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Design and material culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s

The major part of this book project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 700913.

This book is about two distinct but related professional cultures in late Soviet Russia that were concerned with material objects: industrial design and decorative art. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s is broadly recognised to have been Russia’s first truly original contribution to world culture. In contrast, Soviet design of the post-war period is often dismissed as hackwork and plagiarism that resulted in a shabby world of commodities. This book identifies the second historical attempt at creating a powerful alternative to capitalist commodities in the Cold War era. It offers a new perspective on the history of Soviet material culture by focusing on the notion of the ‘comradely object’ as an agent of progressive social relations that state-sponsored Soviet design inherited from the avant-garde. It introduces a shared history of domestic objects, handmade as well as machine-made, mass-produced as well as unique, utilitarian as well as challenging the conventional notion of utility. Situated at the intersection of intellectual history, social history and material culture studies, this book elucidates the complexities and contradictions of Soviet design that echoed international tendencies of the late twentieth century. The book is addressed to design historians, art historians, scholars of material culture, historians of Russia and the USSR, as well as museum and gallery curators, artists and designers, and the broader public interested in modern aesthetics, art and design, and/or the legacy of socialist regimes.

Valérie Leclercq
Veronique Deblon

commissioned, fabricated, purchased, or used them and, by extension, the beliefs of the larger society’. 4 The case of the bedside tables exemplifies how material culture can add layers and nuance to the history of medical institutions. The ways pieces of furniture, domestic objects, scientific instruments and architectural environments are built, used and adapted give us insight on everyday practices

in Medical histories of Belgium

Anglo-Saxon ‘things’ could talk. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book Riddles, telling us how they were made or how they behave. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood will come across a tree possessing the voice of a dreaming human in order to talk about its own history as a gallows and a rood. The Franks Casket is a box of bone that alludes to its former fate as a whale that swam aground onto the shingle, and the Ruthwell monument is a stone column that speaks as if it were living wood, or a wounded body.

This book uncovers the voice and agency that these nonhuman things have across Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture. It makes a new contribution to ‘thing theory’ and rethinks conventional divisions between animate human subjects and inanimate nonhuman objects in the early Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon writers and craftsmen describe artefacts and animals through riddling forms or enigmatic language, balancing an attempt to speak and listen to things with an understanding that these nonhumans often elude, defy and withdraw from us. The active role that things have in the early medieval world is also linked to the Germanic origins of the word, where a þing is a kind of assembly, with the ability to draw together other elements, creating assemblages in which human and nonhuman forces combine. Anglo-Saxon things teach us to rethink the concept of voice as a quality that is not simply imposed upon nonhumans but which inheres in their ways of existing and being in the world; they teach us to rethink the concept of agency as arising from within groupings of diverse elements, rather than always emerging from human actors alone.

Antonius C. G. M. Robben

Thousands of people died in Rotterdam during the Second World War in more than 300 German and Allied bombardments. Civil defence measures had been taken before the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 and these efforts were intensified during the country’s occupation as Allied bombers attacked Rotterdam’s port, factories, dry docks and oil terminals. Residential neighbourhoods were also hit through imprecise targeting and by misfired flak grenades. Inadequate air raid shelters and people’s reluctance to enter them caused many casualties. The condition of the corpses and their post-mortem treatment was thus co-constituted by the relationship between the victims and their material circumstances. This article concludes that an understanding of the treatment of the dead after war, genocide and mass violence must pay systematic attention to the materiality of death because the condition, collection and handling of human remains is affected by the material means that impacted on the victims.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Digital Bodies, Data and Gifts
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

’ , GeoJournal , 80 : 4 , 491 – 502 . Cross , J. ( 2013 ), ‘ The 100th Object: Solar Lighting Technology and Humanitarian Goods’ , Journal of Material Culture , 18 : 4 , 367 – 87 . Dijkzeul , D. and Sandvik , K

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Soviet things that talk
Yulia Karpova

methodological tools. Since the 1980s, and concurrently with the development of material culture studies, design historians have been increasingly critical of older interpretations that saw design as the elite activity of ‘geniuses’ which produces the sleek and evocative masterpieces that sit in museum displays. In his seminal book Material Culture and Mass Consumption (1987), the leading scholar of material culture studies, Daniel Miller, criticised design history as a ‘bizarre’ field of inquiry, ‘intended to be a form of pseudo art history, in which the task is to locate

in Comradely objects
Thinking, feeling, making
James Paz

I have long been enamoured with the material culture of Beowulf , with the lovely and almost loving descriptions of swords, helms, cups, tapestries, coats of mail, hoards of gold. More recently, I have become intrigued by the craftworkers behind these artefacts, the carpenters, masons, weavers and embroiderers, glassworkers and leatherworkers, and especially the smiths. But what have solid, inanimate artefacts and the hard, manual labour that goes into making those artefacts got to do with intimacy? How can we think about feeling through making

in Dating Beowulf
Open Access (free)
On Anglo-Saxon things
James Paz

afterwards, the twisted pattern of fate; that is a wondrous thing to speak.] (Exeter Book Riddle 39)2 Anglo-​Saxon things and theory Things could talk in Anglo-​Saxon literature and material culture. Many of these Anglo-​Saxon things are still with us today and are still talkative. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book riddles, telling us where they came from, how they were made, how they do or do not act. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-​person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood in

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture
Duncan Sayer

with material culture: a spear placed in a grave or an heirloom brooch (Williams, 2007 ). Narratives can also take place at different scales using material and spatial foundations: burial under a mound, next to a partner, child, parent, grandparent or important person. As a result cemeteries are multi-generational histories, spatial representations of how a community described itself internally and to others. And, like other histories, dominant narratives were reinterpreted as each generation created its own discourses. Consequently, each cemetery is the unique and

in Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries
Yulia Karpova

This is, evidently, an ironic allusion to new materialism as a currently popular school of thought that is based on reconsidering the epistemological and ontological premises of conventional social science research. The full irony of Kozlov and Gilburd’s wording is in the strong contrast between the post-war Soviet modernist vision of material culture as manageable through and through, and the new materialist recognition of the agency of inanimate matter. According to Elizabeth A. St Pierre et al., there are many new materialisms practised by scholars in different

in Comradely objects