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My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File

Katherine Verdery
City University of New York
Date and Time: 
Monday, November 12, 2018 - 15:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


In My Life as a Spy, Verdery tells the riveting and complicated story of discovering that during her decades of ethnographic research in Romania, numerous friends and colleagues had informed on her to the secret police.  The New York Times Book Review said My Life is “ a fascinating, thoughtful and occasionally riveting book….. She employs three different perspectives: hers at that time (as captured in her field notes and personal letters), the secret police’s (as captured in its notes and reports on her) and hers today. She also uses the file to track down and interview several of the officers who handled her case as well as friends who informed on her. She approaches these confrontations not in a spirit of moral reckoning, but as an ethnographer trying to understand the social logic of surveillance under socialism.”


Katherine Verdery is the Julien J. Studley Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.  Since 1973 she has conducted anthropological research in Romania on ethnic and national identity, cultural politics, the socialist system, postsocialist transition, the state, property transformation, and the secret police.  Her books ainclude What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (1996), The Political Lives of Dead Bodies (1999), The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvania (2003), Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archives of Romania’s Secret Police (2014), and most recently, My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File (2018). 

Among her professional activities, she has served as Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies (University of Michigan) and member of the Boards of Directors of the American Anthropological Association, American Ethnological Society, and American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS, now Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies).  She was the first anthropologist to serve as president of the AAASS, in 2004-06.