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by Sophie Chevalier

The study of household consumption practices, and more generally, of material culture offers an inside view on social and cultural transformations of societies. This is especially true for Eastern Europe whose countries are living through fundamental changes in economic and ideological orientations.

This work in progress is based on an ethnography of a small Bulgarian town. This topic is not new for me, since for a number of years I have carried out a comparative analysis of household consumption in France and Britain. I would like to summarise quickly my basic theoretical assumptions in order to give you the background to my perspective on the Bulgarian case.

I. Consumption practices and identity

I study how people express their individual and social identities through their domestic universes, in the context of two capitalist mass consumption societies. The households I am interested in belong to the - so called - lower middle-class who are not normally associated with national culture; but rather anthropologists find the peasantry or even the working-class more distinctive. The lower middle-class is that social class in which capitalism might be thought to extend its anonymous and globalised logic more thoroughly. Nevertheless, my research (Chevalier 1994, 1995 and 1996) provided evidence that my informants constructed, on the one hand, highly personalised universes using mass produced objects; and on the other hand, that important national differences exist, related, for example, to contrasting kinship structures. Even if these contrasts are not absolute, they show that capitalism doesn’t erase all national differences. More abstractly, the elaboration of private universes through consumption practices can be seen as subjective interpretations made by individuals, based on their objective experience of social and economic reality. This experience is always framed in a specific cultural context. My interest in Bulgaria is part of an extended comparative project. My points of departure are: how do the transformations of ideological orientations, the shift to capitalist economic models and changes in the material environment affect household consumption practices? Is this society really on the way to becoming "westernised" or even "Americanised"? Firstly, I would like to describe these practices and how people adapt them to the new context. Anyway the underlying question remains one of identity.

In my French-English comparison, I focused more on how people appropriate objects than on their origin; I took into account production and circulation only insofar as they affected forms of appropriation (Chevalier, 1996 and 1997). Economic constraints never overcame completely the social and cultural purposes of their consumption practices. But my Bulgarian informants have to cope with the breakdown of the fundamental rules which have governed consumption (Merkel, 1997). Among them : stable prices of goods and services; subsidies to various categories of goods; rationing of goods regardless of purchasing power. So the ways consumers gain access to available resources has to be reconsidered.

To survey the availability of goods and the forms of their exchange is an anthropological way to consider what economists call "supply", with reference to economic constraints. Generally speaking, my plan has been to examine how households satisfy their domestic needs, and which consumption strategies they bring into play. For this purpose, I suggest an analytical grid which enables us to escape from any reification of one or other economic systems, whether capitalism or the planned economy (Carrier, 1997). In fact, it could be applied to Bulgarians as easily as to the British or French, for example. Three possible ways of satisfying wants or needs are considered here :

  • self-production
  • exchanges (monetarized or not)
  • state subsidies

The importance given to one or another of these sources of supply varies between historical periods, and within a specific society between the social classes. Moreover, they often involve different kinds of goods and services. I would like to examine the different ways goods are made available to the inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi and how they manage them in order to satisfy their domestic wants and needs. But before doing so, let me introduce my fieldwork site.

II. A small Bulgarian town

The small town of Tchiprovtsi is located about 150 km from Sofia, in the North-West of the country, in the Balkan mountains, and about 10 km from the Serbian border (which is closed in this area). Tchiprovtsi is at the head of a county which included nine villages; and it belongs to the district of Montana which is the nearest city of any size. It played a major role in Bulgarian history: in the XVII century (1688) this Catholic city took up arms against the Ottoman Empire with the help of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. This revolt failed and the inhabitants were killed or deported to Banat (now in Rumania), where their descendants still live. It is also well-known historically for it silversmith’s school and today for its production of rugs ("kilims").

