Families in the Transforming Russian Society: Observations From Visits to Families in Novgorod the Great

ABSTRACT - The transformation of the Russian society into a democratic society with a market economy involves many changes for private households. This paper describes some recent changes in the Russian society and reports observations from visits to five Russian families. The purpose of the family visits was to provide an understanding of how some Russian families live today. Strategies in adjusting to the new economic situation as reported in the literature (e.g. Auzan 1995; The Economist 1998; Schleuning 1998) were found in the families visited. Another observation was that the families were very skillful resource managers. The families expressed that they experienced greater economic hardship today than a couple of years ago. The parents struggled, but believed that the situation would be better for their children. The visits also gave the impression of great family cohesiveness, which could be part of the Russian culture, signs of economic hardship, or both.



Citation:

Karin M. Ekstrom, Marianne P. Ekstrom, and Helena Shanahan (2001) ,"Families in the Transforming Russian Society: Observations From Visits to Families in Novgorod the Great", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 145-154.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 145-154

FAMILIES IN THE TRANSFORMING RUSSIAN SOCIETY:

OBSERVATIONS FROM VISITS TO FAMILIES IN NOVGOROD THE GREAT

Karin M. Ekstrom, G÷teborg University, Sweden

Marianne P. Ekstrom, G÷teborg University, Sweden

Helena Shanahan, G÷teborg University, Sweden

[The authors want to thank the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, for financial support.]

ABSTRACT -

The transformation of the Russian society into a democratic society with a market economy involves many changes for private households. This paper describes some recent changes in the Russian society and reports observations from visits to five Russian families. The purpose of the family visits was to provide an understanding of how some Russian families live today. Strategies in adjusting to the new economic situation as reported in the literature (e.g. Auzan 1995; The Economist 1998; Schleuning 1998) were found in the families visited. Another observation was that the families were very skillful resource managers. The families expressed that they experienced greater economic hardship today than a couple of years ago. The parents struggled, but believed that the situation would be better for their children. The visits also gave the impression of great family cohesiveness, which could be part of the Russian culture, signs of economic hardship, or both.

INTRODUCTION

Five Russian families were visited as a first step in a major study focusing on food related activities in households in the transforming Russian society, as a basis for curriculum development in home economics. The major study is a joint project between Novgorod State University (NovSu) and Novgorod Institute of Change and Increase Qualification Specialists in Agriculture (ICIQSA), Russia and the departments of Home economics and Business administration at G÷teborg University, Sweden.

In a democratic society, it is considered a human right to acquire knowledge to become a citizen, that actively participates in the development of society, as well as obtaining knowledge for earning ones daily living. Home economics is an important school subject in the democratization of society in the way that it provides essential knowledge to manage ones own private life as well as to participate in community development. It is also increasingly recognised that education for everyone in performing the tasks of everyday life and in family resource management is a basis for equality between men and women, and thus being an essential dimension of a democratic society (HjSlmeskog 2000). Skillful management of resources, material as well as non-material, becomes especially important in order to obtain optimal well-being of households, in particular where there is a lack of resources. Food management in everyday life is crucial in such circumstances. In this paper, some recent changes in the Russian society are first described followed by observations from visits to five Russian families.

TRANSFORMATION OF THE RUSSIAN SOCIETY

Since 1985 the Russian society has been in the process of transformation towards democracy and market economy. The ongoing changes have affected the Russian consumers in many different ways. A market economy expects the consumers to be able to make independent decisions. Also, consumers can no longer assume that state officials will provide information for making decisions. There are many changes, which have happened relatively rapidly for the Russian consumer, who has been used to living in a planned economy for many years. Russian consumer behavior during the planned economy in the Soviet union and the influences of Western ideas have previously been discussed by Gronow (1997) and Marling (1994). More specifically, Gronow (1997) described the democratisation of luxury goods. For example, caviar and champagne were available to everyone in order to symbolise that they lived in "the country of plenty" (Gronow 1997, p.57).

