Paprika, Foie Gras, and Red Mud: The Politics of Materiality in the European Union

Paprika, Foie Gras, and Red Mud: The Politics of Materiality in the European Union

Paprika, Foie Gras, and Red Mud: The Politics of Materiality in the European Union

Paprika, Foie Gras, and Red Mud: The Politics of Materiality in the European Union

Synopsis

In this original and provocative study, Zsuzsa Gille examines three scandals that have shaken Hungary since it joined the European Union: the 2004 ban on paprika due to contamination, the 2008 boycott of Hungarian foie gras by Austrian animal rights activists, and the "red mud" spill of 2010, Hungary's worst environmental disaster. In each case, Gille analyzes how practices of production and consumption were affected by the proliferation of new standards and regulations that came with entry into the EU. She identifies a new modality of power--the materialization of politics, or achieving political goals with the seemingly apolitical tools of tinkering with technology and infrastructure--and elucidates a new approach to understanding globalization, materiality, and transnational politics.

Excerpt

This book is about a truly momentous event: the admission of a former socialist country, Hungary, into its one-time nemesis, the European Union, in 2004. By all accounts, unlike most other former members of the Soviet bloc, Hungary—my home country—at the time was expected not only to be admitted first, but also to make a smooth transition into being a productive and full-fledged citizen of this once exclusively Western club. the promising signs were everywhere. Hungary boasted the most open economy at the time state socialism collapsed, in part due to an extensive second economy and household agricultural sector (Lengyel 2012). Its food and electronics industries were already successfully exporting to the West. As a result of political liberalization in the last decade of the regime, as well as the myriad civic initiatives and movements of the 1980s—and allegedly also the historical pride in the uprising of 1956 (Swain 1989)—its citizenry was poised to effortlessly adopt democracy and its related institutions.

Despite such expectations and their apparently high chance of success, ten years after the accession Hungary was a laggard in many common social and economic indicators. in terms of gross domestic product per capita, a common metric of abundance, Hungary’s ranking in the world fell from fifty-first place in 2004 to fifty-seventh in 2014. Its poverty rate was higher than during the economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and with a poverty rate three times the eu average . . .

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