Shaping the Rational Consumer? Urban Planning and Mass Consumerism in Sweden and Germany, 1940s–1960s

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
Grace Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
David Kuchenbuch, Justus Liebig University Giessen
The paper explores the impact of mass-consumerism on German and Swedish debates on housing, infrastructure and urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s from a comparative and transnational perspective. Many planners in both countries had abandoned the traditional self-image of the architect-as-artist to adapt new, scientific techniques, often based on statistical and sociological knowledge, in order to "engineer" the social structure of society. Transnational concepts such as the "neighborhood unit" were attempts to transform what was considered to be an increasingly fragmented mass-society into highly integrated local communities.

Still, Swedish post-war architecture and urban planning was much less reluctant to embrace mass-consumerism than its German counterpart. This, as the paper will discuss, was due to a notion of the "rational consumer" that had been established as part of the "people's home" the Swedish social democratic governments had been propagating since the early 1930s. In Sweden, macro-economical planning for the common welfare was to be facilitated by a population that had been educated to develop a rational, consumerist subjectivity. In contrast, many (West-)German planners perceived mass consumerism as a threat to their social ideals, as can be seen in the German reception of Vällingby – a New Town near Stockholm which was widely debated in Germany. Only in the early 1960s did German planners begin to acknowledge mass-consumption, partly owing to American re-education-practices that advertised modern mass-consumption, conducted, amongst others, by the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) which had been organizing exhibitions on housing and funding a number of model housing estates (ECA-Siedlungen) across the country.

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