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Politics in Color and Concrete

Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary

Krisztina Fehérváry

Publication Year: 2013

Material culture in Eastern Europe under state socialism is remembered as uniformly gray, shabby, and monotonous—the worst of postwar modernist architecture and design. Politics in Color and Concrete revisits this history by exploring domestic space in Hungary from the 1950s through the 1990s and reconstructs the multi-textured and politicized aesthetics of daily life through the objects, spaces, and colors that made up this lived environment. Krisztina Féherváry shows that contemporary standards of living and ideas about normalcy have roots in late socialist consumer culture and are not merely products of postsocialist transitions or neoliberalism. This engaging study decenters conventional perspectives on consumer capitalism, home ownership, and citizenship in the new Europe.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: New Anthropologies of Europe


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv

Dedication Page

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p. v-v

Table of Contents

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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xii

This book moves between the seemingly disparate worlds of state socialist material culture and postsocialist middle-class life. This structure is an outcome of my own experience of Hungary as two distinct places, separated by time, in which my own status was as implicated in the shifting landscape of identity and belonging as those of the people populating the narrative—and as grounded in ...

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pp. xiii-xv

I have accrued many debts in the undertaking of this long project. It would be impossible to acknowledge everyone who has helped me to produce this book through conversations and suggestions, advice in research and writing, personal encouragement, and practical support, as well as inspiration through example. And yet a number of people over the years have remained singularly ...

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Introduction: The Qualities of Color and Concrete

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pp. 1-26

In November 2010, two decades after the fall of the state socialist system in Hungary, the glossy headline of an interior decorating magazine on a Budapest newsstand caught my eye: “Gray, grayer and grayest!” The words were a startling provocation in a place where gray had come to stand in for the Eastern European material and political landscape during state socialism and remained an image the country ...

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1: Normal Life in the Former Socialist City

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pp. 27-51

In the mid-1990s in Dunaújváros, half a decade after the fall of state socialism, long lines once again formed in front of shops, but now for lottery tickets. An editorial on the front page of the local newspaper attempted to articulate the sentiments of the people standing in these lines, people still living in concrete apartment blocks, whose standard of living had declined rather than improved in the ...

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2: Socialist Realism in the Socialist City

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pp. 52-77

In April 1950, workers began clearing land on an orchard-covered plateau overlooking the Danube River some sixty kilometers south of Budapest. Curious villagers from the nearby settlement of Dunapentele learned that the workers were building barracks for a new steel mill. They were soon to discover that the site had also been selected for the massive project of building Hungary’s first socialist ...

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3: Socialist Modern and the Production of Demanding Citizens [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 78-110

In 1963, the Dunaújváros newspaper published a particularly strident article on home décor, part of a nationwide campaign to convince residents moving into new apartments to rid themselves of their old, heavy furniture and adopt more appropriate tastes for their new surroundings. The author begins with “What there should not be!” She denounces the complete bedroom set, the permanent dining ...

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4: Socialist Generic and the Branding of State Socialism

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pp. 111-138

...in t.sche 1960s, economic reforms injected color, diversity, and forms of abundance into a commercial sphere that had been relatively sparse in the 1950s. The Kádár regime placed new emphasis on quality of life, in clud ing the provision of more consumer goods, leisure activities, and forms of entertainment. The department store luxus opened in Budapest and catered to the segment of the population that ...

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5: Organicist Modern and Super-Natural Organicism

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pp. 139-163

The ideal of modern, urban apartment living was, almost from the start, complemented by ownership of a summer cottage (nyaraló) or weekend getaway (hétvégi ház), sometimes called a víkend ház.1 In the early 1960s, the state amended the “one-family, one-house” rule to allow additional ownership of a small, unheated cottage on a plot of land. Such cottages could not be used as a permanent home ...

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6: Unstable Landscapes of Property, Morality, and Status

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pp. 164-188

Early in this book, I recounted an incident in which a university student from Dunaújváros nodded out the window of our bus at a silver car speeding by and remarked, “If everyone had a car like that, that would be normal!” In one breath, this young man summed up a complex mixture of expectation and disappointment. As with widespread invocations of a counterfactual “normal” in Hungary, ...

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7: The New Family House and the New Middle Class

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pp. 189-219

In Dunaújváros, the old village sector of Pentele, once run down and neglected, quickly became one of the most prestigious places in town to live. With its newly paved or cobbled streets, renovated Catholic church and manor house, and recently opened private bakery, it was the only part of town that could be transformed into a piece of (presocialist) historic Hungary. The city’s emerging elites ...

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8: Heterotopias of the Normal in Private Worlds

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pp. 220-238

In 1997, I met a local journalist who wrote for the steel mill newspaper. When I explained my research to her, she immediately understood it to be about the relationship between one’s living space and one’s sense of self in the world. She referred me to an article she had written on a new local handyman business that specialized in refurbishing panel apartments. I reproduce the first part of it here ...

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pp. 239-243

The former socialist “new town” of Dunaújváros managed to weather most of the challenges of the 2000s, primarily because of the steel mill’s continuing viability. Many of the city’s panel construction apartment buildings have been given facelifts of colored insulation several inches thick—an expensive process paid in equal parts by European Union funding, the local government, and contributions ...


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pp. 245-259


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pp. 261-280


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pp. 281-288

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About the Author

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p. 291-291

Krisztina Fehérváry is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

E-ISBN-13: 9780253009968
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253009913

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 15 color illus., 29 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: New Anthropologies of Europe