Living Through the Fall of Communism: Life Narratives of the Last Soviet Generation
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This historically grounded ethnography presents the post-Soviet transition through the lens of the subjective experiences of ordinary people from the last Soviet generation, a generational cohort has had the unique experience of having lived under two radically different ideologies – socialism and capitalism. I analyze stories of six people before and after the collapse of communism and demonstrate the range of selfhood models elaborated by different groups in the Soviet society. Using the period of the post-Soviet transition, the ethnography demonstrates individual struggles to salvage meaningful parts of their Soviet past, and survive as economic actors and moral beings, while exploring new opportunities. Broadly, the research demonstrates tensions between the officially promoted narrative of Russian capitalism, which seeks to establish a form of continuity with the pre-revolutionary past, and dramatically different personal experiences which challenge the rationality of the market and the quotidian within it. Individuals struggle to understand the rapid change of success and failure in the market; paradoxically, they find explanations in magic and occult beliefs. Another protagonist expressed lost hopes for a better life and honestly compensated work as opposed to experiences with falsified work done under the guise of “fulfillment of a socialist plan.” In the post-Soviet period, she repeatedly encountered deceitful schemes, in which powerful employers found ways to exploit job seekers paying them a fraction of their worth and pocketing their wages. The removal of state support for women and mothers reversed formerly egalitarian gender roles with more traditional ones that defined women mainly as housewives and caretakers of children and placed them in economically disadvantaged positions. In contrast to much of the current literature depicting Russian people either as sufferers or eager explorers of the new consumer world, my research revealed that the dramatic experiences in life narratives depicted all troubles as transient and the stories focus on the storyteller's strength and endurance offering a distinctly different picture of engagement with social reality.
- Anthropology