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Gender, Infrastructure and the Production of Domesticity in the (Post)Communist City

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Domesticities (Gender, Infrastructure and the Production of Domesticity in the (Post)Communist City)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-09-30

The project explored the manner in which housing infrastructures built during 1965-1989 in Bucharest were employed as a political technology in the production of gendered subjectivities in the communist and post-communist periods. The point of departure in this project was constituted by two major reforms that were initiated during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, which tied a gendered domestic sphere directly to the urban landscape of socialism. The first reform — regarding the urban systematisation — aimed to transform the city of Bucharest through mass technologies of housing standardisation and aiming to a social homogenisation. The second reform — regarding women’s reproductive agency — criminalised abortion and placed motherhood at the pinnacle of the social construct. Within the specific context of Bucharest, whereby domestic infrastructure became an instrument for control and standardisation, it is fundamental to investigate the formation of a gendered subject in their interaction with spatial patterns and structures. Such investigation is even more important insofar as more than 85% of the housing provision in contemporary Bucharest is provided by socialist blocks. The research investigated the intersection between the spatialisation of power — especially through mass housing — and the politics of reproduction during the socialist regime in Romania and their effects in the contemporary condition. In taking this approach, the project emphasises the importance of the ethnographic dimension in the study of post-socialist cities, bringing to light the conflicting relations between the public and private spheres – between the legal, administrative and material arrangements of the state’s regulatory framework and the actual lived experiences of women.

In view of analysing these relationships, the project had three main objectives:

1) To examine the social, cultural, political and technological contexts of the production of such housing infrastructure
2) To understand the patterns of subjective transformation and the transformation of practices of gender through an ethnographic investigation
3) To investigate the intersections between the above mentioned processes in order to generate a deeper understanding of the relationship between domestic spaces and women under communism and within the contemporary post-communist condition.
The research approach involved several stages of production.

Stage 1 - Literature Review. The first stage implied an extensive literature review of scholarship in gender studies and socialist architecture in the Eastern Bloc and in post-socialist context of Romania. The aim was to achieve a comprehensive review of existing scholarship, including theoretical frameworks and approaches to other national contexts in Eastern Europe, as well as to establish a theoretical foregrounding of the main concepts that the project employed: domesticity, infrastructure, gendered subjectivity.

Stage 2 - Ethnographic and Archival Research

I. The archival research examined three aspects:

a) The planning and spatial strategies, as well as the functional shaping of domestic space under communism. This was achieved mainly consulting the archival collection of Arhitectura magazine within the collection of the Union of Romanian Architects.

b) The state policies and legal framework of the time regarding the transformation of the city, as well as the legal framework focused on women’s integration into the labour force, political participation, and the monitoring and control of women’s reproductive and family life. This was achieved mainly by consulting "Monitorul Oficial"/"Buletinul Oficial" archival collection 1947-1989, as well as by consulting thematic publications of the timeframe 1965-1989.

c) The official discourse regarding the constitution of the socialist woman. This was achieved by consulting the archival collection of "Femeia" [The Woman] magazine published between 1965-1989.

II. Ethnographic research included qualitative fieldwork consisting of user observation, field notes, photography, videos and semi-structured interviews with inhabitants (both women and men).

The fieldwork was undertaken between June - September 2020 in Bucharest and consisted in the examination of several districts in Bucharest built during the socialist regime.
During this phase I started the production of a documentary film based on the ethnographic fieldwork presenting the experiences of women both during socialism and in its aftermath.

Stage 3 - Reflection and Dissemination carried out through colloquium organisation, articles, conference participation, as well as the production of a documentary film, and exhibition.

The results of the project include:






The project advances knowledge beyond the state of art by analysing, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the relationship between built space (mass housing) and women’s agency. In examining the encounter between socialist domestic space and women, this research project adds to the growing literature on gender in the political context of socialism, and argues that domestic architecture played a fundamental role in constructing and deconstructing women’s mythical position. Through an analysis on one hand into state policies regulating both body and home, and on the other into modes of appropriation by these spaces’ inhabitants, the article emphasises the nuanced practices that shaped women’s ambiguous identity under state socialism. Here, the notion of the appropriation of space refers to the inhabitation and transformation of domestic space through various practices that were not compliant with the ideological intent embedded in the infrastructure. This proposition builds on an interdisciplinary body of literature, bridging between social sciences (especially anthropology), humanities and architecture. More specifically, it consists of three key concepts:

Infrastructure - understood in this research as domestic infrastructure that assumed an instrumental role in the subjective formation

Gendered subjectivity - understood as women’s embodies experience of the built environment

Communist biopolitics - the notion becomes especially relevant within the specific context of Romania between 1966-1989 insofar as mass architecture was profoundly intertwined with the administration of life and the production of a socialist subject

The project has had an impact in the domain of architectural research both as a conceptual framework as well as a methodology employed. By using documentary film as a method of architectural research, the project has broadened its scope giving a voice to the very inhabitants of the housing typologies that were analysed. By using documentary film as a method of research the subjects became themselves aware of the questions that the research had raised. It has also broadened the impact of the project by making it visible to a very broad audience that involved not only academic environments from various disciplines, but also a wider, non-specialist public.

In addition, the project has the potential to generate impact beyond its term, through the outputs that it has completed. For instance continuing to present the documentary film in various contexts and venues to present to much wider audiences the results of this research project.
Publicity for the exhibition "Archiving the Home"
"Archiving the Home" Exhibition
Public for the screening of the documentary "My Socialist Home"
Panel Discussion within the exhibition "Archiving the Home"
Screening of the documentary "My Socialist Home"