Politics in Color and Concrete

Politics in Color and Concrete

Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary
Krisztina Fehérváry
Distribution: World
Publication date: 8/26/2013
Format: paper 312 pages, 44 b&w illus.
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-00994-4
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Winner, 2014 William E. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology
Honorable Mention, Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies
Hungarian Studies Association Best Book Prize
Honorable Mention, 2016 Laura Shannon Prize
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.

Author Bio

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


"The topic is extremely timely and relevant; the writing is lucid and thorough; the theory is complex and sophisticated without being overly dense, or daunting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it." —Brad Weiss, College of William and Mary

"After 1989, we often heard that consumption failures caused communism’s collapse; Fehérváry’s brilliant analysis explains why this is both right and wrong. Instead of the stereotypical socialism of long queues and shoddy goods, she presents a Hungarian Communist Party that actively created demanding consumers, who insisted that it meet its own standards. This is a major reinterpretation of Soviet-style socialism and an innovative model for analyzing consumption." —Katherine Verdery, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

"[A]n absorbing account of everyday life and embodied aesthetics in socialist and post-socialist Eastern Europe. In it we learn how collections of things and people, structured in relation to each other by deeply-rooted historical forms of class consciousness, served the self-fashioning aims of Hungarians from 1950 to the late 1990s. This cultural history of style and consumption reveals much that is occluded in other studies of socialism and post-socialism: bodies, materialities, spaces, habitual orientations, commodity desires, lived historical dispositions, and diverse, sometimes clashing temporalities. Politics in Color and Concrete explains why the everyday is important, and shows why domestic aesthetics embody a crucially significant politics." —Judith Farquhar, University of Chicago

"[A] serious historical analysis inflected throughout by a sophisticated ethnographic sensibility. . . . [and] an important contribution to the second generation of scholarship on post-socialist Europe." —
Reviews and Critical Commentary

"Politics in Color and Concrete is a model for richly historical ethnography and an important contribution to the second generation of scholarship on post-socialist Europe. . . . [It]will be of great interest to scholars of socialism and post-socialism, class, consumer culture, and aesthetics alike." —Council for European Studies

"Fehérváry’s exemplary scholarship, both historical and ethnographic, takes us through both socialist modernism and post-socialist consumer modernism in the development of contemporary Hungary." —Daniel Miller, MaterialWorldblog.com

"There is much to admire about this book. . . I appreciated Fehervary’s critical insights into topics as diverse as gendered personhood, folklorization, and Janos Kornai’s economic models." —Slavic Review

"Fehérváry's book . . . joins a growing body of recent studies of consumption and everyday materialities under socialism. Few, however, so creatively explore socialist consumption's aesthetic and affective dimensions or trace continuities in consumer subjectivities across the pre-/post-1989 divide." —American Historical Review

"Politics in Color and Concrete is an eloquent analysis of the material transformations of domestic space during the four decades of socialism and the following political-economic transformation in Hungary. . . . Fehérváry's approach not only brings a fresh look at the period through its focus on everyday materialities but also offers a welcome correction to the often-simplified understandings of abrupt socialist–capitalist change." —American Anthropologist

"Politics in Color and Concrete is mandatory reading for all scholars of Communism in Eastern Europe." —Austrian History yearbook

"Politics in Color and Concrete is one of the best ethnographies of artificial things—and Hungary, Eastern Europe, post-socialism, and materiality—currently available." —American Ethnologist

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Qualities of Color and Concrete
1. Normal Life in the Former Socialist City
2. Socialist Realism in the Socialist City
3. Socialist Modern and the Production of Demanding Citizens
4. Socialist Generic and the Branding of the State
5. Organicist Modern and Super-Natural Organicism
6. Unstable Landscapes of Property, Morality and Status
7. The New Family House and the New Middle Class
Conclusion: Heterotopias of the Normal in Private Worlds
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