Re-inventing Europe: Culture, style and post-socialist change in Bulgaria
Ranova, Elitza Stefanova
Faubion, James D.
Doctor of Philosophy
On the basis of extended field research in Sofia, Bulgaria, between 2004 and 2006, this project provides an ethnographic account of the predicament of art and culture producers after the end of socialism. The end of socialism deprived the Bulgarian intelligentsia from its economic security, prestige, and a sense of clear moral mission. Now young cutting-edge artists, writers, designers, theater directors and other culture producers seek a way out of this predicament and aspire to become moral leaders of the nation. Through ethnographic participant-observation at the lifestyle magazine Edno, a mouthpiece for this social segment, and through research radiating from the offices of the magazine to the fringes of contemporary Bulgarian art and culture, this project demonstrates that the new culture producers comprise a social segment in a state of flux, an elite in-the-making. While its future is uncertain---it could solidify in a new dominant faction of the intelligentsia, could disintegrate or could take the shape of a qualitatively new configuration---its present condition sheds light on post-socialist debates about artistic merit, the importance of national versus international recognition, and the changing value of cultural capital. The dissertation investigates how the young culture producers strategically code their artistic preferences and ways of life as "European," and demonstrates that they strategically capitalize on a historical local anxiety that Bulgaria is deficient and less modern than an imagined "Europe." The project is indebted to a Bourdieusian understanding of the relationship between taste and social class, and pays close attention to aesthetic preferences in two fields: lifestyle and creative work. At the same time, it departs from Bourdieu in recognizing that while well-suited to account for social reproduction, his model is less successful in explaining social production: the emergence of new social groups and the re-ordering of existing social relations in the context of rapid social change. The project addresses this problem through the prism of Foucauldian ethics. It suggests that the young culture producers have an at least partially correct understanding of their objective circumstances and consciously reflect on the mismatch between their expectations, and the reality of post-socialist Bulgaria.