If in 1990, Tchiprovtsi had about 4.000 inhabitants, today there are only some 2.900 persons living in just under 1.000 households, 1st January 1998). The whole county has a bit more than 6.000 inhabitants. This situation is linked to the progressive disappearance of economic activities. The main enterprises were and still are :

  • mines which are not any more capable to pay full salaries; miners are working in rotation;
  • a factory, called "Revolution", which produces components for Kalashnikovs rifles in which 150 employees are still working out of 300;
  • co-operative textiles factory(kilims; sport clothes) opened three years ago in replacement of the former one;
  • a co-operative bakery where only a few people are still working;
  • the collective farm was dismantled, but some small co-operative farms were created in three surrounding villages.

Except for some small shops and one industrial bakery, few new economic activities are starting up. There are six State shops (often closed), twelve private shops, and a few pubs (but no restaurant). The State still provides some public services : a small hospital (supported by a grant from the European programme "Phare"); a cultural centre with a library and a local museum. In fact, there are no official figures of unemployment and economic activity rates (the official rate of unemployment in Bulgaria is about 17%).

The return of lands to their former owners, started in 1993, is being implemented slowly and with reluctance. The main obstacles to cultivation in this area are the lack of appropriate agricultural equipment, the scattering of plots, and the difficulty of selling the products. So agriculture in this area is not attractive and not profitable. Part of the population is indifferent to this return of land, because people don’t see any immediate economic interest in it (except when lands are situated in the city centre or already built upon). The management of the forests, which cover an important area, is on the way to being reformed in order to become more profitable.

Several communist leaders were born in this region which is still politically "red" (as is the town council). If there are no longer any Catholics, there is now a small evangelical community. Ethnically the whole population is Slavonic-Bulgarian. The only foreigners are some Russian women, wives of indigenous men. Households often combine several generations which constitute at the same time units of production and also units of consumption. The kinship system is patrilocal: young wives go to live with their parents-in-law. Entrepreneurial projects are often based on kinship, usually two brothers with their wives, with the collaboration of the man’s parents. The town is organised in a few wards those origins are big families. These wards are places of social and religious life and supports.

Even if Tchiprovtsi has it own specific characteristics, nevertheless I would argue that my observations and analyses have relevance in many parts of Bulgaria (except maybe big cities like Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv). My analysis takes account of the continuous references made by my informants in distinguishing between "before" and "after" 1989, even if my observations are made only "after". This introduces a diachronic comparative dimension, based on my informants’ perceptions of the tremendous social and economic changes which have taken place so recently.

III. Beyond reification of economic systems

I won’t consider State subsidies in my analysis of resource availability and consumption practices, because the State no longer involves itself food and puts its small efforts into public services (schools; health). It still pays pensions, but most State enterprises are closed, or unable to pay wages.

A) Domestic production

Domestic production and self-consumption are at the heart of Tchiprovtsi inhabitants’ economy. They were always allowed to cultivate a plot for self-consumption. Generally, people have vegetable gardens around the houses which they own, and plots outside the town, a few kilometres away (which they can reach by foot because few people have cars). This practice has not only survived the political changes, but it has expanded. People who did not cultivate their plots, because they had high salaries which allowed them to pay for the food they needed, have begun to do so. This practice is not specific to Eastern Europe: allotments always existed for elements of the working class (Weber, 1996). At times in history, it has been actively encouraged and today it is on the rise again with the increased poverty and unemployment (very poor families are sometimes granted allotments by the State in countries like France today). This food production is managed inside domestic units, including both parents and children, and often grown-up children who live in other towns. They come back to Tchiprovtsi to participate in the farm work. Lack of agricultural equipment increases the need for a labour force : neighbours and friends help each other. The first destination of products is domestic self-consumption, then surplus stock to be bartered against other products. Vegetables and fruits are consumed seasonally and made into preserves. Potatoes are over-produced in order to barter them. For example, two couples from the same domestic unit (parents and their grown-up children with a small child) can produce upwards more of tonne of potatoes in a year. The majority of people also possess vineyards, allowing them to produce and consume their own wine and rakia. Inhabitants have domestic animals: hens, rabbits, pigs and sometimes donkey and horse. Meat is salted and dried, or freezed. Owners of goats and sheep are organised in a co-operative which pays a shepherd to take the animals into the mountains from April. He is helped by owners or their kin in a rotation lasting one or two days, according to the number of animals they own. Milk and cheese is redistributed according to the same rule, the number of animals and their products.

