Chapter

Risky Business

Patrick Hyder Patterson

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199827657.003.0005
Risky Business

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Various features of consumer culture under East European communism—such as advertising and marketing—provoked long-lasting, heated, and rancorous internal debate. In contrast, the communist regimes viewed the establishment of large-scale retailing venues as largely unproblematic. Socialist planners and policymakers tended to treat the department store as simply a “system-neutral” form that could proliferate across socialist society with little or no threat to the political, economic, and cultural commitments of socialism. Looking at four of the most prosperous, consumer-oriented communist countries (the GDR, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia), Patrick Hyder Patterson demonstrates how the department store phenomenon played out in the socialist context: how the desires that were unleashed and the cultural values that were sustained through the use of the department store form in the end proved difficult to reconcile with the political goals of socialism and were thus subversive of communist control. This, in turn, Patterson argues, forces us to reconceptualize the nature of consumption and sales in the modern grand emporium, and to question what is truly “socialist” about commercial practices “under socialism” and, in the same vein, what is “capitalist” about commercial practices “under capitalism.”

Keywords: department store; Hungary; Yugoslavia; Czechoslovakia; East Germany; German Democratic Republic; retailing; consumer culture; market culture; business; consumption; communism; socialism

Chapter.  10233 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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