Keeping It Close to Home

Małgorzata Mazurek

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI:
Keeping It Close to Home

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A history of shortages and scarcity in postwar Eastern Europe has usually been narrated in terms of its potential to provoke mass political action or else as individual cultural practices, such as bribing and petitioning. But in post-1945 Poland, as elsewhere in the Bloc, coping with shortages was most often addressed through tightly-knit social circles. Specifically, consumption in Eastern European was inextricably bound to extended networks of both relatives and close friends. In this chapter, Małgorzata Mazurek focuses on family circles and the ways in which they organized domestic provisions during the late communist period of 1976-1989. To unveil family stories about scarcity, she compares the experiences of two specific families based on oral histories conducted with them thirty years ago by a group of Polish social scientists and then again in 2006 by the author. By juxtaposing the previous interviews with the recent ones, Mazurek analyzes the cultural organization of family and friends (and the consequent networks of exchange and consumption) as an embedded but changing phenomenon. Here, memory seems to confound conventional wisdom about the failure of the communist system to provide, in large part because the system offered a profound flexibility, an opening for consumer strategies that the post-communist period decidedly lacks. A broader conceptualization of the consumer experience thus reveals that shortages could just as easily be associated with the loss of security in the post-communist period as they were with the anecdotal “empty shelves” under communism.

Keywords: Poland; lifestyle; waiting lines; black market; economy of favors; memory of communism; everyday life; post-communism; transition 1989; solidarity; shopping tourism; Poland; sociology; oral history; family; social networks

Chapter.  10097 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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