The Quest for Quality in Socialist Bulgaria, 1960s–1980s
The commodities produced and sold in the socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe were notorious for their low quality, inferiority and poor standards. Blaming the command economy, scholars have singled out the poor quality of these products as emblematic of the inferiority of socialist regimes in comparison to western capitalist economies. In contrast, Rossitza Guentcheva’s chapter examines the persistent concerns of Bulgarian socialist officials with the quality of goods produced and offered to the population in the 1960s-1980s. A variety of institutions—such as the Center for New Assortments of Goods and Fashion, and Center for Industrial Aesthetics—tracked, discussed, and attempted to remedy quality issues, enlisting the help of experts on all levels of design, production, trade, and consumption. During these debates, an innovative and highly original—“architectonic”—vision of quality emerged, which focused neither on the intrinsic features of the object nor on the customer’s actual taste. Analyzing the complicated negotiations about the very nature of quality, Guentcheva reveals how state and society were inseparably intertwined—thus avoiding the ascribed opposition between a leadership coining the party line and the people implementing it into practice.
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