Some households collect mushrooms and berries. One of our informants, a young miner employed only part-time, collects 200 kilos of mushrooms per year. He keeps some for his consumption and sells the bulk to wholesalers who fix prices. Some households increase their quantity of meat through hunting; meat is freezed. It is the same with fishing. People use wood for heating : they collect wood in the forest with agreement of the town council who try to organise it fairly. Self-consumption is not the only goal of this domestic production, for it also enters into exchange networks linking city and countryside through kin (Kaneff, 1998 and Smollett, 1989) and other exchanges, whether monetarised or not (which I will consider in the next section). Except for salt, sugar, flour and oil, my informants were largely self-sufficient in foods; even if their diet is not very varied and highly seasonal. People eat meat rarely, often only once a month, and the basic food is bread and potatoes This ability to produce ones own food, even through restricted, is a criteria of social evaluation. People describe and comment on each other practices: "Look this at one, how he digs...he doesn’t how to do it, really!". Even when the household has enough money to buy food and doesn’t need to produce it, people are reluctant to leave their garden. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of Tchiprovtsi - Anatoli - (owner of a grocery, a coffee-bar, and an industrial bakery with the monopoly of bread) spoke about his father : "My father has stopped only recently to cultivate his garden...We told him that we have enough money to buy food, what with our grocery, but he didn’t listen to me. He said that people will call him lazy and he would bring discredit upon himself by acting like this! ".

The younger generation (less than 35 years old) disputes such an attitude. They complain that they are being forced to come back to agriculture, even though they are trained for other professional activities which they cannot practice or for which salaries are too low. Among these young people, I collected many stories of their mistakes and failures in attempting agriculture or husbandry. The remedy is to appeal to kin and this is what people usually do. If food production and then self-consumption are still criteria of social value and of group membership, the younger generation aspires to other ways of work and consumption.

B) Exchanges

Another way to get what is needed is to exchange products against other products or services, or against money. The categories of "monetary" and "non-monetary" exchange do not match up to "impersonal/personal" distinction. In this case,the most common practice is for exchanges to be "personalised", whether they involve money or not.

Non-monetary exchanges

I won’t describe in detail the familial networks of exchanges between city and countryside, because they are quite well-known and well described by other authors in Bulgaria (Kaneff, 1998 and Smollett, 1989) and in other ex-communist countries. These exchanges often involve huge quantities of jars of preserves which allow urban kin and students to improve their everyday life. In return, the beneficiaries spend time (during their holidays or even week-ends) helping in this domestic production in Tchiprovtsi.

Familial and generational transfers are made in two directions: before 1989, it was mostly parents who helped their children (because they retired early and had good pensions) ; but now, pensions are increasingly worthless and pensioners cannot survive without the help of the young generation. There are consequently heavy exchanges of goods and money between city and countryside, inside family networks.

Another kind of exchange, involving surplus is barter. The people of Tchiprovtsi barter with each other on a small scale. Everyone knows who produces what and more or less, how much. This knowledge allows you to appeal to the right person to barter some tomatoes for some capsicums, for example. But these exchanges can include other goods like clothes : young women meet specifically to barter clothes, in order to increase the variety of their wardrobe. As well as objects or products, people exchange services : repairs; sewing; car trips; etc. My informants are implicated in numerous transactions which do not require money.

Barter exchange on a large scale happens either in local markets early on Sunday or in a nearby town, in the plains. If the partners don’t know each other, they have of course to reach an agreement over the kind of goods they want to exchange. This agreement has to be carried from year to year because it concerns agricultural products. At least the market has to be organised in such way that people from Tchiprovtsi come with certain kinds of products and people from the plains with others. But actually partnership and the types of goods available for exchange don’t fit so well : some inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi explained to me that they sometimes couldn’t find partner to barter with.

