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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Consumer lament: An ethnographic study on consumption, needs, and everyday complaints in postsocialist Bulgaria
by Jung, Yuson, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2007, 296; 3251250
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I examine issues of consumption, "transition," and value in postsocialist Bulgaria. Consumption is an arena where local values are expressed and contested by means of social exchanges. I particularly take daily consumer complaints as useful means to discuss cultural values such as needs and normality which are highlighted in the everyday practices during intensive social transformation. In light of the joining of the European Union (EU), Bulgaria complied with EU requirements needed to harmonize the systems among member states. Although the candidacy for the EU is hardly contested as a national goal, Bulgarians are ambivalent about the imposed blueprints from their Western counterparts. Why is there little collective resistance despite the social discontent expressed through everyday complaints? How do postsocialist citizens negotiate the cultural space they want to defend and the space they are willing to compromise?

Based on the interactions with consumer activists, ordinary consumers, and state officials in Sofia, Bulgaria over seventeen months of fieldwork (1999-2002), this dissertation analyzes the relationships between past and present values reflected in consumption practices. It also explores the relationships among consumers, NGOs, the state, and the EU to understand the cultural logic of social changes. Departing from the common understanding of hegemony and complicity, I explain the absence of resistance in terms of "complaisance" because the reproduction of dominant values is not always enabled by "consent." The daily complaints by Bulgarians offer insights into postsocialist consumption practices which cannot be merely understood as an emulation of the "West" and a consequence of homogenizing forces. Rather, historically shaped cultural values inform such practices and influence how Bulgarians respond to the external pressure for reform to join the EU. They reflect Bulgarians' continuing effort to make sense of the present without dismissing past experiences that are often deemed worthless. This dissertation offers a comparative study of consumption, an analysis of "transition" from a socialist state to a capitalist European member state, and an ethnographic account on cultural values which are shaped and negotiated between past and present as well as the "center" and "margins" in the global era.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Herzfeld, Michael
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 68/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Keywords: Bulgaria, Complaints, Consumer lament, Consumption, Postsocialist
Publication Number: 3251250
ISBN: 978-1-109-89424-0
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