Precarious Premises: privatization and personhood in Šnipiškės, Vilnius
(CUNY Graduate Center)
Paper short abstract:
What effects has post-Soviet privatization had on the relationship between materiality, personhood, and politics in a place that has been defined by precarity? Wooden houses in Vilnius are not so much sites of security but rather nodes of tension as they become the targets of new market forces.
Paper long abstract:
This paper traces the effects of post-Soviet Lithuanian privatization policies in Šnipiškės, a neighborhood of 19th century wooden houses in Vilnius that served as temporary housing stock during the Soviet period but is now slated for redevelopment as a modern city center, with portions to be preserved as 'heritage'. After decades of expecting demolition and a move into modern apartments, housing privatization since the 1990s has impacted residents' relationships to their built environment, to the state, to infrastructure, and to their neighbors and kin as they have navigated the dynamics of determining real estate value in the transition to a market economy. These dynamics have been crucial for residents as they evaluate their options to claim ownership, to stay or sell, or to settle into aging houses by investing in material improvements. The patchwork-like facades index multiple inhabitants of heterogeneous social positions who renovate their space according to their preferences, aesthetics and means, but in doing so, impact the desires and possibilities of their neighbors. Based on narratives and details of domestic life collected through ongoing ethnographic fieldwork, this paper considers how residents come to understand themselves as property-owners by engaging in various practices that assert either their dignity or distinction in a context of material, social and political agents that encourage, delimit, or thwart their efforts. It is through privatization that commodified houses come to occupy kin relations, not as objects ensuring continuity through inheritance, but rather as nodes of generational tensions and sites of familial rupture and revenge.
Styles of domestic life: austerity and self-worth