– Philobiblon /  Volume XVII (2012) – Nr. 2 – 

Ionuţ Butoi

University of Bucharest,

Department of Sociology

 A new volume appeared among the spontaneous and non-institutionalized recoveries of memory of Gusti’s School: Dimitrie Gusti et al., Cornova 1931, edited by Marin Diaconu, Zoltán Rostás, Vasile Şoimaru, appeared at Quant Publishing House, Chisinau, 2011 (852 pp., we will quote below with direct reference to the page, unlike the other references). The volume is the first monograph of a monographic campaign of Gusti’s School, which shows a historical delay of such recoveries, absolutely amazing. It has all the qualities and “defects” of Gustism: starting from an enthusiastic and totally disinterested initiative of a “son” of Cornova (Vasile Soimaru), summed up, following a remarkable collective effort, a huge amount of information, studies, historical sites required for a monograph assembled in a comprehensive file of the theme. “Defects” are not related to content but to its structuring: the contemporary contributions about the campaign from Cornova and monographists are not clearly defined from the contributions occurred in that historical period, for example. Uninformed readers can get lost in this volume and will not easily capture a unitary view of the village, of the monographic campaign as collective action and of Gusti’s School. This does not mean that the image does not exist, on the contrary (even here we shall try to provide one of the possible images) but it is the fault of any comprehensive approach that is structured on the basis of aggregation of materials and not on a thematic basis.

The monograph is divided into four parts: Studies, a first part containing completed scientific productions resulted from the Cornova campaign, About the Seventh Monographic Campaign, bringing together various communications, articles, conferences, events on the campaign, either published in the press of the time or private documents (monographists’ letters, for example), or testimonies closer to our time, consistentSociological Portraits made for several leading participants of the campaign (Dimitrie Gusti, D.C. Amzăr, Ştefania Cristescu, Gh. Focşa, Octavian Neamţu, Mihai Pop, Henri H. Stahl – it should be noted that the last three portraits, made by Zoltán Rostás, are original contributions made especially for this volume) andDictionary Sheets enriched with new information made to all the Cornova monographists. The end of the volume has a collection of vintage photos made during the campaign of 1931, by Iosif Berman.

Publishers’ imprint is also visible: the local patriotism of Vasile Şoimaru (faithful to the village tradition of being “smarter, more educated, more modified” than others) is combined with the innovative talent of Zoltán Rostás in the research conducted on an apparently cleared land and with an archivist’s exactness of Marin Diaconu. This new contribution is a must have for anyone interested in the history of Gusti’s School, in the history of interwar sociology and also, extending the framework, in the social history of the Romanian interwar period. Next we shall try to argue why it would be so.

Cornova 1931 is a vintage photo that captures three moments: 1) Gusti’s School moment in 1931; 2) the issue of interwar village and the Bessarabian issue and 3) the moment of recovery of this past of social and sociological history.

1) Gusti’s School in 1931

The monographic campaign from Cornova is, according to Zoltán Rostás (that partly follows H.H. Stahl in this classification) the last in the series of “classical” campaigns started by Dimitrie Gusti (1890–1955) with that of Goicea Mare in 1924. The monographs of this period are primarily of research and less or not at all of social action, they are directly coordinated by Professor Gusti, have a strong interdisciplinary focus, also given by the myriad of cultural figures in fields other than the sociological ones involved in the field work, are extensive in participants’ number and methods of capitalization and impact on the public opinion of the time. Basically, the monograph shows signs that it may turn into a trend or phenomenon of the era. The highlight of this period is reached at Drăguș (1929), where the first “sociological” film (p. 600) was made and where we have the highest number of participants.

A “fatigue” is already experienced at Cornova, despite the interest aroused by the study, for the first time, of a Bessarabian[1] village, that some monographists make their first appearance here, remaining core members of the later Gusti approach and despite the production of the second propaganda documentary of the School (“A Bessarabian Village – Cornova”, p. 569). But Professor Gusti was already absorbed by new and high state tasks, marking the beginning of his involvement in first rank decision-making levels, making him stop coordinating the Cornova campaign in the field, and only visit it in passing.

