Islands of Bourgeois Self-Realization in a Sea of Changes: A Century of Czech Cottaging

Reidinger, Melinda, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Czech chatyand chalupy, which I gloss as “cottages,” are purpose-built recreational bungalows or secondary homes in the country. The rate of second-home ownership in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia) exceeds that of almost all other countries; however, since the 1950s participation has not been limited to an elite - all social classes and occupational groups are represented. I outline three major theories that describe or account for the boom in cottaging during the socialist era. They are 1) cottages as “escape” from hostile forces in society; 2) cottages thrown as a sop by a regime that could not legitimate itself yet wanted to keep citizens quiet and remain in power; 3) cottages as a space where it was possible to engage in “resistant” practices against the socialist regime and its values. I also present a fourth model, the “archipelago,” which describes an elaborate nexus where materials, labor, and contacts were hoarded and exchanged. Cottaging’s decline was predicted and even announced after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, but, curiously, it is still thriving. Why? I argue that in order to understand its persistence, one must explore the deeperhistorical and philosophical roots of the phenomenon: bourgeois, romantic, anti-urbanand anti-industrial impulses. Before describing twentieth century cottaging in detail, I clear up mystifications in traditional histories (which reach back to the interwar tramping movement and posit a “proletarian” origin for mass nature-based recreation), and describe the ways in which cottagers and the socialist regime have supported and undermined one another. Although cottaging is often described as a technique for “self-realization,” cottagers have, as an aggregated mass, achieved many ends that are usually thought to require elections or the activities of organized civic and democratic institutions. Telling the story of how the cottagers have persisted, adapted, and left their mark on their nation will bring new insights to scholars concerned with the relationships between totalitarian or hegemonic structures and individuals or unofficial collectives, with questions of resistance and refusal of ideology and to those who wish to know more about the theories and the survival techniques Czechs have used during their tumultuous past century.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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