Usually people from Tchiprovtsi barter potatoes for maize (for feeding animals); but also they barter potatoes for meat, or grapes to make vine, or vegetables for preserves when the crop is bad, etc. The value of the goods exchanged is based on local market prices. I cannot report transactions between employees of enterprises or public and private sector, made on behalf of their organisations, as described by some authors (Hivon, 1998 and Ledeneva, 1998). But, probably the destruction of economic structures, and therefore of the usual networks linking enterprises, has cut down these exchanges.

Nevertheless, enterprises carry on paying their employees in kind, as marginal benefits. So employees of a textile company receive leisure clothes, and people who are working in the industrial bakery receive three loafs of the bread a day.

In contrast, Anatoli, the owner of this bakery, discovered that some of his workers used to take more loafs than they were authorised to, to barter them for other goods . In the literature on planned economy, these transactions are described as commonplace and without any faint of illegality. In this case, Anatoli lectured his workers, explaining to them that they don’t work for an impersonal enterprise, but for himself. Since he made that argument, the thefts are stopped... Obviously most of non-monetary exchanges involve partners who know each other, ranging from kin to usual partners. I argue that most exchanges are highly personalised.

Monetary exchanges

Monetarised transactions involve those between customers and shopkeepers, but also with wholesale dealers who travel through the area or the country. There are about twelve shops in Tchiprovtsi : a chemist; a bookshop; a few groceries; a cosmetic shop; a few dress shops; a video shop; a car spare parts shop. Most of these shops are privately run by one couple or family : two brothers and their wives or a couple with the husband’s parents. Owners get their supplies from wholesalers in Montana, or even in Sofia.

Prices in Tchiprovtsi are more expensive than in Sofia. What products are on offer? The choice of fresh foodstuffs is very restricted because most potential customers are self-sufficient. The shelves contain only butter, a few sausages, sometimes yoghurt and cheese ("Kashkaval") and very few seasonal fruits and vegetables. By contrast, they offer a large choice of sparkling drinks ("Coca-cola", "Sprite", etc.), but not alcohol which is home-made; industrial preserves like mayonnaise, gherkins; sweets (boxes of chocolats; sweets for children; etc.); ice-creams and cigarettes. Customers cannot reach these products directly as they would in a supermarket: they have to ask shop assistants (on the power relationships between customers and shop assistants, see Merkel, 1997 : 538). Bread, the basic food, is sold only in one grocery, attached to the small industrial bakery. Anatoli, a young man in his thirties, owns this shop and the factory, and has the monopoly of bread in Tchiprovtsi. He is probably the only entrepreneur who is becoming obviously rich.