The methodological construction of monographs had also reached its limits: the theoretical “system” of Gusti and the team investigation method had been set out from Fundul Moldovei (1928) and the epistemological shortcomings begin to be strongly manifested: the weight of scientific exploitation of the material gathered and the impossibility to provide a unified perspective of the objectives pursued. At “macro” level, the failure of the ambition of a total knowledge of the social life of the investigated units is obvious. Along with Gusti’s rise in the highest circles of power and thus his relative distancing from the field work, the ambiguity of the status of researchers involved is added. In other words, Gusti does not designate any informal leader or coordinator to fill his absence, given that no member emerges from the “big names” able to perform such a group function (p. 496).

However, at the “micro” level, Cornova represents an important moment, if not decisive, for clarifying and polishing some research issues for two prominent members of the school and scores three interesting debuts. We could say, risking an uchronia, that this “crisis” state of the monographic school could have been very fertile if all the predictable conclusions would have been drawn all the way and the new promising research directions would have been developed. Instead, the monograph somewhat loved to hear itself sing, subsequently turning into cultural or social action (placing the organizer Neamţu and the sceptic Stahl in the foreground), scattered into dissident directions (Golopenţia), tearing (the Iron Guard group of Rânduiala) or absences (Vulcănescu).

As mentioned, two important moments may be identified at Cornova, clarifying the “niche” research. It is about deepening the common ownership problems in which H.H. Stahl (1901–1991) had advanced considerably since Nerej (1927). In Cornova he meets, according to his own testimonies, a “frontier” that helps him reconstruct the past of cornovene estates formation, a village “umblător pe bătrâni” (493 and 727), a veritable living archive of popular surveying technique, an important and defining research topic for Stahl. In addition, also at Cornova, Stahl began to write an important book of methods and techniques about “social archaeology”.

A second important moment of clarification belongs to Mircea Vulcănescu (1904–1952); it is related to the study of economic life of agricultural holdings and can only be understood indirectly in the volume reviewed here. Indeed, the absence of an important contribution from Vulcănescu is surprising, both in the studies and echoes or conferences arising from disseminating the results of Cornova research. It is true that, in the list of lectures organized by RSI (Romanian Social Institute) on the occasion of the seventh monographic campaign, on April 6 there is scheduled the conference “Structure of the economic life in the village” (p. 412) held by Mircea Vulcănescu; however without any notes of the content in the press of the time. However, based on other records of the economist, in conjunction with the studies carried out by researchers involved in studying the economic life of the village in Cornova, the stage may be rebuilt.

Vulcănescu got involved in the Runcu campaign (1930) in issues regarding the economic life of the Romanian village and was struck by the method used by then in monographs, namely, the achievement of accounting budgets of peasant families in order to calculate their profitability. The method belonged to a “top” agronomist of the time, namely Nicolae Cornăţeanu (1899–1977), founder of the agrarian economy school (p. 755) involved in monographs from the campaign of Nerej. The problem with Cornăţeanu’s method, i.e. calculating family budgets, was “their sociological inaccuracy”, both in terms of the method and of the epistemological premises. Thus, argues Vulcănescu in a conference held in 1932, the conceptual mistake lies in considering the peasant household, the social unit under study, in a similar manner as an enterprise or a small capitalist business. Therefore, the “business” profitability was calculated, while the economic equation was lacking the essential elements of such a calculation (employee wages, profit, investment term) or even, to a large extent, the money (the teammates had to artificially monetarize different household activities in order to calculate the budget). Against the statistical method borrowed by Cornăţeanu from the Swiss agronomist highly quoted at the time, Ernst Laur (1871–1964), Vulcănescu comes up with the quality-statistical method of the Russian economist Alexandr Ceajanov (1888–1939).

The result of weighing the method of study of the economic life is strongly felt in the study that the monographist Ion Zamfirescu (1907–2002) dedicates to the peasant household (pp. 160–199) and the sequential contribution made by Xenia Costa-Foru (1902–1983) to the issue in her broader study about representative families of the Cornova village (pp. 375–382). The accounting budgets are integrated into typlogical analyses that attempt to capture the social status of the village and/or household (autarkic vs. dependent on the market and city) and instead of profitability, at which the output of the peasant economic activity is aimed, that is the (subjective) balance established by the peasant between the effort necessary to production and the results obtained. Vulcănescu will make an intensive use of the monographic research experience in his subsequent economic studies and reports.

