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'Women here are like at the time of Enver [Hoxha]…':Socialist and Post-socialist Gendered Mobility in Albanian Society

posted on 2023-06-07, 16:47 authored by Julie Vullnetari
Mobility or the lack thereof particularly geographical, has been one of the key defining features of the socialist period in Albania and social transformations following the regime's collapse in the early 1990s. The ban on foreign emigration created a sense of deep isolation amongst the population, who literally stormed the country's borders in exodus style once the fall of the 'system' was considered inevitable. By 2010, around 1.5 million Albanians or nearly half of the resident population were estimated to be living abroad, primarily in neighbouring Greece and Italy. Within communist Albania internal movements also were strictly regulated and controlled through a set of measures that provided labour for the expanding industries, but ultimately aimed at zero urban growth and retention of the rural population in situ. The post-communist response was large-scale internal migration, especially from rural areas towards the capital Tirana and the port city of Durrs. This impressive spatial mobility, i.e. the combination of international and internal migration, has brought about social mobility for some, and immobility for others. Meanwhile, everyday mobility has also changed, reflected essentially in the rise of private car ownership post-1990 from zero during the communist years, which has truly revolutionised travel around the country. At the same time, being stuck immobile in long queues for food and consumer goods typical of shortage economies has not been eradicated but transformed; for during the last two post-communist decades long queues have been about getting visas at foreign embassies, or waiting to be thoroughly checked by immigration police at border-crossing points. Issues of security of borders, states, or individuals then and now, loom large. These various forms of mobility and immobility are undoubtedly deeply gendered, while at the same time gender relations themselves are being constantly transformed and negotiated. Against this background and framed within the mobilities paradigm, this chapter seeks to investigate some of the complex ways in which the socialist regime in Albania and its collapse have shaped experiences of mobility for ordinary Albanians. Empirically, we draw on ethnographic material collected in the framework of two separate research projects. The first examined issues of post-socialist migration, gender, remittances and development through a mixed-method approach, including 45 in-depth interviews and participant observation with Albanian migrants in the Greek city of Thessaloniki and their families in rural south-east Albania. The data, which also included 350 household questionnaires, was collected during 2008. The second research project uses oral history to investigate everyday life during the communist period in Albania; some 50 narratives from the north of the country collected during 2011 are used to this effect. Our discussion highlights amongst others that mobility reflects power relations and inequalities, since such movements are socially, economically and politically produced.


Publication status

  • Published


Palgrave Macmillan

Book title

Mobilities in Socialist and Post-Socialist States Societies on the Move


RGS-IBG book series

Department affiliated with

  • Geography Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


K Hörschelmann, K Burrell

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