Products on offer have a Bulgarian trade-mark (or are made under licence in Bulgaria, like "Coca-cola" and some cigarettes) then Turkish and lastly German. Clothes especially are mostly made in Turkey . Customers’ discussions about these products were ambiguous: on the one hand, everybody recognised that shops are useful, but on the other hand people expressed some mistrust of the products’ quality . Stories about food-poisoning are common. This mistrust can be linked to a few elements, both ideological and historical. First, the ideology of the former economy stressed that Bulgaria has to consume what the country and his workers produce, with some supplies from "fraternal countries" . In Tchiprovtsi, specifically the importance of self-production includes this idea. In addition, the Turkish origin of some products reinforces feelings based on the historical experience of foreign rule under the Ottomans. "Shortage" of money constrains shopkeepers to give their customers credit. Actually they have no choice : "Here, everybody knows everybody...Anyway, if I want to carry on running my shop, I have no choice. It creates problems with some accounts; we fix a ilmit on credit(...). But we don’t accept repayment in kind.". By contrast, another shopkeeper accepts repayment in kind : people can work for him in order to pay back their debts. As an outside observer, I have to say, I was a bit shocked by this sort of thing which seemed feudal to me. But, during my discussions with my informants, nobody seemed to consider these practices odd. Perhaps this lack of reaction can be related to the common practice of compulsory collective labour before 1989, in which force was sometimes used. This shopkeeper plays also quite a "paternalist" role in the town, similar to that of the heads of some former enterprises in the planned economy. These monetary exchanges, which should in theory be impersonal, are in fact normally personalised. The only cases in which they are impersonal are when people don’t know each other; and such transactions don’t happen in Tchiprovtsi, but rather in Sofia or someother big city. In addition to barter, some self-produced or collected products are sold. Mushrooms, berries (blueberries) and nuts are sold to traders who travel through towns and villages on behalf of big preserves manufacturers in Sofia. They also fix prices (low because they monopolise the market). Kilims are also sold to traders; sometimes they order the rugs in advance by the giving necessary material (wool; etc.). Kilims are not only objects, they contain a strong dimension of identity, not only in Tchiprovtsi, but throughout Bulgaria. Some traders are ethnically Turkish (or citizens of Turkey) and sometimes are exclusively interested in old kilims. This trade provokes bitter comments against Turkish people, accused of taking advantage of Bulgarian poverty and depriving Bulgaria of it identity . Several inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi are trading directly : they sell in Sofia spare parts for cars which are cheaper here than in Sofia. This trade is organised informally on the basis of kinship and friendship, around somebody who has a car. One couple spends the whole summer on the shores of the Black Sea selling small paintings and earrings they made during the winter. He was a miner who later worked for the civil service in Sofia. She was music teacher. They came back to Tchiprovtsi to help his family with agriculture. One of their daughters won a scholarship to improve her training as a singer and she is living in Vienna When people want to buy something specific and important, like electronic or special clothes, they prefer to travel to Sofia or ask a friend or parent to buy it for them. If they have opportunities or kin abroad, they like to have objects bought in foreign countries.

My study of the ways used by households to satisfy their domestic wants and needs in relation to available resources shows that they are based overwhelmingly on personalised relationships and transactions. In a minority of cases, transactions take part outside Tchiprovtsi or with unknown partners. Consumption practices are based on kinship, then on neighbourhood and local origins. I would like now to examine the role of money.

IV. The role of money

As Simmel has shown (1987), it is obvious that money plays an essential role in the development of market exchanges. Its use allows, among other things, the partners in transactions to be anonymous, as well as enhancing instrumentality, rationality and abstraction of exchanges. Money is intrinsic to the expansion of a capitalist economic system. In consequence, ideally, mass consumption practices of the capitalist type should give importance to monetary exchanges and, if possible, be impersonal. But I have already presented the main features of consumption practices in Tchiprovtsi which are : highly personalised relationships in production and in consumption, and shortage of money. I would like to examine the use and value of money in Tchiprovtsi though my informants accounts which emphasise the difference "before" and "after" 1989.

Before the economic changes, the inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi had several opportunities to get money or to increase their incomes (direct wages; individual plots; etc.). But this money didn’t necessarily give access to consumption. My informants describe shortages as commonplace, leading to difficulty in getting certain foodstuffs or clothes, for exam ple. People were driven inevitably to make savings. Money couldn’t be automatically transformed into goods and services, and access to goods was related to the development of indvidual networks, especially kinship, and to maintaning structures of self-production.

Today, on one the hand, the availability of goods is wider, at least in big cities like Sofia, and people can more easily buy goods with money. But, on the other hand, goods and services, which before were cheap or free because they were strongly subsidised, are becoming scarce commodities and often very expensive because the State’s withdrawal. For all these reasons, money is assuming more and more a important role in the domestic economy. Nevertheless, paradoxically, money is rare: a lot of people are unemployed or, if employed, they don’t receive their whole wages. And again, money cannot play its role of being transformed into goods and services, because it is in short supply. But another important factor is the excessive inflation, which reached 300% in1996; two years after, it seems a bit better, even if prices of foodstuffs can change from day to day (cheese; meat; eggs ; etc.) and some goods can disappear suddenly from markets, as was my experience in summer 1997 and spring 1998 . In Tchiprovtsi, because the economy is geared towards self-production, shops offer a narrow range of goods to buy, even to people with money. If you want to buy, it is better to go to Sofia.