With regard to the debuts made at Cornova, Anton Golopenţia (1909–1951) is first of all worth mentioning. Although he had previously visited Runcu, being brought by H.H. Stahl in order to “inform him about the social investigator’s crafts”,[2] the Bessarabian village is the first monographic campaign attended by the great sociologist, with a summary theme foreshadowing his later “dissident” approach: the urbanization phenomenon. Indeed, the theme escapes the classical Gustist framework, or frameworks and manifestations, being a transversal synthesizing of other niche researches using information about spiritual manifestations, aspects of social differentiation, the impact of entry into “the pace of global economic life” on all relevant dimensions of the village. Moreover, the theme chosen by Golopenţia fits the specificity of this Bessarabian village, more urbanized than would be expected given the historical region where it is located.

Ernest Bernea (1905–1990) may also be considered as a debut, but of another type, because he had already participated, actively, in several previous monographic campaigns. However, by his own statements, the study carried out at Cornova about the calendar issue launched him “as a scientist” (p. 501). It is about the only sociological study made on the consequences of introducing the new (Gregorian) calendar in the cult of the Orthodox Church, instead of the Julian one, which caused a 13-day delay. Although “the calendar reform” had been applied, with retractions and inconsistencies of the church and state authorities, since 1924, the disorders related to rejecting this innovation were still present in 1931, especially in Bessarabia. According to Bernea, Vulcănescu was very interested in his study, which is not surprising: he had consistently participated in the media campaign waged by the paper Cuvântul against changing the Easter date. Bernea will also integrate the ideas from this study in the subsequent classic production.[3] This issue had also been tackled by the teams coordinated by Golopenţia in Transnistria, where they were studying the Romanian populations of the area.[4]

Finally, an actual debut was the participation of Octavian Neamţu (1910–1976), leading member of Gusti’s School and main organizer of the form it would take in the second part of the interwar ’30s, when the focus shifts to social action (p. 697).

2) The issue of interwar villages and Bessarabia

Cornova is twice relevant: both as a village (Romanian village in general) and as a Bessarabian village. Regarding the Romanian village, Gusti’s monographic campaigns were true pioneering expeditions because they tried to make the village accessible in terms of the social science. The Romanian village was a world in itself, i.e. a socially distinct world,[5] entirely different from the city (elsewhere, Vulcănescu also used the dichotomy of the two Romanias – “of villages and towns”[6]). But the village was also a world completely unknown to the elite, be it academic or political, as believed by Vulcănescu or Stahl who also used the expression “terra incognita” to characterize this state of things. Anton Golopenţia refers to the same problem when he writes (emphasis added):

The ultimate ambition of monographic research is based on true knowledge of village understanding by people of the city, which is above all necessary. For the village is little known in Romania. Although almost all our city dwellers come from the country and although many of their grandparents or even parents live there. […] here, one rarely says anything about villages even when one speaks about the Romanian village, although the country’s rural regions are no longer overlooked for a quarter-century (p. 512).

 Vulcănescu, referring to the economic understanding of the Romanian village, is just as drastic:

That Romania is a country essentially agricultural and that we are a country of peasants is a truism that all our economic publications multiply over and over again. What this means in terms of economic life forms, nobody knew until 1928; and since then, about eight people know it.[7]

Then, this village is in the middle of social change, which is noticed by all major monographists, even if each of them values this reality differently. The village is not restrained in any pure ideal womb, nor is it a place of poverty and backwardness, as described by current representations of the era. First of all, the Romanian village is very diverse, as shown by the results of monographic researches conducted by Gusti’s School in different parts of the country: Walachia, Transylvania and Bessarabia. Stahl even believes that we cannot speak of a Romanian village: “there is no one Romanian village; there are multiple forms of Romanian villages” (p. 495). However, in almost every village, monographists identify relatively similar traditional life forms that co-exist, in a greater or lesser extent, with “modern” or “urbanization” forms. Common ownership is one of such forms that survived as remains of old structures of social life. Autarkic economy or peasant family economy is another form of the same category.

