Russia's social upper class: from ostentation to culturedness

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Abstract

This article discusses examples of strategies employed by representatives of Russia's new social upper class to acquire social distinction. By the late 2000s many of the upper-class Russians included in this study distanced themselves from the conspicuous ostentation ascribed to the brutish 1990s. Instead, they strove to gain legitimacy for their social position by no longer aggressively displaying their wealth, but instead elaborating more refined and individualized tastes and manners and reviving a more cultured image and self-image. These changes found their expression in various modes of social distinction ranging from external signs, such as fashion and cars, to ostentation vicariously exercised through the people these upper-class Russians surrounded themselves with.

The article will trace these interviewees' strategies for distinction in the late 2000s by discussing tastes in lifestyle and consumption as well as adornment through sartorial signs and through vicarious ostentation, as exemplified by their choice of female company. Changing attitudes towards vehicles and modes of transport, with special regards to the Moscow Metro, will serve as a further illustration of modes of distinction. Crucial for this discussion is the role of the Russian/Soviet intelligentsia, both for vicarious status assertion and elite distinction anchored in the interviewees' social backgrounds.

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