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Synthetic Socialism: Plastics and Dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic [Hardcover]

Eli Rubin

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Book Description

January 1, 2009 0807832383 978-0807832387 1
Eli Rubin takes an innovative approach to consumer culture to explore questions of political consensus and consent and the impact of ideology on everyday life in the former East Germany. Synthetic Socialism explores the history of East Germany through the production and use of a deceptively simple material: plastic. Rubin investigates the connections between the communist government, its Bauhaus-influenced designers, its retooled postwar chemical industry, and its general consumer population. He argues that East Germany was neither a totalitarian state nor a niche society but rather a society shaped by the confluence of unique economic and political circumstances interacting with the concerns of ordinary citizens.

To East Germans, Rubin says, plastic was a high-technology material, a symbol of socialism's scientific and economic superiority over capitalism. Most of all, the state and its designers argued, plastic goods were of a particularly special quality, not to be thrown away like products of the wasteful West. Rubin demonstrates that this argument was accepted by the mainstream of East German society, for whom the modern, socialist dimension of a plastics-based everyday life had a deep resonance.

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Synthetic Socialism: Plastics and Dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic + Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic
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Editorial Reviews


"A brilliant analysis of how plastics are . . . essential to understanding East German Socialism, the nature of its dictatorship, and even Germany's role in the cold war. . . . An outstanding contribution to East German and consumer studies, particularly in its examination of GDR society. This exceptional book presents a bold argument for understanding socialism and its legacy through material culture."--Bookforum

"A welcome addition to a growing body of literature seeking to explore the changing meanings and ways in which the East German world was constructed."--American Historical Review

"Refreshing and original. . . . Provides a sophisticated and important discussion of how power worked in socialist Germany."--Journal of Modern History

"[An] innovative and well-structured study. . . . An original, well-written, and pleasingly presented book that makes an important contribution to the secondary literature on the GDR."--Journal of Central European History

"An innovative contribution to the history of consumption in the GDR."--Technology and Culture

"Provides a novel and informative avenue to understanding the relationship between the East German people and their government."--Choice

"Describes the penetrating changes to the everyday world in exemplary fashion."--Deutschland Archiv

"Rubin's study stands out as a highly original and effective contribution to our understanding of the GDR in its middle period….a model for future studies."--Bulletin of the German Historical Institute

"Outstanding. . . . Valuably extends our understanding of postwar modernity and East German socialism. . . . A lively, methodologically robust, and elegantly written book that should be read by all who seek cultural and historical insight into the logic, function, and legacy of former East Germany."--German Studies Review

Book Description

"Rubin makes a major contribution to the historiography of communism through an innovative approach to consumer culture. His breezy writing style makes the subject come alive. A very fine book."--Konrad H. Jarausch, author of The Rush to Unite Germany

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