Auzan (1995) described changes in the behaviour of Russian consumers under recent reforms in terms of three stages: the period of customary consumer behaviour, the period of crisis, and the period of attempts to cope with the new market structures. According to Auzan (1995), the three stages are characterized as follows. The period of customary consumer behaviour (ibid., 73pp.) took place between 1955 and 1985, and the economy was at this time characterised by continued shortages. Auzan argued that the combination of the total deficit in the economy and the totalitarian power of the state brought about complicated and stable institutional behaviour such as queues, illegal personal favours ("blats"), household self-provision, and spreading of rumours. These institutions strongly influenced consumer behaviour. People often wasted so much time queuing that it could have an effect on time at work and GNP. Personal links and "blats" implied that relationships with dealers could result in the possibility of buying goods despite the shortages. Further, self-provision existed in that people developed skills to repair. Also, households were hoarding goods. Rumours played an important role, since consumers did not trust sources of information such as official commercials and advertising information. In general, consumers had a very positive attitude towards reforms, but stuck to their former behavioural patterns in everyday life.

Gorbachev was elected president in 1985 and the reform work was initiated shortly after. Price reforms were promoted during the 1987-1988 and according to Auzan (1995, 76pp.) this was the beginning of the period of crisis. A price reform was, however, not launched due to the fact that majority of people were against it. There was a lack of goods in the market place, queuing was still the norm, and conflicts between the people queuing become more frequent. Consumer groups mad attempts to legitimise the black queues (for black market goods), which resulted in officials recognising the queues. The problem of the distribution of goods remained and attempts to transform the queues into consumer finance institutions did not succeed. The "blat" continued and sellers requested speciality goods or particular services, as additional compensation as well as cash payment. This resulted in social tension and a gap between old habits and emerging economic conditions.

Free trade was established in Russia in 1992 and this is the beginning of the period Auzan (1995, 78pp.) called the period of attempts to cope with the new market structures or consumer adaptation to market conditions. At this time, price shocks resulted in the level of output going down, but the level of demand remained stable. Consumers showed, in general, that they were able to adapt better than companies. A reason for this could be that consumers realised they could not rely on state support. Also, the family as an institution is, in general, more capable of survival under extreme circumstances than companies. During this period consumers requested more market information, began to demand legal consumer rights, and tried to engage in money and real estate management. The price liberalisation led to boycott attempts; consumers reacted to competitive prices and searched for lower prices. In 1992 the number of street markets increased substantially and the number of households who planted vegetables and fruits on their "dachas" (garden with or without a small cottage) increased dramatically. Consumers also had difficulty to adapt to the freedom of choice and free pricing. The old "snatch reflex" (ibid., p.79) manifesting the anxiety not to get hold of commodities, still existed. This meant that consumers often bought commodities at a high price, not shopping around for the lowest prices. Also, people showed at first excessive trust in advertising. Civil Court actions, consumer magazines, and consumer-oriented TV-programs led to that the consumers learnt to use new forms of information. Also, a law "on the protection of consumers’ rights" (ibid., p.81) was adopted in 1992. Consumer organisations have also played a great role regarding consumer protection. Furthermore, consumers have learnt to seek new ways of saving and investment. It happens that families in larger cities sell their apartments and build houses in the suburbs, or sublet their apartments and live on the rent. The best way to protect savings since 1992 has been to convert them into dollars, in order to avoid inflation. People also learnt to invest their money through credit institutions and in securities (ibid).

Since Auzan (1995) wrote his article, different circumstances have challenged the Russian economy. The most dramatic change happened in August 1998 when the economy collapsed with a crisis in the monetary system, falling currency rates and increasing prices (Robach 1999). The acute budget situation and the overvalued Rouble set off the crisis in August 1998, but structural problems in the Russian economy, as well as a lack of infrastructure for a functioning market are some of the underlying reasons (Eduards and Oxenstierna 1999). The Russian consumers have continued to struggle to cope with the changes. Many of the institutional changes described above therefore continue to exist, at the same time as adaptation to the market economy takes place. The garden plot means a lot for people as an independent source of food (Auzan 1995; Schleuning 1998; The Economist 1998). Furthermore, the Russian consumers are also exposed to the power of the Russian Mafia. An article in The Economist (1998) describes some people not daring to sell their produce at markets. Other general problems are malnutrition and that people have not received their pension or wages for some time (The Economist 1998). Gerner, Hedlund, and Sundstr÷m (1995) discussed that the fact that the state controls price setting results in a non-functioning price mechanism and is a barrier for the continued process of transformation of the Russian economy into a market economy. They suggested that a price deregulation, where prices are determined by supply nd demand, is necessary for the development of the Russian society. By doing this, a normal situation would be established with prices supplying the economic actors on the market with information. Eduards and Oxenstierna (1999) meant that the current deficiency in the economy as well as the inability to collect taxes are major problems in the Russian economy. Also, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased significantly during the 1990’s (ibid).

