Austerities and Aspirations: Consumption and Leisure in Communist East Central Europe

Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Gellner Room
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 11:30am
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 11:30am to 1:00pm

"Prepare for the winter… Refresh your wardrobe!", Poster by Sándor Lengyel, 1963

The recent surge of scholarly interest in the consumption history of communist East Central Europe generated a considerable number of articles and collected volumes. However, hardly any attempts have been made to synthesize the fairly unsystematic knowledge about the topic. Moreover, most of the relevant scholarly contributions reflect a propensity or even bias for cultural approaches, although consumption history is a field that invites interdisciplinarity and offers ample opportunities for it.     

Against this background the project intends to integrate the expanding yet fragmented scholarship about consumption in communist and post-communist East Central Europe. More specifically, it carries out a comparative analysis of consumption regimes and practices in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the second half of the 20th century that allows us to test prevailing concepts of and generalizations about consumption history. It is claimed that specific aspects of generational change, recurrent austerities and shifting consumer aspirations along with the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of the communist ideology and the economic system were the major determinants of the consumption regimes in communist East Central Europe.

Béla Tomka is Professor and Chair of the Department of Contemporary History, University of Szeged. His major research area is the social and economic history of Hungary and Europe in the 20th century with a special emphasis on international comparisons. Tomka is particularly interested in the history of population, family, the development of social policies and the sources of economic growth. He is the co-editor of Aetas, a Quarterly Journal of History and Related Disciplines, and board member of the International Social History Association, Amsterdam. Tomka is the author of 14 books and editor of several other volumes. His latest book entitled A Social History of Twentieth-Century Europe (Routledge, 2013, 552 pp.) won the “Outstanding Academic Title 2013 Award” by Choice, American Library Association.