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Location & Connections


Visiting Fellows 2015-2016

Martin Dimitrov, Tulane University, USA  

“The Politics of Socialist Consumption”
(May 2016)

Dr. Dimitrov will present his topic at Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday, 19 May at 2:15 pm. See here for the seminar details!

Martin K. Dimitrov is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Asian Studies Program at Tulane University. He is also Chair of the Working Group on Authoritarian Resilience at the Holbrooke Forum for the Study of Diplomacy and Governance Statecraft in the 21st Century at the American Academy in Berlin; an Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University; and the Associate Editor for Asia of Problems of Post-Communism. His books include Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Why Communism Did Not Collapse: Understanding Authoritarian Regime Resilience in Asia and Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2013). He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Dictatorship and Information: Autocratic Regime Resilience in Communist Europe and China. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2004 and has held residential fellowships at the American Academy in Berlin; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki; the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Notre Dame; the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford; the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard; and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard. He is a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations and a member of the board of the Confucius Institute at Tulane University. He has conducted fieldwork in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Cuba.

Short description of ongoing research:
Communist regimes exemplify the concept of a “shortage economy” (Kornai 1980). The standard interpretation is that these regimes do not aim to satisfy the consumption preferences of the population (Brzezinski and Friedrich 1965), ruling instead through repression of the masses (Arendt 1951; Brzezinski and Friedrich 1965; Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2003). This received wisdom has been challenged both by early scholarship that emphasized the decline in repression in post-Stalinist regimes (Dallin and Breslauer 1970) and by subsequent studies of the social contract (Pravda 1981; Millar 1985; Hauslohner 1987; Cook 1993), which argued that citizens would remain quiescent for as long as the regime provided them with stable access to jobs, housing, welfare benefits, and importantly, consumer goods. The collapse of communist regimes led to an archival revolution that allowed scholars to assess the validity of arguments that were made without access to primary regime-generated sources. Recent archival studies have confirmed the insights of the earlier literature concerning the importance that communist regimes attached to satisfying the consumption preferences of the population (Landsman 2005; Siegelbaum 2008; Betts 2010; Bren and Neuburger 2012; Koenker 2013). Research on “welfare dictatorships” (Jarausch 1999) has thus validated Václav Havel astute observation that late socialism involved “the coming together of a dictatorship and a consumer society” (Havel 1979, 71; Havel 1985, 31).
This project extends the findings of the recent archival literature on consumption (which has been developed exclusively by historians) by focusing on several interrelated questions that allow us to shed light on the political logic of socialist consumption. Namely, it addresses the following puzzles: when do communist regimes start paying attention to the consumer preferences of the population; how do they find out what these preferences are; how do they aim to satisfy these preferences; and how does their eventual inability to satisfy these preferences increase the likelihood of systemic collapse. The project contributes to two literatures: the literature on welfare in autocracies (Cook 1993; Haggard and Kaufman 2008; Inglot 2008) and to the rapidly expanding literature on durable authoritarianism (Magaloni 2006; Brownlee 2007; Levitsky and Way 2010; Bunce and Wolchik 2011; Svolik 2012). The project is comparative and relies on a large corpus of archival materials from Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Cuba, and China that I personally collected in a number of archives, libraries, and document repositories in Europe and Asia.
During his fellowships at the Aleksanteri Institute, Dr. Dimitrov will work on finishing his book manuscript titled “The Politics of Socialist Consumption”.

Email: mdimitro [at]

Academic hosts at the Aleksanteri Institute: Mila Oiva and Markku Kivinen