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Department of
Geography & Environment


Houghton Street

London WC2A 2AE


Edyta Materka

PhD candidate in Human Geography & Urban Studies


Edyta was born in a worker-peasant household in northern Poland during the Soviet Union’s fall and emigrated to the United States in 1992 where she was raised in a working-class, Slavic community near Trenton, New Jersey. While receiving a dual BA in Gender Studies and Political Science at Rutgers University, Edyta volunteered as a construction worker in post-tsunami Thailand and became involved in a fishing community’s land rights movement against a corporate land grab. Since then, she has investigated how ordinary people develop innovative economic and political practices to reconstruct their societies—devastated by war, natural disasters and economic exploitation—in the midst of competing stake-holders who want to order and form the future. While writing a dissertation on the worker-peasantry’s innovative economic practices that have reworked formal economic flows in northern Poland, Edyta also documented Venezuelan’s everyday struggles under Chavez, post-earthquake racial dynamics and ngo culture in Haiti, villagers’ water access problems along the Ghanaian coast, and informal migrant-worker economies in post-typhoon Philippines. She currently resides in New York City and is a student member of The Explorers Club.

Research Interests

  • Peasant economies
  • Socialist state making processes
  • Informal/second economies
  • Border narratives
  • Worker-peasantry/agro-industrial identities
  • Postsocialism
  • Rural movements

Thesis title: Kombinacja, or the Arts of Combination in Agrarian Poland

This multisited, historical ethnography of agro-industrial villages in northern Poland's ‘Recovered Territories’ investigates the formation and transformation of a worker-peasantry’s informal economic practices in the midst of three economic transformations from 1945 to the present. The economic practice of kombinacja emerged during the Nazi-occupation of Poland and evolved in the post-war interstices of the imperfectly-forming command economy under which people solved bureaucratic gridlock, food shortages, and fuzzy laws by extracting and redistributing state resources toward the non-state sector. Local state officials’ blind eye and permittance of such practices was a way to suppress the private services sector and gain consent of the populace to socialist revolution. The state also economically benefitted from kombianacja and attempted to co-opt them into the socialist revolution—to ensure workers and peasants completed these free tasks on the state’s terms. Reworking the state from below and the cycles of state informalisation incrementally broke down the formal state apparatus into the 1980s. Subsequently, the continuity and change of kombinacja in the postsocialist era shows that kombinacja was not a struggle against socialism per se, but one against the formal, the modern state. This dissertation complicates socialist/capitalist and formal/informal binaries of economic transformation and also calls for a repositioning of the transformation of informal economies at the center of historical investigation on formal economies.

Academic Supervisors



Edyta MaterkaCV