chapter  5
Retreat to the household?
Gendered domains in postsocialist Poland
ByFrances Pine
Pages 19

The rapid and often quite brutal ‘shock therapy’ implemented in Poland after 1989 radically altered both the shape of public life and the domestic relationships and sense of private personhood of much of the population.1 In the highly industrialized region in and around the city of £ódŸ, the effects of de industrialization were immediate and highly visible. By 1991, when I began to do research in this region, many of the old textile factories were operating with severely curtailed labour forces, or were shut down altogether; the buildings had a deserted, neglected and decrepit appearance, far removed from the hubs of activity and productivity of socialist times. The Biuro Pracy (employment centre), where the unemployed went to register and to claim benefits, was full to overflowing. Indeed, this often seemed to be the only public space bustling with people and motion. Old women and mothers carrying young children could be seen begging on the streets, something unimaginable under socialism. A plethora of small shops and fast food outlets, selling Western and Westernstyle goods and products, sprang up almost overnight. The contrast between these chic retail outlets, the huge empty state department stores and the open markets and street corners, where rural women and ‘Russian’ traders sold their fruits and vegetables and their small and often shoddy wares, created a striking and evocative symbolic mapping of the new local economy.