HOUSEHOLDS RESPONDING TO THE ECONOMIC CHANGES IN SOCIETY

Even during times of crisis households continue to manage resources. In general, resources represent what is available to be used. In home economics literature, resources are often defined as the means families have access to, or can create, in order to satisfy the family needs and desires (Deacon and Firebaugh 1988; Goldsmith 1996; Paolucci, Hall and Axinn 1977). Resources can be classified in many different ways, for example, material and immaterial resources. Material resources are real, touchable, or able to be appraised. They are, therefore, easy to observe and value. Examples of immaterial resources are knowledge, experiences, attitudes, values, skills, and social competence.

We believe that during economic transition and crises, like the ones experienced by Russian households, it is important to focus on both the material and immaterial resources in order to throw light over resource management processes. Household members work together and interact with their environment in order to cope with the crises, satisfy their needs, and reach their goals. There are dynamic ever-ongoing processes in households; negotiating, calculating, and balancing in order to fulfil everyday needs of household members (Ahrne and Roman 1997; Ekstr÷m 1990). Each household develops its unique ways, or its rational strategies, in response to the demands of everyday life (Sontag and Bubolz 1996). The patterns of actions are a result of interaction between household members and possibilities and limitations of their surroundings. Decisions are shaped by values and goals, and facilitated, but also restricted by the availability of resources.

In order to relate to our overriding research question "How are households responding to the economic transformation when it comes to food provision", we want to refer to some previous research on Russian consumers in particular. Schleuning (1998) studied women’s perspective on the transition to a market economy by interviewing 95 women in Moscow in 1995. The majority of the women interviewed had some kind of higher education, were married, and had children. The results show that almost half of the women had to take extra jobs in addition to their regular jobs, in order to cover expenditures. Also, the majority of the households owned a "dacha", were gardening, and preserved food. Furthermore, the majority of the women reported that they were the main decision-makers when it comes to food for the households. Household work appeared to be strictly divided along gender lines. Women did the household work and men repaired the car.

Schleuning (1998) tried to assess the overall economic situation in the households by asking: "Over the last ten years, has your economic situation become better or worse?" The answers pointed in two directions; a little more than half of the respondents answered that it had become worse and a little less than half indicated that it had become better. When asked whether they felt that their income was adequate to meet their basic needs, the majority answered that it did and the rest that it did not. These proportions might be different today since households have experienced the collapse of the economy in August 1998. The households interviewed by Schleuning (1998) were better off than 'the average’ Russian household.

In Romania and Turkey, studies were carried out by Ger, Belk, and Lascu (1993) about how consumer dsires change with the rapid influx of consumer goods and services into economics of scarcity. They found rapidly escalating consumer desire, confusion, and frustration. Ultimate despair and feelings of lack of power due to relative poverty was also a common reaction when abundance of goods became available on the market. There were also the "nouveau riche" who showed off their possessions which added to their success, status, and consumption power. Ger et al. (1993) also found that since abundance is a recent phenomenon, consumers are not experienced in making choices, i.e. facing alternatives, searching for products and information about products, or evaluating products. Further, Belk (1997, p.202) discussed consumer desires, deprivations, and frustrations in Romania and stated that: "current consumer frustrations in Romania coexist with great hope that the unprecedented levels of material consumer desires will some day be realized".

After this brief review of the transition from planned economy to market economy in Russia, and with some examples how transition affects households, visits to five Russian families in Novgorod the Great will now be described.

