A Transylvanian confrontation: The tractor versus the shepherd

Almost one week ago I came back from my pilot study in Transylvania.  Leaving aside the technical lessons on interviews and the methodological aspects I trialled, I would like to share here a few aspects that probably fit better in a blog like this one than in a scientific publication.

The initial scope of the pilot was to continue the getting familiar with the region and trialling various qualitative methods with local people. I had planned to take the pulse of the villages in our case study area and become better acquainted with the method I am going to apply in my summer study, that is, the Q method. But to my surprise, I was wrapped up in the stories of the people I met and so I sometimes forgot the essential reason of my talking to them: obtaining a Q sort. It is not the stories that I would like to include in this post but rather my thoughts while listening to them.

I heard many times about the “poverty” of Romania’s countryside but I was never given the opportunity to explore it myself in any depth. The fact that the pilot was in March, after a long winter, only emphasized the sombre colours. I found out that indeed most local villagers lead their lives with a wonderful humility and modesty. Some of them radiate an endemic wisdom that makes you shut up and listen. And their story is more valuable than any “how-to” or “help-yourself” book. Only in big villages, that were getting closer to the urban atmosphere, the “magic” was slowly disappearing, probably due to large roads crossing the village. There, people were too busy to talk to me and were already infected with the stress syndrome.

This trip also served as an opportunity to clear up some of my own misconceptions regarding our rural landscape which were probably built on my living in a large city all my life: the Rroma. In these areas, they are seen as a problem more in terms of their integration than in terms of violence and thefts. The niches within the population are better defined than I could imagine before. Everybody greets everyone without exception regardless of age, ethnicity or religion. I myself was greeted countless times.

photo credits: Ine Dorresteijn

When I showed to the villagers pictures with elements they would or wouldn’t like to see around their village (part of the Q method I mentioned above), people were torn apart between choosing in the first place the picture with a tractor or the one with a shepherd. Predictable one might say. People want to live a better life, don’t we all? It is understandable that farmers would like to skip all the physical effort but on the other hand, they are not ready to give up their millennial occupation. Because of their education and history, people are not used to advance reasons and back up their choices. Still, I had the feeling that this battle between the shepherd and the tractor perfectly mirrors the state of confusion and the crises these social-ecological systems are experiencing.

People were not complaining in a lamentable way but rather finding their situation to be the result of certain clearly identified causes. Among the most frequently mentioned ones were: the abandonment of the lands, the ageing population, the leaving of the Saxons, the lack of jobs, the way they are governed, the lack of respect, various communication deficiencies, the fear of involvement, the loss of traditions and the wild animals.

photo credits: Andra Milcu

Facing the issues above, a social-ecological research project seems so small and helpless. But the people are so beautiful and most of the landscape is still beautiful. Will this be the case in the future? What should we do to keep this alive? Is there anything that can be done?


2 thoughts on “A Transylvanian confrontation: The tractor versus the shepherd

  1. Hey Andra, nice to see this research taking place. I work in a different region (the Rodna Mountains) and so the circumstances are slightly different. I also looked into using the Q method – it’s a neat one. For various reasons I decided not to employ it at this stage but would love to use it after finishing my PhD. Your dilemma of tractor vs. shepherd is interesting – did you notice tensions between crop growers and livestock herders or just the indecision between traditional and modern? Good luck with your work.

    • Hi Alina. Thanks a lot for your comment. I didn’t notice any tensions between crop growers and livestock herders but this is probably because the small scale farmers are doing both jobs at the same time. Their aspiration to having large herds as well as using agricultural machinery was quite obvious. I would be happy to hear more about your research. Good luck!

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