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The Materiality of the New Family House in Hungary: Postsocialist Fad or Middle-class Ideal?



In the social and economic upheaval during the first decade after the fall of state socialism in Hungary, the emergence of new neighborhoods of detached family houses outside of a former “socialist city” provoked ambivalent reactions. Were these homes the natural housing form for an emerging middle class in newly independent, free-market Hungary, or a passing fad led by the nouveaux riches? This article argues that that the eventual triumph of this suburban housing form had little to do with an inevitable trajectory of capitalism modeled on that of the West. Instead, it was a unique material and aesthetic form that, in the Hungarian context, was aligned with the values of its rural precedents while at the same time distinguished from them as “middle class.” The materiality of the new family house has not only redefined the conditions for belonging to the ranks of a new middle class, but has been instrumental in constituting and legitimating this emerging class.