VISITING FIVE FAMILIES IN NOVGOROD THE GREAT

Visits and observations

In order for the Swedish researchers to gain a better understanding of the situation in Russian households today and to develop questions for the major study in the joint Russian-Swedish project, an exploratory study (e.g Agar 1980; Kvale 1997) was undertaken. A total of five families were visited on a Sunday in October 1999. The questions and the answers were filtered through interpreters, all young university students. Facial expressions and gestures added to the understanding of people’s responses and reactions. Also, observations were made of the living environment and photos were taken. It had been decided not to use any guides for interviewing or observing. Questions were put to different family members by any one of the three Swedish researchers, as it felt natural in the general conversation. It was of interest to get a general understanding of levels of living, and in particular of food provision. All the families were asked the following questions: "Generally, what changes have you experienced during the last few years when it comes to the economy in your household?" and " In particular, what changes have you experienced during the last few years regarding food habits in your household?"

No notes were taken during the visits. However, after visiting all the families, the Swedish researchers documented their observations individually. The descriptions of the families below are based on discussions, photos, and reflections when comparing notes. Paying the visits was like performing a double role, both as a guest and as a researcher. Agar (1980) and Oakley (1976; 1981) have previously written about these double roles you have to cope with, especially when studying people in their own homes.

Novgorod the Great

The observations took place in Novgorod the Great which is one of the oldest cities of Russia. It was founded in the middle of the 10th century and is located in the county Novgorod Oblast in the north-west, near where the Volkhov river takes its waters from Lake Ilmen. The major road between Moscow and St Petersburg passes through Novgorod the Great, and the road system is the major transportation network. The new high-speed rail line between St Petersburg and Moscow is expected to benefit Novgorod the Great (Sida 1996). The county Novgorod Oblast had 748 000 inhabitants and its capital Novgorod the Great had 240 000 inhabitants, according to statistics published in 1996 (ibid). The town Novgorod the Great is dominated by electronic copanies which mainly produce home electronics. They are nowadays facing severe competition mainly from Asian companies. Forestry and the food industry are the predominant industries in the county. Forestry is expected to be a future business, but investments, education, and attitudinal changes are required to make it profitable. Novgorod the Great is expecting to once again become an important place for trade on the waterways between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, as it was in ancient days. Novgorod the Great is also an important tourist destination and it is possible that its location has made it more likely to be influenced by Western values.

A DESCRIPTION OF THE FAMILIES

The visits and observations are reported under three themes; high-rise living, suburban farming, and ex-kolkhoz living, which represent the different living conditions of the families visited.

High-rise living

The first family we visited was a family of four; parents and two daughters, 14 and 20 years old. The family lived in roomy apartment in a large high-rise housing area, built in the 1970-80s (Figure 1). The exterior of the apartment blocks and the entrances made the impression of being run down. However, we observed that at this particular house, care had been given to the immediate surrounding by planting grass and flowers. The apartment had a large living room, three bedrooms, a hall, a separate toilet, and a bathroom. The father proudly showed us the kitchen, which was of a high standard, i.e. with functionally arranged work units and equipped with a gas stove, refrigerator, and deep-freezer. Different kinds of home picked foods, such as mushrooms and berries, were stored in the freezer. A large number of appetising pickled fruits and vegetables were stored on open shelves in the kitchen. Potatoes and tubers were stored on the balcony as well as in a big rectangular wooden box with a lock outside the apartment on the landing. The apartment was very tidy and clean. It appeared that parts of it had recently been redecorated. Generally, the high standard of the interior was in great contrast to the exterior of the apartment blocks.

We were invited to sit down at the dining table in the living room. The table was laid with cheese and paprika sandwiches home made jam, an apple cake baked by the mother, and a box of chocolates. We were offered tea to drink. The living room was furnished with a bookcase along one of the walls and a sofa and easy chairs around a low table in front of a large window. During the meal, the conversation was led into the economy of the household and changes they had experienced during the last years. The mother told us that she had three different jobs. Two of those were as a doctor at the hospital clinic and as a homeopath in a private clinic. The father mentioned only one job, as an engineer at an electronics company. They estimated that they had 950 Roubles (1 US dollars=23 roubles in January 1999) per person and month to live on. They said that there was not much change in their food habits after Perestroyka. Towards the end of our visit, the daughters showed us their new winter coats, especially displaying their home sewing skills (Figure 2). They had made the coats themselves. The coats looked, indeed, professionally made and were skilfully tailored.