Also several of my informants were in debt, sometimes quite deeply. People who had borrowed money at the beginning of 1990s, were now unable to pay back their loans because interest rates had increased (to keep up with inflation). In all the cases I heard about, this money was borrowed and used for purposes linked to domestic reproduction. For example, Ani and her husband borrowed money to build a new double house - next door to the familial one - for their two teenage sons. The building has been stopped because of lack of money. Another couple borrowed more than two millions of leva for the wedding of their daughter (more than $1,000 in April 98; by comparison the salary of the head of a clinic is about $100 a month). The mother is the head of a village primary school and her husband is unemployed, doing small business.

The importance of the role of money in the economy, especially for domestic consumption, makes my informants feel more poor yo a degree which is not directly related to objective changes in their ways of life. If one takes into account the goods my informants own, all of them own their houses or flats, several have some gardens and plots with a second small house, animals and sometimes a car. The wealthiest own a second house or flat in Montana or Sofia. This feeling of poverty is not related to ownership of goods, but to the shortage of money which could potentially help to buy services and goods, and to the disinvestment of the State which creates insecurity.

Nevertheless, money is far from being yet the sole criteria of social value for these people. On the basis on my work elsewhere, I would argue that money can only occupy centre stage in the production of social value when people can convert a wide range of available goods to their personal use through buying commodities with money.


Social value in Tchiprovtsi households is elaborated according to various criteria, historical, political, etc. But today some of these criteria are becoming uncertain. Here, I consider only economic criteria, even though they cannot be absolutely separated from the others. As I have mentioned, one of the traditional criteria for social value is the capacity of domestic groups for self-provision, especially for self-consumption and for barter (and to some extent for sale). Households are considered as well-off and respectable when they manage their own production and exchanges. The principal use for money is as a means of reproduction for the domestic unit.

In consequence, such an economic system, based on kinship, makes life difficult for foreigners and those who don’t have access to plots of land. Even if they bring money to the local situation, they can hardly find anything to eat . For example, the priest who is a former miner and whose wife is a doctor in Montana, has received on loan from a monastery some plots where he cultivates potatoes. The evangelist priest and his wife, who have no kin in Tchiprovtsi, have survived thanks to preserves sent by their families and food sent from abroad. Recently one member of the congregation let them cultivate potatoes on one of his plots (to the accompaniment of mocking comments from the other inhabitants).

The rhythm of the town’s life follows the timing of domestic production : farm duties take precedence over the constraints of wage labour (Le Goff, 1960; Thompson, 1967). Whereas in more commercialised economies shopping follows the pattern of a working day dominated by wage labour, here shops have no timetables : from 7 am to midnight, seven days a week customers will always find shop open for buying cigarettes. In this and so many other ways, the market has failed to stamp its logic on consumption practices here.

Another criteria of social value and respectability is the capacity to allocate goods and services. Verdery (1991) argues that this is one of the main characteristics of planned economies and of their bureaucracy. Thus a prominent goal has been to control goods and services in order to distribute them inside patronage. For example, Anatoli, mentioned above, who is obviously the inhabitant who has made the most of the economic changes in his home town. Nevertheless, his position doesn’t provoke strong resentment, and negative comments are rare. He could be said to be redistributing at least some of his wealth by creating jobs for inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi , by giving credit, and by distributing bread to school children (as part of a national programme against malnutrition). He also participates in a folklore dance group and plays a political role as a candidate in the last elections. The value of household self-sufficiency and redistribution lie thus at the core of an economy articulated around personal relations.

