Ethnographic account of fur in generation, class, and inheritance in Krakow, Poland
Magee, Siobhan Helen
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In this thesis I describe the complex uses and symbolic resonances of fur clothing in Krakow. During my fieldwork, fur emerged as an object that was at once quotidian and evocative of an uncommonly weighty set of associations. I describe fur industry workers’ ideas about how the production and consumption of fur changed throughout the twentieth century, from its status as a nationalized industry under socialism to its status in post-European Union accession Poland. Informants rely heavily on fur’s physical features, its materiality, when discussing the ways in which fur is an object to be passed through families. I demonstrate the ways in which beliefs about inheritance are heavily contingent upon the local understanding of work as a practice that creates adult personhood. The sections of the thesis which focus on the employment trajectories of furriers show, when placed alongside chapters that explore how fur is passed through generations, that whilst informants value highly both material and intangible inheritances from older kin, they also emphasise the importance of individual action, such as entrepreneurialism. I use the multiple ways in which fur can be interpreted: as part of a dead animal and as a valuable ‘textile’ amongst other meanings, to unpack local understandings of difference and social stratification, taking into account that ‘class’ is a term seldom used in Krakow. ‘Generation’ has a specific function and meaning within Krakowian society as a type of difference that is naturalized and easily spoken of. This contrasts with differences in religion and in class, local understandings of both of which are elucidated by fur due to its associations with, firstly, both Polish Judaism and Polish Catholicism and, secondly, bourgeois ways of being and ideas about poverty in Krakow.