The second family we visited also lived in a high-rise apartment building. It was a family of four; parents, a daughter who was 20 years old and a son who was 15 years old. Only the daughter and the mother were present during our visit (Figure 3). Their apartment was smaller and made a duller impression than the previous one but generally decorated and furnished in a similar way. The company the father had worked for previously had allotted the family the apartment. In the daughter’s room, there was a large bed and a bed-sofa as well as a TV set. There were pictures of her as a child on th wall. The kitchen was of similar layout as in the first apartment, but less well equipped. Pickled fruit and vegetables were stored in a built-in cupboard underneath the kitchen window. The family had a "dacha" where they grew fruit and vegetables.

We gathered around the table in the middle of the living room, admiring the multi-layered, exquisitely decorated cake the daughter and her fiancTe had baked for the occasion. We had tea and talked about the changing living conditions in Russia. The father had previously had a job as an engineer in a manufacturing company. The company closed down about seven years ago. He had been fortunate to find another job as a foreman for furniture making in the local prison. The mother worked as a librarian. They experienced their situation as more difficult now than before and were apprehensive for the future. They thought most families experienced the same. A great joy for them was that the daughter was getting married in the spring. The young couple still had to make up their minds where to live, with the bride’s or the groom’s family.

FIGURE 1

HIGH-RISE LIVING IN NOVGOROD THE GREAT

FIGURE 2

THE NEW WINTER COATS

FIGURE 3

RUSSIAN HOSPITALITY

The third family, a single mother and her 13-year-old daughter, lived in another high-rise area. The mother was divorced since a couple of years ago. She and her daughter were still in contact with the former husband; especially the daughter seemed to have a good relationship with her father. They all met quite often and helped each other with practical problems of different kinds.

They had a one-bedroom apartment. The mother slept in the living room while the daughter had the bedroom. She had decorated the walls with advertisements (Figure 4). In the living room, there was a table, two easy chairs and a bookcase, in addition to the mother’s bed. In the bookcase were some glassed in display cupboards, books and some pieces of china. The kitchen was small but well equipped with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a gas heater for hot water. About 45 minutes away by bicycle the family had a plot where they grew vegetables, which the mother carried home on her bicycle at harvest time. Pickled fruit and vegetables were stored away, all over the apartment.

Their living conditions had gradually become worse, particularly after the bank crash. Although the mother could not expect any support from her ex-husband, who was living on a very limited unemployment benefit, she felt it was an economic advantage to be divorced. She was nevertheless, continuously struggling to make ends meet. In addition to her regular job, she was taking any other possible jobs she could find to increase her income. This made her totally exhausted from time to time. She also subletted an apartment which she had inherited. The small surplus the rent gave provided her necessary extra income. When fixed costs were paid she and her daughter had 400 Roubles to live on per month. Her greatest concern was how to be able to keep her daughter in a private school, specialising in language training. The daughter had attended a private school for the last six years. If the daughter could not continue up to graduation, the mother felt all her economic sacrifices would be in vain. When it came to the family’s food habits, the mother said she could never afford buying fresh fruit and very seldom meat.

Suburban farming

In order for us to visit households living in a different setting than in apartment houses in town, our Russian colleagues introduced us to a family living outside town. The family was farming and breeding animals on the plot around their house. The father welcomed us on the porch. He was a veterinarian working in an animal clinic not far away. He showed us around in the garden where pigs, hens and gees were running around. There was also a cowshed in the garden and a separate little house containing a combined laundry and sauna. An ample wood supply was stacked along one of the outside walls.

The mother was busy indoors adding the last touch to the cabbage soup she was preparing for us in a big pot on the gas-stove, in the spacious "country-like" kichen. There was a refrigerator and a deep-freeze. The mother worked as a shop attendant in a rural store about 6 km away, a distance she walked back and forth everyday. A daughter, 10 year old, was also at home, excited about our visit and following our conversation attentively. There were also two other children in the family, a boy of 15 and an 18-year old girl, but they were not present during our visit.

Next to the kitchen was a bathroom of ordinary modern standard, followed by a number of small bedrooms. We were shown into the parents’ bedroom and taken by a great surprise when the father suddenly pulled back the rug and opened a hatch in the floor leading down to a cellar with white washed walls. Neatly stored on shelves, in colourful display, were pickled and fermented fruits and vegetables, salted mushrooms etc. In one corner, there was a bin for potatoes, and in another were sacks of onions stored (Figure 5). They said this supply would take them through the year till the next harvest.

