This chapter introduces the concept of the ‘aesthetic turn’ to describe the gradual broadening of the meaning of aesthetics after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the greater openness of the USSR to the outside world that followed. The aesthetic turn resulted in the formation in the USSR of what philosopher Jacques Rancière calls an ‘aesthetic regime of arts’ – a mode of identifying different arts as equal and valuable in their specificity. The chapter analyses the new aesthetic regime of arts by highlighting its key concepts: realism, contemporaneity and taste. These concepts acquired new meanings during the 1950s–early 1960s: realism was now seen as a specific quality of things, not depictions; contemporaneity appeared as a measure of social relevance of an object’ and taste became a tool for probing the limits between authenticity and appearance.

in Comradely objects
The penalties and paradoxes of unmanliness

This chapter demonstrates that unmanliness was written onto ill-formed, unappealing bodies and faces that prompted disgust, fear, and shame. It shows that adult men were instructed on how to avoid unmanliness through emotionalised bodies: failing, uncontrolled, unattractive bodies created by unchecked appetites and bad habits such as drunkenness, and sexual vices. Men were thus taught that the inability to master one’s self caused literal physical, mental, and moral disintegration. Lack of self-control became more dangerous in the nineteenth century as excessive passions, bodily appetites, and feelings were increasingly pathologised as causes of disease and insanity. Responsibility was placed upon the male individual for failing to exert enough moral control to avoid his illness. The discussion of the relationship between unmanliness, bodies, and emotions that follows reveals the inherent paradox of masculine identity, since many unmanly behaviours were also those which, in a managed form, were central to the performance of normative masculinity. Thus, men had to navigate considerable ambiguities in performing their gender. The chapter shows how unmanliness was especially complicated for those men whose bodies were lacking, due to disability, age, or infirmity.

in Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900
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Glorifying the working body

This chapter examines representations of working men’s bodies. The first section explores the nobility assigned to the muscular body, interrogated through the imagined blacksmith and navvy. The next addresses the role of heroism, another appealing quality, primarily through miners, firemen, and lifeboat men. Such strong and appealing working men offered a more comforting vision of working-class masculinity than that in which such men were politically and socially dangerous. Kindness was attributed to both brawn and brave stereotypes, taming the muscular and reckless body. This was not working men’s only function for a middle-class audience, since the same combination of alluring physical and emotional qualities also rendered the working-class male body desirable as a manly ideal. The chapter then shows that the working classes created and disseminated their own highly emotional and material manifestation of working-class manliness on the material culture of trade unions and friendly societies. However, the emotions associated with them were subtly different and deployed in different ways. For middle-class men, the attractive working man was reassuring and admirable, for working-class men he was a measure of their right to be included in the civic polity.

in Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900
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Everyday life practices after the event

In Cairo collages, the large-scale political, economic, and social changes in Egypt brought on by the 2011 revolution are set against the declining fortunes of a single apartment building in a specific Cairo neighbourhood. The violence in Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmud Street; the post-January euphoric moment; the increasing militarisation of urban life; the flourishing of dystopian novels set in Cairo; the neo-liberal imaginaries of Dubai and Singapore as global models; gentrification and evictions in poor neighbourhoods; the forthcoming new administrative capital for Egypt – all are narrated in parallel to the ‘little’ story of the adventures and misfortunes of everyday interactions in a middle-class building in the neighbourhood of Doqi.

Open Access (free)
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.

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The degeneration of everyday material conditions

This chapter narrates the story when the elevator collapsed finally while carrying people. It also narrates the process of replacing it and the numerous problems related to rubbish collecting, the stairwells, communal water, and electricity bills in the building.

in Cairo collages
Open Access (free)
in Comradely objects
Male bodies and manliness

This chapter reveals how manliness was conveyed through beautiful, virile, male bodies. Such appealing male figures and faces were associated with positive emotions that were coded as both manly and moral. This chapter explores their changing forms over time, shaped by modernity, sport, anthropometry, and physiognomy, but also addresses the role of male beauty in disseminating ideals of manliness. It takes a queer history approach which deliberately makes strange the conjunction between physical beauty and masculine values. It rejects assumptions about normative masculinities and how they were created and circulated and instead adopts the techniques of scholarship that queers sexual constructions. Overall, it proposes that beautiful male forms and appearances were intended to arouse desire for the gender that these bodies bore. This nuances our understanding of the gaze. It shows that the idealised manly body was active, since it was an agent of prized gender values. Yet it was also passive, as the erotic object of a female and male desirous gaze, and subordinate, for although some of the descriptions of idealised male bodies in this chapter were elite, many manly and unmanly bodies were those of white working-class men.

in Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900

This chapter shows that just as VNIITE designers had built a theoretical basis for action by the late 1960s and started developing new prototypes for modern household objects, such as vacuum cleaners and refrigerators, they also started to recognise the inadequacy of the object as a basic unit of socialist material culture. Following the theorists of the Ulm School of Design (1953–68, a school critical of American styling and promoting an interdisciplinary approach to design), VNIITE designers tended to see environments, and not objects, as the ideal end products of their work. Without abandoning the avant-garde’s idea of a comradely object, after the late 1960s Soviet designers and theorists dwelled upon another notion of the avant-garde: the artist as the organiser of all aspects of society’s life, including the material environments of work and leisure. After discussing several projects for home appliances from the early 1970s, the chapter explains the notion of a design programme – an elaboration including systems of objects, environments and labour processes. By analysing two cases of design programmes, one from the early 1970s and another from the 1980s, I demonstrate that this type of design was flexible: it intended to regulate broad areas of human activity but also left space for consumer activity and variation.

in Comradely objects
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Martial manliness and material culture

This chapter brings together bodies, emotions, and objects through the most desirable idealised man of all: the martial man. Fictional and real military men were imagined through emotionalised bodies, with material culture often acting as the point of entry for the cultural work they performed in producing and disseminating manliness. Drawing on the concept of emotional objects, three types of material culture that inspired feelings that reinforced ideas about idealised manliness are examined. The first type are artefacts of war and the military, including uniforms, weaponry, battlefield objects, medals, ships, and regimental colours. The second are the objects encountered at the domestic level, including toys, ceramics, and textiles, which depicted martial manliness or had intimate connections with soldiers and sailors. They appealed to all age groups, genders, and social classes, and had a domestic function or ornamental appeal. The third type considered consists of the material culture that celebrity military heroes generated, from consumable products that deployed their names and images, to the monuments that memorialised them, to the very stuff of their bodies. This irresistible nexus of emotionalised bodies and objects prompted affective responses, which disseminated, reinforced, and maintained civilian masculinities.

in Manliness in Britain, 1760–1900