Fellow Travelers on the Road to Consumer Society
The invasive arrival of consumerist options in Eastern Europe after the collapse of socialist economies of shortage in 1989-90 has affected many aspects of people’s lives, including their values, identities, economic (and consumption) strategies, and family relations. In the Czech Republic, seniors habituated to socialist life ways particularly struggle with adjusting to new and unfamiliar norms. The demand conditioned under socialism for intergenerational solidarity within the family, in the form of pooling resources and providing in-kind assistance, has gradually disappeared, while time-honored efforts by seniors to remain helpful to their offspring are encountered with lukewarm response or even open disapproval, often leading to or exacerbating intergenerational conflict. Ironically, among seniors, relief from frustrations over the erosion of family ties is sought within the realm of capitalist consumerism. Older Czechs find a degree of purpose and agency in sales tours (předváděčky[i]), which serve not only as a site of capitalist consumption, but just as importantly as a platform for redefining identity and group. This study of seniors' shopping ideas and practices and their offsprings’ response to them illustrates profound shifts in postsocialist consumption culture. It further sheds light on qualitative changes in late life in a structurally altered society and provides insight into newly emerging trends for this demographic group, among them the eclipse of intergenerational family relations by newly formed ties of friendship and support within peer cohorts.
Keywords: post-socialism, consumerism, seniors, generational conflict, economy of gratitude
[i] I use the idiom ‘sales tour’ to translate the popular term “předváděčka” (sg.) – or “předváděčky” (pl.) - which is a shortened form of “předváděcí akce“, i.e. “demonstration events“. The English phrase, ‘sales tour,‘ is thus slightly inaccurate. However, the travel component will be critical for the current analysis, and therefore I decided to employ this more loaded term.
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