In This Review

Consumption and Social Change in a Post-Soviet Middle Class
Consumption and Social Change in a Post-Soviet Middle Class
By Jennifer Patico
Stanford University Press, 2008, 240 pp

Ethnographers use a ground-level perspective to get at social phenomena -- in this case, the effect of the material ups and downs experienced by middle-class Russian professionals on their senses of themselves, their place in society, and their views of others. Patico spent 1998-99, a year of financial crisis, with two small clusters of schoolteachers in St. Petersburg, observing their shopping patterns, listening to their conversations, and talking to them in long sessions over coffee or on outings -- all to probe their views on what the struggle to make ends meet meant to them, to discover how they regarded the newly wealthy, and to analyze how their daily consumer choices reflected judgments about Russia and the larger world. Although this is hardly a comprehensive picture of the way economic life has shaped social identity during Russia's recent turbulent times, Patico has produced a richly textured analysis that rings true for a wider swath of society than that simply comprising her teachers.