What role did consumption, the mass media and popular culture play in post-war Eastern Europe? Did they help ‘normalise’ state socialism or rather inspire outlooks and desires incongruent with communist regimes’ goals? These questions are central to recent scholarship which has departed from conventional Cold War studies centred on narrowly-conceived political elites and modes of Soviet domination. Instead, using the lens of social and cultural history, scholars have turned to exploring Eastern European societies as independent subjects in their own right. Looking at workers, middle classes, women, tourists, hippies, shoppers, television audiences and other groups, this new body of work has questioned the impenetrability of the Iron Curtain and has highlighted Eastern European participation in broader European and global trends. Instead of enumerating failures of the socialist system from ‘economics of shortage’ to the depressing ‘greyness’ of apartment blocks, scholars now explore ‘pleasures in socialism’, including leisure, fashion and consumer culture. In place of preponderant societal resistance against the controlling state, they expose complex ways of appropriation, accommodation and identification with elements of state socialism by individuals and groups.
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