Home » Books under preparation » Mihaela Șerban, Subverting Communism in Romania: Law and Private Property 1945-1965. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019

Mihaela Șerban, Subverting Communism in Romania: Law and Private Property 1945-1965. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019

Book under preparation in SRS’s Polirom series

“Subverting Communism in Romania explores the role of law in everyday life and as a mechanism for social change during early communism in Romania. Mihaela Șerban focuses on the regime’s attempts to extinguish private property in housing through housing nationalization and expropriation. This study of early communist law illustrates that law is never just an instrument of state power, particularly over the long term and from a ground-up perspective. Even during its most totalitarian phase, communist law enjoyed a certain level of autonomy at the most granular level and consequently was simultaneously a space of state power and resistance to power.” (From Rowman & Littlefield’s webpage)

“Mihaela Şerban makes a compelling argument that communist legality in socialist East and Central Europe should be equally understood as an instrument of state repression and a space for continuity, accommodation, and subversion. This argument is sustained by a rich documentation of historical and archival sources and interviews relating to the nationalization and expropriation of housing in the Banat region of Romania during the first two decades of the communist regime between 1945-1965. […] The monograph has broader implications for the complex relationships between any legal system and its subjects in a non-democratic society. Its sophisticated conceptual approach makes it an important source for a large academic audience including scholars of socialism and post-socialism, of law and society and of transitional justice.” (Monica Ciobanu, State University of New York at Plattsburgh)

”Mihaela Șerban argues that the nationalization of urban housing in early communist Romania offers a unique view into the strategies deployed by the new communist regime to consolidate its power. Drawing on a rich collection of archival material, which Șerban discovered in the regional archives of Timișoara in western Romania, the book tells a very important story. This is a story of negotiation of power, capital, and the economic and symbolic value of houses as a particular form of property. Șerban draws on a wide range of theories as well as meticulous research, grounded in a critical reading of the laws dealing with nationalization, as well as a vast collection of case studies, revealing an incredible array of life histories captured by hundreds of petitions. She offers us not only a sharp and very well-written history of the uses and abuses of law in early communist Romania, but also the most detailed and theoretically sophisticated account of the nationalization process in Romania (published so far).” (Emanuela Grama, Carnegie Mellon University)

“Șerban tells an unexpected and previously unknown story of resistance to the nationalization of their homes by ordinary Romanians in the 1950s. She weaves her meticulous archival research into an engaging and theoretically compelling narrative of the ups and downs of the campaign to reshape legal consciousness in the image of Marxism-Leninism. The endless petitions by displaced Romanians to have their rights reinstated demonstrate not only that law mattered, but also their continued belief in private property. Serban’s book fills a nagging gap in the literature and deserves to be widely read.“ (Kathryn Hendley, University of Wisconsin)

”In this six-chapter book, Mihaela Serban offers a nuanced perspective of the manifold ways in which legal continuity and change affected the takings of homes during early communist rule in Romania. With the help of newly discovered archival documents she studied in Timişoara, Serban shows that during the 1945-1965 period law was more than an instrument of violence and repression blindly used by a dictatorial regime to effect social change and unmake the pre-communist hegemony of private property. […] A carefully researched and elegantly written analysis showing profound understanding of Romanian realities, this book is a necessary reading for all those interested to know more about the property regime, the legal culture, and the interplay between power and law in an understudied country of the former communist bloc.” (Lavinia Stan, St. Francis Xavier University)

About the author:

Mihaela Şerban is Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She joined Ramapo College after earning law and graduate degrees from the University of Bucharest (Romania), Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), and New York University, and working for the Ford Foundation and the New York University School of Law. As a multi-disciplinary scholar, she focuses on the complex nature of law in society, the way it is both shaped by and itself shapes society. Her teaching and publications are in the areas of law and society, human rights, the rule of law, and memory studies. Her most recent publications include “Law as Mnemonic Infrastructure: Archival Legal Discourses and Memory Battles in Romania,” in the Journal of Law, Culture and the Humanities (2024), and “Are We There Yet? Romania’s Semi-Peripheral Rule of Law,” in Lavinia Stan and Diane Vancea (eds.), Post-Communist Progress and Stagnation at 35: The Case of Romania (Palgrave Macmillan, 2024). She is currently co-editing a volume, with Monica Ciobanu, entitled Between the Memory and Post-Memory of Communism in Romania: Fluid Memories (Routledge, forthcoming).

You can find more information about Mihaela Șerban here.