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The Things of LifeMateriality in Late Soviet Russia$
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Alexey Golubev

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501752889

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501752889.001.0001

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The Men of Steel

The Men of Steel

Repairing and Empowering Soviet Bodies with Iron

(p.113) Chapter 5 The Men of Steel
The Things of Life

Alexey Golubev

Cornell University Press

This chapter continues the exploration of the marginal urban spaces of late socialism from a slightly different perspective, as it examines the peculiar phenomenon of basement bodybuilding in the late USSR. Driven by the transnational imagery of the cultured male body as hypermuscular, many Soviet teenagers and men turned to weightlifting equipment with its power to help achieve muscle gain and transform their bodies into cultured bodies. At the same time, the failure of Soviet bodybuilding to become part of the official sports system led to its social marginalization, which became visible in social topography. The Soviet press repeatedly denounced basement bodybuilding as a criminal activity. But for most people who engaged in it, it was a form of acquiring strength, health, self-assurance, and — through it — social agency, which many of them interpreted as loyalty to the dominant symbolic and political order.

Keywords:   late socialism, basement bodybuilding, male body, weightlifting, social marginalization, marginal urban spaces

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