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Synthetic Socialism: Plastics and Dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic Hardcover – 15 Feb 2009

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (15 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832387
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.3 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,091,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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"

About the Author

ELI RUBIN is currently visiting scholar at the Zentrum fur Zeithistorische Forschung and fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin. He is also assistant professor of history at Western Michigan University.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rubin has written an outstanding study of a little studied and even less well understood experiment in alternate modernity. It is impeccably researched and written in a wonderful light style, weaving in oral history and contemporary magazine illustrations with archival work. The GDR during its own existence was driven by both ideology, the 'consumer turn' within Eastern bloc socialism in the 1950s, and resource constraint, to pioneer new forms of sustainable consumerism which continue to carry lessons and suggestions for the present. In an ironic twist of fate, the communist regime in East Germany thereby paved the way in terms of exploring an alternate, more sustainable form of modernity, which the broader Western environmental movement only later picked up upon. Some of its experiments and forecasts were utopian and laughable/tragic in retrospect. The drive to provide lighter and cheaper mass public housing for example, when confronted with the challenge that using plastics in construction presented a greater fire hazard, settled upon the use of asbestos as a safeguard. Other efforts however-the drive to make housework simpler and less labour consuming with easy to clean plastic and synthetic work surfaces,and homes correspondingly more functionalist, or the drive to escape the Western consumerist trap of fashion-remain useful thought experiments even today. The use of polyester in clothing was driven by both resource constraints and ideology-'To buy five suits and have them last for twenty-five years each was an ideal of socialist consumption' (p.153). One can laugh at the fashion faux pas this led to in retrospect, whilst also recognising that actually they were making a very serious and good point about our inability to keep raping the planet. Highly recommended for all kind of reasons, and not just about plastic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
3.0 out of 5 stars Middling, but with good bits. 12 Mar. 2016
By David Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This reads a lot like a polished doctoral thesis. As such, at times it gets bogged down in itself, and delves a bit further than it might really need to into the underlying chemical processes that drove the DDR's plastic production industry. Still, there are worthy and insightful observations here, too, and as an academic book, it is no worse (but alas no better) than a lot of what is out there. Be warned, though, this is really for the scholar, and a deeply-read scholar of East German history might not find a whole lot new, here, either.
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