Accepted paper:

Material hyper-evidence: objects of the new plutocracy in Bratislava


Alexandra Schüssler (Musée d' Ethnographie de Genève)

Paper short abstract:

In Bratislava a stratum of new plutocrats demonstrates pecuniary wealth with hyperbolic evidence. Despite of the stigmatization of these nouveaux riches as boisterous, tasteless and anomic this paper tries to shed light on the relation of the suddenly wealthy owners with their material belongings and investigates the function of the objects as projection screens for complex ideas and emotions.

Paper long abstract:

The fall of the Iron Curtain has resulted in political and economic changes in all ex-socialist countries. These changes have given rise to a new stratum of nouveaux riches, who managed to acquire wealth due to restitution and privatization of former state properties. That pecuniary elite is despised by the "old aristocracy", the cultural elite, as well as by the newly poor. The plutocrats' provocative demonstration of their wealth may be stigmatized as "uncultivated", but it is their cultural idiosyncrasy that my research is focused on. The newly rich demonstrate to the world how rich they have become, but there is more to their message that uses 'things' as a vehicle. Can this demonstration of 'tasteless and obscene' overabundance be understood as a break with the socialist past, the ideology of equality? Can it be read as a sign for a new social order with an orientation towards the consumption absorbed West? In my paper I shall concentrate on subject - object relationships of my informants with their possessions, which are so evidently displayed by the newly rich of post-socialist countries. Looking at their dress-codes and jewelry, registering their objects of daily use and furnishing, potential (art)collections, architecture (including interior and garden architecture) as well as means of transport I intend to map the plutocrats' subjectivities. Presenting a case of a material environment created by a plutocrat in Senec (near Bratislava, Slovakia) I shall attempt to approach an understanding of the motivations, intentions, fears and desires of this recently born elite.

panel W096
Memory and material culture in post-conflict societies