Life and death in the kingdom of shoes : Zlín, Bat'a, and Czechoslovakia, 1923-1941
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Life and Death in the Kingdom of Shoes is an exploration into the lives of the people of Zlín, Czechoslovakia from 1923 to 1941. During this period Zlín became the headquarters for one of the most successful commercial concerns in the world, the Bat’a Company. Alongside its explosive economic growth, the company attempted to transform its workforce and town into a highly rationalized operating system, which held strikingly new determinants for inclusion and exclusion within the body politic. From planners, architects, and executives to criminals, housewives, and students, Life and Death in the Kingdom of Shoes encompasses high and low to suggest that the conflicts and compromises of those living in Bat’a’s model industrial towns produced a distinct ideology with its own symbols, heroes, and discourse. The ideology, Bata-ism, was part of a transnational project to design, build, and control cities based on scientific principles of rationalism. The project transcended national, class, and religious boundaries to offer a new way of identification: the Bata-man or woman. Work, play, gender, loyalty to the company, and appearance became much more important in deciding one's place within Bat’a’s twenty four towns, and some 3,600 retail outlets, than nation, class, or religion. This dissertation challenges dominant historical narratives of Czechoslovakia and Bat’a in the interwar period, which have focused almost exclusively on national conflict and on the designs of the executives. By turning attention to the debates and implementation of something that radically changed people’s lives - the rationalization of everyday life – Life and Death in the Kingdom of Shoes adds a crucial chapter to our understanding of interwar Czechoslovakia The primary aim is to peel away the facade of the utopian company project to locate, in the words of the historian Richard Stites, “oceans of misery, disorder, chaos, corruption, and whimsicality that went with it.” With the stories of people like Marie Urbašková, a prostitute who led police on a fool’s errand, Life and Death in the Kingdom of Shoes allows disparate narratives to unravel tidy conceptions of Bat’a’s utopian project.