Material Fantasies

Expectations of the Western Consumer World among East Germans

Milena Veenis

Milena Veenis

Distributed for Amsterdam University Press

284 pages | 29 halftones | 6 3/4 x 9 1/2 | © 2012
Paper $29.95 ISBN: 9789089644008 Published September 2012 For sale only in the United States, its dependencies, the Philippines, and Canada
In 1989 news broadcasts all over the world were dominated for weeks by images of East Germans crossing the Berlin Wall to West Germany. But what did the East Germans expect to find when they excitedly broke through the Wall? And what did they actually find when they made it over to the other side? This study draws on fifteen months of research into both the lives of East Germans before the fall of communism and their fast-changing world after they embraced capitalism. Grounded in powerful anthropological insights, Milena Veenis argues persuasively that national identifications and the bond between state and citizenry in both East and West Germany over the past twenty years has been shaped by the far-fetched, socialist and capitalist promises of consumption as the road to ultimate well-being. These promises also functioned as a way to cover up the more shameful and dirty aspects of both countries’ history and social life.
Contents
Preface
Introduction
    Western Prosperity as Consolation
    Consumption, Identity, and Fantasy
    Life in Dictatorial Societies

1. Fieldwork
    Reactions to My Presence
    Material Culture and Tell-Tale One-Liners
    Generalization, Differentiation
2. Germany 1945: A Country in Ruins
    Material and Social Trauma
    In Search of a Hold
3. The GDR: Future Promises
    The Past Rewritten
    A New Future: Material Well-Being
4. Material Realizations
    Severe, Rational, and Centrally Planned
    “Far Too Modern for Our People,” and Economic Gaps
    Queuing and Mutual Equality
5.The East German Dictatorship
    Theorizing Dictatorship
    Local Conversations on Dictatorship
    Irony, a Caring State, and the Nische
6. Silenced Pasts
    Different Perspectives and Jokes about the Stasi
    The Stasi’s Methods and the Taboo on More
    Egalitarianism, Crab Antics, and Adjustment
7. Western Promise
    Irresistible Prosperity
    East Germans’ Identification with the West
    The Material as Fulfillment
8. Shattered Illusions
    The Wende
    East Germans’ Dissatisfaction
    Three Reasons for East German Despondency

Conclusion
    Fantasy
    Hegemony
    Fetishism, Commodities, and the Senses
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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