Focusing on Romania from 1945 to 2016, Socialist Heritage explores the socialist state's attempt to create its own heritage, as well as the legacy of that project. Contrary to arguments that the socialist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe aimed to erase the pre-war history of the socialist cities, Emanuela Grama shows that the communist state in Romania sought to exploit the past for its own benefit. The book traces the transformation of a central district of Bucharest, the Old Town, from a socially and ethnically diverse place in the early 20th century, into an epitome of national history under socialism, and then, starting in the 2000s, into the historic center of a European capital. Under socialism, politicians and professionals used the district's historic buildings, especially the ruins of a medieval palace discovered in the 1950s, to emphasize the city's Romanian past and erase its ethnically diverse history. Since the collapse of socialism, the cultural and economic value of the Old Town has become highly contested. Bucharest's middle class has regarded the district as a site of tempting transgressions. Its poor residents have decried their semi-decrepit homes, while entrepreneurs and politicians have viewed it as a source of easy money. Such arguments point to recent negotiations about the meanings of class, political participation, and ethnic and economic belonging in today's Romania. Grama's rich historical and ethnographic research reveals the fundamentally dual nature of heritage: every search for an idealized past relies on strategies of differentiation that can lead to further marginalization and exclusion.
“This is a rich analysis of Romanian socialism and post-socialism through the lens of Bucharest’s Old Town. Grama challenges readers to understand the intricate games that powerful elites played with the buildings, ruins, and infrastructure at different political moments in a district whose social and ethnic composition changed dramatically after the Second World War. ”
— Irina Livezeanu, Associate Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh
“In this beautifully presented historical ethnography, Bucharest’s Old Town comes to life. In Grama’s telling, the residents of Old Town include not just the people who have lived there—Romanians and non-Romanians, elites and non-elites—but also the very material things of the city district itself, from mailboxes to ruins and from ornate facades to planning files. Often to advance state visions and usually in the name of "heritage," these Old Town residents have been made and remade with dizzying frequency over the past seventy years. In these layered transformations, Grama deftly shows, lie lessons about heritage and history that are instructive far beyond the socialist and postsocialist world. ”
— Doug Rogers, Professor of Anthropology, Yale University
“Socialist Heritage is a poignant account of much more than heritage. Emanuela Grama offers instead an ethnographic history of Romania and its recent political economic transformations, as well as continuities, by way of Bucharest’s Old Town. Alternately forgotten and valorized, ruined and reconstructed, and commodified and set apart as a national treasure, Old Town stands as a complex hieroglyphic that, creatively excavated, makes the reader understand more clearly Romania’s insertion into a neoliberal capitalist order while offering a novel perspective on social distinctions, political power, and placemaking under socialism.”
— John Collins, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Graduate Center of City University of New York
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Table of Contents
1. Tensed Urban Visions: Making Bucharest into a Socialist Capital
2. Matters of State: Archaeology, Materiality, and State-Making
3. Time-Travelling Houses and Histories Made Invisible
4. Lipstick and Lined Pockets: Strategic Devaluation and Postsocialist Wealth
5. Displacements: Property, Privatization, and Precarity in a Europeanizing City