The power of play : East German toy design, consumption, and the socialist personality 1949-1979
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This dissertation explores how East Germany used children’s toys to educate its citizens on how to act and consume like socialists and establish a specific socialist society that differentiated itself from the West. Toys, like other objects, are meant to be manipulated, rendering them ephemeral and part of everyday life. Yet, they are also a representational medium for the prevailing mores of a culture and society—their ability to influence individual sensory experience and cognition has made toys enduring features of education, socialization, consumer culture, politics and ideology. By approaching the history of East Germany from the perspective of material culture, this dissertation reveals the extent to which socialist ideology pervaded the design, production, and consumption of East German toys and demonstrates how the state's efforts—literally and figuratively—shaped the material lives, national identity, and quotidian practices of its citizens. A major tenet of socialist ideology in East Germany (GDR) was the commonly held belief that citizens of the state could be molded into "better" socialists through education, paternal supervision, and manipulation of the physical environment. Therefore, government officials and pedagogues hoped that through the process of childhood political indoctrination, the responsibilities and mores of a socialist society would come as second nature to GDR citizens. Using toys as a lens, this project reveals how the East German government attempted to establish a socialist product landscape and way of life much different from the ones in the West by dictating and controlling the material culture of everyday life and creating new relationships between people and things. Ideology drove the shape, style, and appearance of the material world while the GDR marketed its aesthetic as "national in form, socialist in content" and changed the everyday surroundings and physical world of its citizens. Finally, while traditional historiography of the Cold War relationship between East and West Germany focuses on East-West competition and the political relationships between the two states, this study examines East Germany's cultural and ideological strategy for negotiating the creation of a distinctive aesthetic and specific socialist personality among the most impressionable and youngest members of the state, its children.