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The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Volha Biziukova (University of Vienna, Austria)

Adjusting Consumption and Aspiring for Modernisation: The New Middle Classes and the New Consumption Policies of the Russian State

The introduction of the ban on food imports and the policy of import substitution, on the one hand, have been represented by the Russian state as the means of boosting the domestic industry and part of the larger strategy of modernisation. On the other hand, these regulations coupled with the economic downturn have brought about new living conditions for citizens, especially, for the new middle classes. The latter were believed to be the beneficiaries of the economic growth and were acknowledged through their westernized patterns of consumption, but now their lifestyles and standards of consumption appear to be jeopardized. Nevertheless, despite their potentially disadvantageous effect, the new consumption policies did not meet any systematic resistance and in many cases managed to find approval. The new middle classes face a necessity to adapt to these regulations and adjust their consumption practices encountering particular ideas about being a ‘citizen’ and the country’s development which are imposed by the Russian state. Drawing on fieldwork data collected in 2015-2017, the paper suggests that the way these people react to the new policies should be analysed in relation to their broader relationships with the state that have been established over time. Therefore, this process of adjustment becomes the medium through which they re-arrange and negotiate the way they relate to and position themselves vis-à-vis the Russian state. The paper explores how the new middle classes engage with ideas about economic development, a ‘proper state’ and positioning of Russia within global hierarchies of power while accommodating the current changes in their lives. The paper offers a perspective on modernisation ‘from below’ as it is perceived and enacted by people on the ground.