Poor, poorer, Bulgarian: Making sense of poverty and inequality after the end of communism /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Nikolova, Boriana N., author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2015
Description:1 electronic resource (296 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
URL for this record:http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/10773265
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Lisa Wedeen Committee members: Susan Gal; Stanislav Markus.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 77-02(E), Section: A.
Summary:There is a quite striking divergence in a wide variety of countries between apparent economic indicators, on the one hand, and public perceptions of poverty and inequality, on the other. There is, for instance, evidence that despite the much higher inequality at the top of the income pyramid in the US, Americans tend to underestimate inequality at the top much more than Europeans. The discrepancies between economic indicators and public perceptions can go in different directions, and this is true even for countries sharing similar recent histories such as a transition from communist dictatorship to capitalist democracy. Among post­communist states, Bulgaria and Hungary fall within a group of countries in which inequality is relatively low but perceptions of it are high. Romania, by contrast, experiences high inequality but low perceptions of it.
What this divergence between perceptions and indicators illustrates is that economic indicators, important as they are, do not necessarily tell us much about how people actually perceive and interpret economic reality. Such perceptions however can have important consequences. Unaddressed popular views that inequality is too high or unfair, for instance, can lead to diverse outcomes ranging from support for anti­system populist movements to apathy and political disengagement that can undermine democracies irrespective of whether the actual level of poverty or inequality is high or low. Thus understanding the mechanisms and social processes that shape perceptions of poverty and inequality is essential.
I have two principal goals in my dissertation. First, to account for the strong divergence between perceptions and indictors that exists in Bulgaria where an astounding 93.7 percent position themselves below the midpoint of the income scale. And second, to show how my attention to meanings and identities adds value to the current literatures on post­communist regimes as well as the literature on inequality and poverty and their political and social consequences. To do that I examine the historically based, locally valid, and sometimes counterintuitive meanings that poverty and inequality have assumed in Bulgaria by identifying the predominant narratives about wealth, poverty and inequality present in print media, popular culture, and open­ended interviews. In addition, I compare Bulgaria with Romania and Hungary and give an account of how the different histories of these three countries during the last decades of communism, leading up to and including the regime's fall, produced different benchmarks and led to different ideas and expectations with respect to capitalist democracy. Via this comparison, I also address the much-debated topic of communist legacies and the marks they leave on present day perceptions.
By combining analyses of narratives derived from a wide range of sources from newspapers, through political humor, to popular music, and open­ended interviews I was able to generate insights about popular perceptions of poverty, wealth, and inequality that could not have been gleaned by relying on opinion polls or by focusing on economic trends alone and to show that while communist legacies clearly matter it was not in the ways scholars had previously anticipated. In addition to contributing to the literature on post­communist regimes, by drawing attention to local meanings and identities and the intersubjective ways in which people make sense of material reality, my work furthers the general understanding of how poverty and inequality operate in and affect different societies. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).