Of Bmws, Bananas, and Banks: The Genealogy of Credit Cards in Central Europe

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Anna BOKUN, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, United States
This paper examines the relationship between the introduction of credit cards to post-communist Poland and an evolving consumer class, with an emphasis on advertising techniques used to disseminate credit. I will expand upon the naturalization of the credit card in a debt-averse economy by examining media campaigns of English and Polish phrases, images, and copy designed to promote the purchase of big-ticket items such as cars and appliances on credit. I have chosen to trace the object of the credit card because it is emblematic and can offer a window on how the adoption of Western financial instruments in a debt-averse and formerly demonetized economy reflects larger themes of consumerism, financialization, and micro-macro relationships between monetary institutions and consumers. Dismantling the Socialist vacuum of exchange/distribution as well as credit, debt, and consumption requires new ‘free market’ spaces, such as marketing and advertising. Advertisements for credit cards present a curious interplay between encouraging credit, and a population that for the most part, has never purchased anything using credit. Primary sources for this project include advertisements from two Polish publications (1991 - 2008): Magazyn Nowiny and Magazyn Dziennik Dolnośląski.

After 1989, the patrimonial, socialist state gave way to the “big bang” reform of the 1990s and many services previously provided by the state were phased out; families scrambled to find new ways of accessing homes, cars, vacations, and other commodities. By attempting to fill in the gap between what the old order provided and what the new capitalist system demanded, the introduction of formalized lending – imbued with the regulatory, opaque framework of global finance – proved to be at odds with local economies of favor. The credit card developed alongside a growing market of mortgages and car loans; yet as other types of loans have increased, the credit card lags.