Accepted Paper:

Picket fences: housing, material aspirations and dead-ends of Bucharest's middle-classes  

Author:

Bogdan Iancu (National School of Political Studies and Public Administration Bucharest Museum of Romanian Peasant)

Paper short abstract:

Employing ethnographic data, the goal of this paper is to examine how post-socialist gated communities and houses with picket fences have become pillars of middle-class’ identities and aspirations but simultaneously spaces of (un)predictable dead-ends.

Paper long abstract:

In a study on the post-socialist materialities of middle-class houses from the suburbs of a Hungarian city, Fehervary (2011) investigates the shift from "the dreams of modernist utopia embedded in ‚man-made' (and thus better than nature) miracle materials like plastic and concrete" to a "neoliberal social order embedded in ‚natural' (in fact super-natural) materials like Bramac roofing tiles." In post-socialist Romania, along with double-glazed windows and other objects that revive the gray flats built during communism, one can also find various vintage objects (i.e., old clocks, smoothing irons, kettles etc.) bought at flea markets. At the same time, the will for autonomy and proximity to nature have also translated into specific middle-class' housing aspirations, e.g., owning a house with picket fences (or "casa pe pâmânt" in Romanian) either in Bucharest's old neighborhoods that were not destroyed by Ceausescu's urban policies or in the city's (mostly rural) suburbs .

Employing ethnographic data, the goal of this paper is to examine how socialist-era flats along with post-socialist gated communities and houses with picket fences have become pillars - as "respectable material standards" (Patico 2008) - of middle-class' identities and aspirations. I will also discuss situations when aspirations conflict with reality by looking at cases when the new owners realize that their houses are located in areas with an extremely poor infrastructure and/or that the costs of utilities are much higher than initially advertised and/or that easy access to (good) kindergartens and schools is severely limited or other umpredictable dead-ends.

Panel Urba03
The vulnerable middle class? Strategies of housing in a prospering city