Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary (Anglais) Broché – 16 septembre 2013
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Early on, Fehérváry describes the struggle in newly Communist Hungary between those who viewed housing policy as part of the super-structural evidence of a new socialist society and those who regarded it as a societal basis that would help produce it. What is clear in Fehérváry's ensuing account is that this area of the country's life was continually both cause and consequence. Equally clear is that the consequences of housing policy on every level were rarely, if ever, congruent with the intentions and ideas of the decision-makers.
The more housing became a laboratory and a flagship for the state's aspirations for abstract collectivism, the more the people insisted on their part of it as a last sphere of privacy and individuality. The more the state denigrated the rural and lionized urbanity, the more Hungarians yearned for the former and tired of the latter. The more the state sought to raise the demands of citizens for consumptive modernity, the greater grew its inability to meet that demand. Instead of being a demonstration of Communism's achievements, housing became a mental canvas on which Hungarians understood their expectations, dreams, frustrations, and aspirations. At the same time, a supposedly modernist housing stock quickly became an all too material and lived indictment of a state that broke its promises and appeared inattentive to the reality, let the alone the dignity, of its citizens' lives.
This book is no ideological hit job and it is also detailed in describing the ongoing disparities between desire and reality and the forms this disparity takes when she gets to the unsettling post-Communist era. These disparities contained elements of pre-Communist bourgeois values, Communist-era expectations, and post-Communist imperatives. While the book is also not a flight of ethnic romanticism, it is hard to read it without admiration for the consistent insistence of the Hungarian to make a home out of the often meager lot their time and government had allotted them. Whether modernizing or adorning a small two-room flat or personally building a rural home over many years, the Hungarian people were active participants in turning the material present into a transcendent act of resistance against it.
While the book does threaten to be weighed down by anthropological jargon at the beginning, this threat happily remains unrealized. It is clearly academic, but its breadth of vision and the clarity of its arguments and conclusions take the reader on an engaging path through the last fifty years. This work bares witness to careful and wide-ranging research coming to fruition through perceptive insight and penetrating synthesis. It's an absolute must for those interested in modern Hungarian, Central European, and former Soviet-bloc history.
• Karl Ameriks, McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame;
• John Hare, Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology, Yale Divinity School;
• Anne Lake Prescott, Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English Emerita, Barnard College, Columbia University;
• Ingrid Rowland, Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame; and
• Roger Scruton, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.