NEW PROPERTY, NEW LABOUR
new property, new labour, new loan, new product, new investment
Abandoned and largely liquidated steelworks which used to be the core for a whole city is practically no longer there. “Newness” rooted in architectural and urban thought of socialist realism which was supposed to transform not only the city but also the human turned out to be more durable than the system that created it. As though the adjective ‘new’ was to condition the unchanging character of the communist intention of continuing renewal for ever. Tomasz Rakowski stresses that the 1990s, when large post-socialist industrial plants were discontinued in many places across Poland, witnessed mass dismissals, an increase in unemployment, and the emergence of entire areas of so-called “new poverty.”i Labour was one of the basic factors defining the New Human; it also became a relational community-forming factor. The residents of Nowa Huta who became redundant after 1989 had to redefine themselves and their identities. The place and the style of life that was related to it, made meaningful by the labour system involving thousands of workers, was cut off from its original context. Discussing such situations, Buchowski writes that this time “members of these group need to be disciplined and recreate as new people to fit the «capitalist normality,» which is an obvious and unmarked category.”ii
During the transformation period, Nowa Huta had to be ‘reinvented’. The mechanisms of fashion for anything connected with the Polish People’s Republic came in handy, the perspective of Western tourists, amused by “otherness“ from behind the Iron Curtain was adopted. In this way, Nowa Huta reality was exoticised and aestheticised, very much like rural culture had once been exoticised and aestheticised by the intelligentsia and nobility. Only the most visually attractive were selected from a wide range of phenomena, even if they were suggestive of poverty and dullness. The past was commodified and exotisiced to be used as an item of exchange, a valuable product. The ability of certain objects to evoke nostalgia was to trigger longing for things one has never possessed. According to Arjun Appadurai, this kind of consumers’ nostalgia creates “[…] experiences of duration, passage, and loss that rewrite the lived histories of individuals, families, ehtnic groups, and classes.”iii Tourism in Nowa Huta became a “melancholic journey through time,” a way to patinate its image, and giving it completely new meanings. Golonka-Czajkowska points out that this kind of ‘anthropological’ tourism, focussed on scrutinising the life in the district and discovering its exoticism, also responds to the “need to constantly look for new, unordinary forms of entertainment which turn into fascination of pop-communism, described as fashion for the Polish People’s Republic.”
Nowa Huta can be treated as a closed historical construct, referring exclusively to deposited historical sources, one that we easily enter into dialogue with, and use for whatever purpose we wish. But the city is a living organism, and it exists in real time, constantly created, reinterpreted, and used by its residents, by acting agents. By nature, cities never present cultural heritage as “invention,” a term used by Allan Hanson to stress the arbitrary dimension of the process in which “sign-substitutions […] depart some considerable distance from those upon which they are modeled, […] are selective and […] systematically manifest the intention to further some political or other agenda.”iv
Seen in this way, the city is about discussions and crossing institutionally imposed limits, as well as seeking to create a situation when the city becomes a ‘living’ phenomenon, capable of generating new meanings, rather than a mental construct contained in a glass case.
The anthropology of newness proposes that the culture of a city should not be regarded as a strange phenomenon, a phenomenon that is opposite to our culture, but – as it were – across the category, opening the way culture has so far been conceived as closed, frequently believed to be the unvariable of an external category. And yet culture, with all its manifestations such as, for instance, identity, is all about action, rather than being a stable construct. The process provides us with the right tools to affect the course of the process of inclusion into life that models us. Hence the reflection on Nowa Huta as a city built from scratch, as creation of the New Human, but also the new Other, offers space for attempts at discovering a factor actively seeking unification in thinking about culture and departing from polarity in all opposed categories. Nowa Huta unites all binary oppositions in itself. The new seems to be synonymous with openness, looking across clichés, stereotypes, and schemata. A holistic approach to the city would thus involve disturbing the living tissue by actions disclosing creative potential of individuals. That would mean finding splits and crevices which would – like a lens – provide a view of grass-roots dimensions of culture. Not the institutionalised vision of urban culture, but whatever city people search and create beyond the mainstream. This is a suggestion that reality should be interpreted as a net of cultural relations through action, grass-roots practices that redefine themselves at once creating living urban fabric and identity, which is not a fixed construct enclosed in artificial schemata and simplifications, but keeps changing, recreating itself along the socio-cultural transformations.
i T. Rakowski, Łowcy, zbieracze, praktyce niemocy, p. 5.
ii M. Buchowski, Czyściec, p.101.
iii A. Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 77.
iv A. Hanson, ”The Making of the Maori: Culture Invention and Its Logic”, American Anthropologist, p. 899.