Seated around the big table in the kitchen spirits grew high from the hot soup, home baked bread, all the delicious home preserves, home made wine and special vodka. The interpreter had a hard time to follow the conversation. The meal ended with tea served from an electric samovar standing in the middle of the table (Figure 6).

FIGURE 4

A TEENAGER=S ROOM

FIGURE 5

FOOD STORAGE

FIGURE 6

THE FAMILY AND THE SAMOVAR

To our question regarding what changes they had experienced lately, the father, born in Ukraine, answered that he nowadays had to go abroad to go home. Visiting his relatives had become more complicated and expensive. Generally, the family appeared to have coped very well with the economic changes. Both the parents had jobs although we got the impression that they might have had more prestigious positions earlier on. They spent long hours working away from home every day, but managed the household and farm chores with the help of their children. One of their daily routines was to put notes on the kitchen table for the children, telling them what to do around the house when coming home from school. The parents proudly informed us that the children had made all the preserved fruit and vegetables.

Ex-kolkhoz living

Further out in the country we visited a family living on an ex-kolkhoz. A kolkhoz was a collectively organized farm during the Soviet Union period. This family lived in a two-story apartment block in a suburban-like settlement which formerly had been part of a kolkhoz. It was a three-generation family; father and mother, their two sons with their wives and children. Together they occupied three different apartments. The living room was decorated with carpets on the walls. We noticed that squashes were stored under the TV set (Figure 7). The kitchen was modern but simply furnished. It was clean and tidy and there was a homely warm atmosphere.

In the living room, a table was richly laid with sandwiches, cakes, milk, honey, and fruits. It appeared that growing vegetables, keeping bees and cows, picking berries, and hunting were the means of livelihood for this family. However, they were not "officially" farmers, but bartered and sold for low prices to neighbours and friends. To go into business would mean paying high taxes, which their small-scale farming could not sustain. It would also mean being more exposed to the Mafia. Furthermore, the family expressed that thieving was a problem in the area.

The father and the mother, both well educated, had had good jobs "in the old system". They had both worked for a large cattle-breeding business that was located nearby, but which had closed down in the first era of privatisation in the beginning of the 1990s. The mother had worked as an agronomist and the father had had a leadership position. Since then, they had managed without a regular cash income. The father was bitter and frustrated. The mother was quiet and somewhat marked by hard work. They did not expect much improvement in their lifetime, but put their hope in a better life for their grandchildren. One grandchild, a boy of 12 years, was present during the visit as well as hs mother, one of the daughters-in-law. She worked at a computer company in town. The boy had his own computer and became excited when we suggested exchanging e-mail addresses. He proudly let his grandmother know that he knew the Latin alphabet.

Before leaving we were taken to the fenced vegetable garden where the beehives were also kept (Figure 8) and to the cowshed, a part of the old kolkhoz establishment. Although primitive, it all witnessed exceptional inventiveness, resourcefulness and skills. Before saying goodbye, the father commented that in some ways he thought he lived a rather healthy life, being outdoors a lot and physically active. On the other hand, he could never dream of affording to go to the dentist to get his bad front tooth fixed.

FIGURE 7

THE SQUASHES UNDER THE TV SET

OBSERVATIONS, IMPRESSIONS, AND REFLECTIONS

Almost always when you carry out household research, visiting families in their homes, you feel overwhelmed and humble being let into their private spheres (Oakley 1975, 1981). There is also a feeling of gratefulness that people take the time sharing information with you, for whatever purpose the study has. We have all experienced this in previous research (Ekstr÷m 1990; Ekstr÷m 1995; Ekstr÷m and Shanahan 1999; Wallender 1977). Our visits to the families in Novgorod the Great were no exception. Visiting families in a different cultural setting, and in a culture where hospitality is an outstanding feature, reinforced these feelings. We were received with much warmth and treated most generously by all the families we visited, despite their difficult times. The atmosphere was cheerful, sometimes full of jokes and laughter. We were also greatly moved by the hardship and disappointments some of these families had experienced and had to cope with everyday. The visits became very emotional for us and will stay with us as unforgettable memories.