But the younger generation aspires to a new balance between personal and impersonal relations. These people would like to escape from the entanglements of familial and personal links which have become intensified by the economic situation. Tsvetanka, a young music teacher (33 years old, married with one child) commented: "before we couldn’t move freely; now, we can but you risk going without food!". Krasimir (half-time miner, 35 years old, married with two children) explained with some bitterness : " Of course I go to garden, but without any enthusiasm. I don’t see any meaning in this activity. I was trained as a miner, not as a farmer.(...) People say that we can produce all what we need in term of foodstuffs; but it is not true, except for potatoes, even to the point of excess. We always end up in the market....If I am leaving, I will lose the house - even if there are ten of us living here and it is hell - and what we produce as foodstuffs. Before we couldn’t move by law, and now we cannot for economic reasons. We are like serfs!". These comments can be interpreted as a desir for a developed division of labour (in the sense given by Durkheim) with an impersonal economic sphere which allows some individual autonomy . The place for this dreamed of freedom is Sofia or abroad for most of my informants.

I have been arguing that, in order to understand consumption practices in Tchiprovtsi’s households, we have to examine the available resources and what domestic strategies are adopted to satisfy wants and needs. Three ways of possibly satisfacting wants and needs have been identified in this study: self-production; exchanges (monetarized or not); State subsidies. As for as exchanges are concerned, I have distinguished between personal and impersonal forms, whether monetarised or not. Organising observations within this analytical grid is not enough, but the point is to examine the articulations made by households between these three ways. Of course, the resources are linked to objective economic conditions in Bulgaria.

I argue that households always have choices in their strategies to satisfy their consumption wants and needs, even when they are constrained. In Tchiprovtsi, people give greater priority to self-production, and to non-monetary exchanges. They emphasise personal relationships in their economic strategies both as producer and as consumer, even in monetary exchanges. The core unit of the local economy is the household and it reproduction and the framework is kinship relationships. Perhaps, the importance of kinship was the same "before" 1989, when private interests arose to confront the dominance of the public sphere. Today several changes have occurred which provoke a new expansion of the familial and personal spheres, a withdrawal into kinship and local identity. People’s responses to a drastically altered economic situation are thus shaped by enduring cultural frameworks. But at the same time, people are confronting two contrastive ideological references - communism and capitalism, respectively - which imply very different organisation of the individual and collective dimensions of economic life. The younger generation, especially, hope for a different balance among the sources of livehood available to them and between personal and impersonal spheres. This inevitably means that somehow money will have to be a more persasive aspect of the economy than it is at present for most of the inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi. For these people, who are fully aware of the benefits of modernity, their temporary reduction to a sort of peasant servitude is unbearable.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Dr Mila Santova, Dr Keith Hart and, abore all, the inhabitants of Tchiprovtsi.


1. In Bulgaria it is quite common that young children are brought up by their grand-parents in the countryside, while their parents work and live in cities. Today, young mothers experience some constraints on the development of their own lives and careers from the fact that their own mothers or mothers-in-law are still actively engaged in paid employment, whether at home or elsewhere.

2. Recent researches show that is the dominant situation in Western Europe today.

3.There are some similar practices in factories described in French with the term "perruque" (a comparable term in Englsih might be "shrinkage"). Except that the material is used to make objects not to be exchanged directly.

4.The Turkish-Bulgarian population plays an important role in trade, as intermediaries.

5. But it doesn’t reach the level described by Humphrey in Russia (1995 : 23ff).

6.This kind of slogan, "Let’s consume what we produce" was also one of the French communist party. At the beginning of the 80s’, I remember an "advertising" campaign to encourage French people to consume goods made in France (in this case, cars).

7. Anyway people sell their old kilims in order to get money, as did Mari to pay for her daughters studies in Sofia.

8. My informants had an abundance of domestic appliances; for example, micro-waves are very common, as are video-games. 9. For example, the price of one egg reached in summer 1997 the equivalent price of a return train ticket for a trip of about 20 kilometers.

10. On national television, the news gives information on variations of prices or shortages of basic goods.

11. At the beginning of my fieldwork period, it was quite difficult to buy any fresh food (vegetables or fruits). But later, thanks to my generous informants, my diet was much better!

12.This aspiration to a new kind of individualised economy is often expressed through children; parents who are themselves trapped in the self-sufficient household economy seem to spend a lot of money buying their children clothes and sweets.


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Copyright: The Author

Dr Sophie Chevalier
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
University of Franche-Comte
30 rue Megevand
25000 Besancon


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