Graduate Alumni Research Award, Tatyana Bills

On January 3, 2014 by Grad Forum

Tatyana Bills, a student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) Program, describes her research conducted in Russia using the Graduate Alumni Research Award.

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Bills standing next to a replica of the old city of Ekaterinodar (which means “Ekaterina’s gift” to Cossacks in Russian, referring to Catherine II). This was the name of Krasnodar before the Revolution.

Russia’s transition to democracy and adoption of a free market economy after the fall of the USSR led to tremendous transformations in the government, economic, and socio-cultural realms. Establishment of the new democratic government gave people freedom of speech and self-expression, the freedom to create one’s own life, and individual rights – something that Russian people had never before experienced under Soviet rule.

In the transition from a communist collective sense of belonging to a completely unfamiliar sense of self as an independent individual, many Russians struggled to find their new identities. The drastic economic reforms of the perestroika era shocked not only the Russian economy, but also the entire nation. It left people to struggle through depressing times of constant food shortages and never-ending lines at grocery stores.

Twenty years later we observe amazing transformations in all spheres of Russian society from economic prosperity and steady growth of the middle class, to the adoption of Western-style education systems and Western fashion, to the birth of a new Russian consumer culture.

In the summer of 2013, with the help of the Graduate Alumni Research Award, I traveled to the Russian city of Krasnodar, a community of almost 800,000 people in the southern region of the country, to research the effects of global Western influence on Russian economy and culture. I conducted public opinion surveys and interviews on how changes that occurred over the last 20 years in Krasnodar and Russia as a whole have affected the overall sense of Russian culture, lifestyle, and mentality.

I found that access to new technologies, the Internet, and a series of economic reforms in the 2000s created new possibilities for the Russian people. The introduction of a system of credit, mortgage lending, enhancement of small private businesses, a growing infrastructure, and expansion of the building sector have all contributed to an improved standard of living. Global influences are quite noticeable, even in a relatively small city like Krasnodar. In Krasnodar, one can visit a McDonald’s, a KFC restaurant, and a Subway. It is not surprising to find Zara, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, and Mexx among the stores in Krasnodar shopping malls.

The Graduate Alumni Research Award provided integral support for my research in Krasnodar. My future work will analyze public opinion surveys and economic statistics to provide a comparative analysis of Russian consumer culture with the American emergence of the “consumer republic” in the pre- and post-Cold War period.

by Tatyana Bills

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