Among the families visited, we found some of the strategies in adjusting to the new economic situation as reported in the literature (e.g. Auzan 1995; The Economist 1998; Schleuning 1998). In three of the families, an adult member had additional jobs in order to cope with expenditures. All the families grew vegetables they preserved and stored for later use. We realise that this is a Russian tradition, but got the impression that this custom had become increasingly important during the last years. Together with animal husbandry, growing vegetables had become the main survival strategy for the family living on the ex-kolkhoz. Auzan¦s (1995) observation of an increase in self-sufficiency after the Perestroyka can be assumed to have increased after the crisis in 1998. This corresponds with our findings. It is not unrealistic to assume that all the families we visited were close to self-sufficiency when it comes to tubers and vegetables. We also saw examples of home made clothes and maintenance work carried out by household members.

Although the results of our study cannot confirm the three stages Auzan (1995) refers to in the implementation of the economic reforms in Russia we identified some phenomenon that can be related to these three stages. Growing vegetables at the "dacha" relates to the period of customary consumer behaviour as well as to the period of crisis. To the latter could also be added increasing income through additional jobs, finding a living outside the formal economic system, and changes in diets such as having fresh fruit, meat, and fish less frequently. We also found an example of the third period called the period of attempts to cope with the new market structures or consumer adaptation to market conditions, in being able to buy and inherit an apartment and use previously governmental owned farming land for private use.

All the households we visited reported greater economic hardship today than a couple of years ago. In Schleuning’s (1998) study, only about half answered that the economic situation had become worse. Again, her data was gathred before the bank crisis of 1998. The women interviewed by Schleuning (1998) also lived outside Moscow, which is in a different economic setting compared to Novgorod the Great and surroundings. Further, Schleuning’s figures on income are difficult to compare with the figures that were mentioned in the households we visited. In the time period between her study and our visits, the Rouble has been devalued and a galloping inflation has also taken place.

A striking impression from our visits was that the families were very skillful resource managers. We witnessed as many have done before, that crises foster resourcefulness (e.g. Deacon and Firebaugh 1988; Goldsmith 1996). The importance of immaterial resources was especially highlighted in these times of scarcity of material resources. Different signs of competence were shown such as canning food and sewing clothes.

The visits gave many impressions and provided us with a greater understanding of how some Russian families live today. The limited number of families visited makes it impossible to generalise the findings, but it provided us with some valuable insights. In addition to what is mentioned above, one example is that the family bonds appeared to be strong. The visits gave us the impression of great family cohesiveness. It left us with the question of to what extent this is either part of the Russian culture, signs of economic hardship, or both. We also found different generations, such as parents and adult children living together, or having the household economy in common. When children married, the young couple often stayed with their parents or their parents in-law. In several of our interviews, it was also expressed that the children were the hope for the future. The parents struggled with a bad economic situation, but believed that the situation would be better for their children.

FIGURE 8

THE BEEHIVES

FUTURE RESEARCH

This visits to five Russian families are part of a project related to the development of curricula in home economics. We believe that home economics education is important for welfare and democracy in society in general, but in transitional societies in particular. Democracy in society takes its starting point in the organisation of the household (HjSlmeskog, 2000). It would be of interest to further study the organisation of the household concering family members interactions involving negotiations and conflict resolutions. Households’ entrepreneurial strategies needs also to be investigated in a society with lacking monetary resources. Furthermore, a gender perspective (e.g. Tolstikova och Scott 2000) is necessary in order to understand the organisation of the household. We believe that cross-cultural studies focusing on the meaning of consumption and production in households may also benefit from further application and development of ethnographic methods.

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Auzan, A. A. (1995), "Changes in the behaviour of Russian consumers under recent reforms," Journal of Consumer Policy, 18, 73-84.

Belk, R.W. (1997), "Romanian consumer desires and feelings of deservingness," in Romania in transition, ed. Lavinia Sta, Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 191-208.

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Authors

Karin M. Ekstrom, G÷teborg University, Sweden
Marianne P. Ekstrom, G÷teborg University, Sweden
Helena Shanahan, G÷teborg University, Sweden



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001



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