At Cornova, the intensity of the urbanization process of this Bessarabian village is surprising. Rather a result of the Russian influence before the Bolshevik Revolution, later replaced by the influence exercised by the Romanian compulsory school and military service, the village is almost devoid of the symbolic forms of traditional life: clothing, dances and language are in an advanced stage of modernization, making the ethnographic teams have a lower activity (p. 500) than in other villages previously investigated (as Drăguş, for example). Sometimes, this modernization takes strange forms, for instance when, because of lower revenues amid the interwar crisis and bad harvests, villagers prefer to fall into debt and take loans, than to spare the town outfit (p. 242), for reasons of social pride, as if justifying Vulcănescu’s remark related to one of the harmful effects of the influence of capitalism on the village: stimulating the satisfaction of some“artificial needs created by advertising suggestion”[8]

This does not preclude the existence of phenomena in which the cleavage between traditional and modern life forms manifests itself more strongly as elsewhere, such as the calendar phenomenon, relatively got out of control with all the authority exercised by the priest, “the legendary” Ion Zamă, over the village. This issue captures another important feature of Cornova: that of Bessarabian village. Not only was the village neglected or treated discriminatorily by the academic and political elite of the interwar period, but also an entire historical province, such as Bessarabia, was rather a “daughter” treated fairly adversely by the“motherland”. For example, the press reports indicate that the most serious uncontrollable disorders against the introduction of the calendar reform took place in Bessarabia, which led His Eminence Gurie, Metropolitan of Chişinău, along with other bishops, dissent to the ROC Holy Synod decision to change the Easter date to 1929. The conflict is not just a religious one, but one between periphery and centre, between reforms imposed from above and the stubborn resistance of the people below. On that occasion, another metropolitan, that of Bukovina, Vissarion Puiu said that Bessarabia “was not studied by anyone, as the ministerial visit from the car chase, or the investigations with the previously intended purpose of seeing in a certain way do not mean looking into a province.”[9] Thus, the incidents started from the calendar brought the province of Bessarabia to the foreground for the press, criticizing its ignorance in the policies decided in Bucharest and disfavouring compared to the rest of the country.

His Eminence Gurie is present at Cornova, with the government minister for Bessarabia, I. Răşcanu, in order to mark the significance that Gusti’s enterprise had for the province, as if suddenly taken seriously by the gentlemen in Bucharest. The Minister for Bessarabia hopes that “the governors and legislators of tomorrow will no longer govern and make laws in theory, but will address these studies and will make laws based on the needs of the people and for the needs of the people” (p. 576). Gurie, at the same festive occasion of greeting Gusti, metaphorically formulates the separation between Bessarabia and the other Romanian provinces in the guise of estranged brothers who can find and know each other, without prejudice, through monograph (p. 577). The hierarch warns on the distrust that the Moldavians may feel for other Romanians; priest Zamă said the same thing in Bucharest, a year from the monographic campaign:“we believed that Romanians seemed to be different people. There are not like us. But if they came to the village and lived in the village with us for a month and a half, we became such good friends and so acquainted, that I saw them as my own children.” (p. 432).

Has the monograph school of Gusti managed to achieve these generous social and national ideals? However, such targets were too high for what a simple sociological school could have done, like those related to research (total knowledge of society).

3) Are we still interested in Gusti today?

If we can speak of something systematic about Gusti’s School, then it is about ignoring the phenomenon rather than its recovery. Even the publication of this book is a testimony to this effect, being the result of the publishers’ perseverance and not of an institutional project. Moreover, Professor Rostas, at the colloquium organized by the School of Sociology at Braşov (Acum 2011), noted that the research on the account of Gusti’s School is in a “Don-Quixote” stage, existing through the active interest manifested by a handful of researchers on their own account, as the major academic institutions ignored the issue. A situation which has its beneficial parts – the research is not likely to become, as often happens in the academic environment, an “industry” that is institutionalized, is connected monopolistically to funds, that confiscates the theme and turns into a phenomenon of power rather than one of knowledge, but also its damaging parts – failure to obtain systematic and comprehensive valorization in the field.

