Transforming the Peasant: Mind, Body and Soul. Student Volunteers in Rural Romania, 1934-1938

Raluca Muşat (UCL)
14 March 2011

This paper investigates the role of student volunteers in the development of the Romanian countryside in the late interwar period. Between 1925 and 1933, Dimitrie Gusti, a well-known Romanian sociologist, pioneered a series of sociological fieldwork expeditions aimed at increasing knowledge of the rural population that would form the basis of government policy. In 1934, Gusti was appointed director of the Royal Cultural Foundations, an institution funded by the populist King Carol II, a great supporter of the former’s socio-cultural agenda. Henceforth, the initial research activities were doubled by sustained social action organised under the auspices of the Foundations.
Great numbers of university graduates, grouped in ‘echipe regale studențești’ (royal student teams) volunteered to spend a few months in the countryside to use their academic knowledge to aid its modernisation. Consisting of a medical student, a vet, an agronomist, a physical education teacher, a home economics teacher, a theology student, and a sociologist, the teams would advise the peasants on improving their work, mind, body, and soul. Starting with an analysis of the official agenda for the teams, this paper then moves on to examine the participants’ own interpretations of their mission in the transformation of rural Romania. For this, I will look at fieldnotes and papers written by the volunteers during and after their trips. Asking why Romanian students volunteered to work in the countryside will clarify the relationship between volunteers, the peasantry and the state before the Second World War. Therefore, this paper contributes to wider debates about voluntarism and rural change in developing countries.

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