Katherine Verdery


On her book My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File

Cover Interview of January 23, 2019


My hopes for the book are of three different types. First, I hope it will bring into readers’ consciousness the topic of surveillance as something that can happen every day, with unexpected effects. Surveillance—of any kind—involves complex social relationships and special techniques. I believe any citizen should become aware of them, in hopes of curbing threats to liberty—of both political and commercial kinds. If the book contributes to developing literacy about a disturbing aspect of the world around us, that will be a very valuable outcome.

Second, for my readers in Romania—especially of younger generations—I hope it will contribute to an understanding of the country’s life under socialism, an understanding very different from that purveyed by older generations. The decades of communist rule in Romania left devastation in their wake, on many fronts. My way of trying to comprehend that system by means of its secret police offers an alternative to officially purveyed histories of communism, a vision that young people might find salutary.

Third, for the narrower readership in my discipline of anthropology, I hope students will read it as a guide concerning that very difficult form of research, fieldwork: learning about others through participating with and observing them. It is not an easy method; the book illustrates some of the reasons why. I hope those who train to practice this method will find the book’s arguments and examples useful in their work. For in the end, I remain a child of the Enlightenment, believing that through these means we can best learn about other people’s ways of being—an admirable goal for all of us.