Material desires : cultural production, post-socialist transformations, and heritage tourism in a Transylvanian town
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This dissertation explores the transformation of a small town in South East Transylvania, Sighisoara, historically defined through a strong German presence. Despite the small number of Germans remaining in the region after the massive migrations of the last decades, historical German privilege (made visible through and materialized in the long-lasting architecture) is reformulated and re-configured in the present precisely through processes connected to valuing and producing this built landscape as historical heritage. Claims for stakes in the development of the area become entangled with an interest in heritage preservation publicly performed by a diverse set of (mostly foreign) actors. By analyzing a failed development project, the gentrification of the historical citadel, transformations in public spaces, and NGO and historical preservation funding, I argue that Germanness offers a discursive space in which local desires for a developed West are able to articulate, productively, with Western nostalgias for a developmental do-over, as well as with fears for an endangered European heritage at the 'margins' of Western civilization. This dissertation contributes to the anthropology of post-socialist transformations in Eastern Europe by drawing attention to the relationship between ethnicity and participation in a global capitalism. It shows how a continuous, living engagement with the "outside," the "West," with consumer capitalism has been part of local quotidian subjectivities and understandings of the world, all mediated by desire and access to mobility and possibility. Understandings of people's current relationship with development, consumption, the idea and reality of capitalism cannot be disentangled from these continuities, and I argue for locating analysis precisely in these relationships. This dissertation also brings a critical native voice to the body of English language Eastern European anthropology. At the same time, it attempts to both build on and disrupt historical approaches to the region by forging analytical and substantive continuities with discipline-wide approaches to ethnicity, development, and heritage tourism.