Soviet Consumerism: Gender, Culture, and Geopolitics
With the death of Stalin, the succeeding Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced a new era in Soviet life, a turn away from the sacrifice of the Stalin years toward a new “Golden Age” of Soviet socialism. The post-Stalin period focused attention on housing, living standards, and the production of Soviet commodities for Soviet households. Khrushchev’s “thaw” extended to the Cold War, initiating a new phase of “peaceful competition” whose battleground was the kitchen. The Khrushchev-Richard Nixon “Kitchen Debates” of the early 1960s exposed social reproduction and social citizenship as sites of geopolitical relations. Internationally, the Soviet Union condemned racial segregation, advocated for equal pay for equal work, for health and safety provisions, and for conceptualizing domestic work as productive. And yet, while to some degree emancipating women from byt (everyday life), the Soviet turn to consumerism also served to entrench norms of domesticity, heteronormativity, family, and gendered labor. How can we understand Soviet consumer culture? How was it perceived across the public/private divide? Was it a fulfillment of the Soviet promise or a repudiation of its ideals? And, how did the Soviet consumer model and the mother-worker gender contract differ from the male-breadwinner model predominant in Western Keynesian welfare states? What was the life of a Soviet household?
In this course, we will explore Soviet material culture—consumer commodities, advertising, women’s magazines, literary journals—in the context of social policy, labor and family law, and developments in international political economy in the post-Stalin era. Was Soviet consumerism an expression of progressive social relations–objects for the emancipation of women and workers—or was late socialism simply another variation of the post-war welfare state model? In tracing the relationship between production, consumption, and time in the Soviet economic system, as well as the social relations of gender, sexuality, and race, this course will critically engage with such authors as Susan Reid, Lewis Siegelbaum, Dan Healy, Caroline Humphrey, Natalya Chernyshova, Anna Krylova, Eileen Boris, Alexander Gerschenkron, Michael Lebowitz, and Katherine Verdery, among others. To help us grasp the making of the “new Soviet person,” we will explore popular Soviet films including: The Cranes are Flying, The Girls, Walking the Streets of Moscow, Wedding in Malinovka, and The Diamond Arm.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
January 31 — February 21, 2022