Dystopia's Provocateurs

Dystopia's Provocateurs

Peasants, State, and Informality in the Polish-German Borderlands
Edyta Materka
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/05/2017
Format: Hardback 9 b&w illus., 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-253-02887-7
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Winner, AWSS Heldt Prize

Toward the end of the Second World War, Poland’s annexation of eastern German lands precipitated one of the largest demographic upheavals in European history. Edyta Materka travels to her native village in these "Recovered Territories," where she listens carefully to rich oral histories told by original postwar Slavic settlers and remaining ethnic Germans who witnessed the metamorphosis of eastern Germany into western Poland. She discovers that peasants, workers, and elites adapted war-honed informal strategies they called "kombinacja" to preserve a modicum of local agency while surviving the vicissitudes of policy formulated elsewhere, from Stalinist collectivization to the shock doctrine of neoliberalism. Informality has taken many forms: as a way of life, a world view, an alternate historical text, a border memory, and a means of magical transformation during times of crisis. Materka ventures beyond conventional ethnography to trace the diverse historical, literary, and psychological dimensions of kombinacja. Grappling with the legacies of informality in her own transnational family, Materka searches for the "kombinator within" on the borderlands and shares her own memories of how the Polish diaspora found new uses for kombinacja in America.

Author Bio

Edyta Materka received her PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London.


“Rare and exceptionally well-researched analysis of an invisible practice. ”
 — Alena Ledeneva, author of Can Russia Modernise?: Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance

“By concentrating on the local strategies of combination in the areas of uprootedness, Materka has made an interesting and valuable contribution to our knowledge of human behavior. References and the use of Polish words for important concepts are exemplary. . . . [H]er collection of narratives provides food for thought on the relation between formal regulation and human ingenuity.”
 — Baltic Worlds

“Materka has produced an eloquently written, exciting, and meticulously analyzed ethnographic history that marks an alternative to the vast majority of strictly archival-based historical literature on the German-Polish borderlands. Within the field of Polish history, this book is also an important contribution as the first extensive work on the critical role of informality in the politics, society, and economy of People’s Poland.”
 — H-Poland

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Table of Contents

Note on Pronunciation and Translation
1. History's Ghosts
2. Kombinacja's Histories
3. Recovering Territories
4. Magical Stalinism
5. Proletarian Memories
6. Kombinacja's Ghosts
7. Border Memories