A Child of Two Worlds
: Materiality and Landscape of Mushroom-Shaped Bunkers in Albania

  • Emily J Glass

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Between 1944 and 1991 Albania experienced a distinctive Cold War conflict with shifting partnerships under the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. His cult of personality and an indoctrination of the Albanian population left an inheritance of paranoia, xenophobia, naivety, mistrust, and fear. The legacies of that period are encapsulated within the country’s mushroom-shaped bunkers (henceforth MSBs). These ubiquitous concrete forms were installed across the Albanian landscape in great numbers as part of a bunkerisation scheme which drew in much of the population.
The consequence of this level of involvement has meant that these objects encapsulate complex layers of memory, meaning and symbolism for many Albanians. This thesis uses archaeological and anthropological approaches to draw out elements of MSB materiality and examine the bunkerisation impact on people, culture, and landscape. MSBs have endured for just over fifty years in the landscape and psyche of Albania. For almost half this time they served to reinforce a Cold War mentality of xenophobic paranoia, visually communicated by their repetitive omnipotent brute form. This ensured that the post-1991 half of their social life has been as an object tolerated with suspicious unease until intermittent functional re-uses gave way to more active engagements.
This research is situated in the interdisciplinary study of modern conflict archaeology and utilises such an approach towards the landscape and materiality of MSBs in Albania. It considers that MSBs are highly charged agents of social and political change which have maintained a relevance, function, and degree of potency throughout Albania’s post- communist period. There has been an increased rate of MSB destruction, intensely so from 2011–2013, meaning this research is timely and will include the results of fieldwork prior, during and after this period. The absence of MSBs within landscapes has not been reflected by their removal from the psyche of Albanians. This thesis will examine how post-communist engagements and recommodifications using the distinctive MSB shape and form have maintained a powerful agency which has redefined and reshaped these objects within a modern Albania.
This thesis explores the MSB landscapes of two border areas of southern Albania to draw out experiences of Cold War conflict and examine how the past is remembered or intentionally forgotten to assist socio-economic transition. It will also illustrate the juxtaposition of how different people can view the same object, whether they be Albanian, foreign or members of the Albanian diaspora, and how these narratives can contribute to the formation of object biographies. Diversity of opinion is a crucial aspect for the consideration of how and why people have engaged with MSBs if we are to ascertain whether such a contested artefact might be utilised as a benefit in the future. Finally, it will examine how MSBs have become synonymous with modern Albania and been used, rightly or wrongly, to promote Albania to foreigners in ways which are sometimes problematic.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorNicholas J Saunders (Supervisor)

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