Although, as never before, we need to draw some lessons from the meaning of adequacy to social realities of the theoretical models of knowledge of the local social sciences, about the relationship between sociology and power, about the abstract reformism, imported as such from the West, and the reformism that (at least) seeks to understand, first, the reality of the “bottom”, Gusti’s School, however, is perceived rather as a strictly historical, obsolete subject. Why would a sociology school be of interest today since it failed both in its research ambitions and in those related to social action? But Gusti’s School should not necessarily be a “success story” in order to awaken interest and despite all the failures related to its major targets, it was one of the rare phenomena in the interwar academic life that had social dimensions beyond the restricted area of the department or seminar.

One reason for the need of exploring the social history of Gusti’s sociology is that it represents a different kind of interwar.[10] This different kind of interwar can be understood in two ways, as we also find it in the file of the Cornova campaign. Thus, on the one hand, the performance, academic excellence can be found not only in the extremely popular names of the “classical” interwar period (Eliade, Cioran, Noica) but also in the monumental (the word is not exaggerated if we consider the enormous volumes of Golopenţia’s integral, for example) foray into the Romanian social field made by monographists. An academic performance that is, however, not related to the scope of an autonomous cultural field, i.e. a free exercise torn from the social reality, but to the persistent effort to seek its understanding and use this knowledge to substantiate adequate policies for the society. A collective action that, beyond the internal dissensions and inconsistencies, gave the only sociological school of Romanian history. Gusti’s school is a social phenomenon itself that has so many links with the interwar society circles that what has been recovered so far is still far from being exhausted.

On the other hand, thanks to the monographic campaigns, an absolutely essential sociological and ethnographic material was gathered in order to get an idea about the realities of the interwar Romanian society. The social history of the interwar Romania has stuck so far to a series of “macro” descriptions, statistical data or pictures of the large scale social developments and states and the “micro” investigation went more in marginal areas. However, the re-reading, re-discovery of the Romanian society (the village, in this case) through the information gathered by monographic campaigns provides an opportunity to go to the micro level of a social history yet to be written. Only if we took the example of the volume reviewed, we would find an extremely diverse issue, although it is about one single village.

Therefore, the interwar period that we glimpse through Gusti’s School is almost of an endless wealth: from the specific social reality revealed in monographists’ investigations, to the very consistent discussions in method and philosophy of knowledge in their social sciences, from Gusti’s attempt to impose a new way of governing, to the reality of current political relations and the challenges, betrayals and traps laid by the interwar history. A whole society is opened before our eyes, full of lessons, basically an inexhaustible resource to reveal the relevant aspects of our recent past. Ultimately, one way to get to know ourselves better.

[1]. Bessarabia, the eastern part of Moldova, is a region that was under the rule of the Russian Empire until 1918, when it united with The Romanian Kingdom.

[2]. Anton Golopenţia, Opere complete I. Sociologie (Complete works I. Sociology) (Bucureşti: Ed. Enciclopedică, 2002), p. LIII.

[3]. Ernest Bernea, Spaţiu, timp şi cauzalitate la poporul român, (Space, time and causality with the Romanian people) (Bucureşti: Ed. Humanitas, 2005).

[4]. Anton Golopenţia, Românii de la est de Bug (Romanians east of Bug), Vol. 1 (Bucureşti: Ed. Enciclopedică, 2006).

[5]. Mircea Vulcănescu, Opere II. Chipuri spirituale. Prolegomene sociologice (Works II. Spiritual faces. Prolegomena in sociology) (Bucureşti: Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, 2005), p. 508.

[6]. Ibid., 683.

[7]. Ibid.,  629.

[8] Ibid., 644.

[9] D.I. Athanasiu, ”Problema pascaliei e o consecinţă a bisericii dezorganizate” (The problem of Easter is a consequence of an inorganized church), Curentul 362 (1929): 8.

[10]. Zoltán Rostás, ”Când s-a dat drumul la peisaj? Un altfel de interbelic” (When was the landscape let go? Another kind of interwar period) Observatorul Cultural 330 (2011): 7.