters of the book focus on the following aspects of emigration: formulation of the problem of emigration in Latvian public and political life; the contested place of mobility in the historically formulated ethos of the national state; the ways in which emigration has become a permanent presence in the life worlds of Latvia’s rural residents; the political potential within the affect of emptiness that haunts people’s lives; and, finally, the effects of the temporality of post-Soviet economic and political life on people’s ability to imagine and plan for a future. In conclusion, the author reflects on the potential of diasporic life for alternative ethics and politics. 

This book covers the author’s fieldwork period from 2010 to 2012 which served as an inspiration for the project on emptiness. All photographs are by Ints Kalniņš who kindly allowed them to be used in the book. The publication can be downloaded here.

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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.