1st Edition

Urban Phantasmagorias Domesticity, Production and the Politics of Modernity in Communist Bucharest

By Iulia Stătică Copyright 2024
    238 Pages 85 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    238 Pages 85 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Urban Phantasmagorias examines the legacies of socialist housing in the city of Bucharest during the period of communist rule in Romania. The book explores the manner in which the socialist state reconfigured the city through concrete acts of demolition and construction, as well as indirectly through legal frameworks aimed at the regulation of women’s reproductive agency, in an attempt to materialize its idea of modernity. It follows the effects of this state agenda with a focus on the period between 1965 and 1989 through an investigation of the transformations, representations, meanings, and uses of domestic spaces. The book draws on Walter Benjamin’s concept of phantasmagoria, which provides a critical framework through which it articulates the dynamic relationship between ideology, architecture, and everyday practices, and reassesses their impact upon individual subjectivity and agency. The woman emerges as a central subject of the book, upon whom the phantasmagoric effects of the socialist state’s modernizing agenda have an acute impact at the level of lived domesticity and everyday life. Through a focus on the lived experiences of women, the book illuminates the prismatic effect of the state’s infrastructural and legal intentions, including the ways in which these were subverted through women’s lived bodily experiences of the home. The book establishes, both theoretically and through the concrete case of the city of Bucharest, the methodological significance of Benjamin’s notion of phantasmagoria as an epistemological approach to a modern communist cityscape. Urban Phantasmagorias is an important contribution to scholarship in architectural history and theory, urban and gender studies, and post-socialist and Eastern European studies.

    1. Phantasmagoria: From West to East  2. Between Orientalism and Modernity: Urban and Domestic Topographies  3. Communist Bucharest  4. Urban Phantasmagorias  5. Gender, Maternity and the Modern Communist Home  6. The Phantasmagoria of the Communist Interior


    Iulia Statica is a Lecturer in Urban Design at The School of Architecture, at the University of Sheffield. She was a Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Researcher at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University’s Mario Einaudi Centre for International Studies. She obtained her PhD at the Department of Architecture at the University of Rome "La Sapienza". Her research interests focus on the discourses of material culture in (post)communist contexts, and the role of ideologies and their critique in architecture and urbanism.

    "This book offers an original history of socialist Bucharest, Romania, between 1965 and 1989. It addresses housing as gendered infrastructure, delivering ‘communist modernity’ through the control of domestic life and maternity. Yet what was the subjective response to these transformations? How do we as scholars access them? By drawing on Walter Benjamin’s account of urban phantasmagoria and moving between archives, interviews, art and film, Statica produces an extraordinarily rich analysis of how (female) subjects experienced, imagined, and responded to socialist modernization – as fragmented and conflictual – a brilliant account relevant to all scholars of twentieth-century housing and urbanism."

    Barbara Penner, Professor of Architectural Humanities, UCL

    "Urban Phantasmagorias is Iulia Statica’s theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich examination of how the infrastructures of communist modernity in Bucharest produced a specific female subject. Collectively imagined as workers, wives, and mothers, women in Ceaușescu’s Romania found their bodies and identities colonized by a state willing to aggressively expropriate their productive and reproductive labor. This process was accelerated by deliberate projects to nuclearize the traditional extended family through an architectural reimagining of urban living. Especially fascinating are the thick descriptions of typical communist homes and the ways that physical spaces shaped Romanian women’s ideas of "modern" domesticities."

    Kristen Ghodsee, Professor and Chair of Russian and East European Studies, University of Pennsylvania

    "In this masterly and well-argued Urban Phantasmagorias, Iulia Statica does more than unveiling the layers and fragments of Bucharest’s communist modernity and domesticities. She turns Walter Benjamin and, in the process, urban theory upside down, by juxtaposing Benjamin’s musing on urban Paris, on the one hand, and on the other, Bucharest longing for a future modernity, which is already our past, and a past Statica carefully reaches through a critical archeology of urban fragmentation."

    António Tomás, University of Johannesburg, author of In the Skin of the City: Spatial Transformation in Luanda