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TitleThe Capitalist Personality: Face-to-Face Sociality and Economic Change in the Post-Communist World
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Table of Contents
                            The Capitalist Personality Face-to-Face Sociality and Economic Change in the Post-Communist World
List of Figures
List of Tables
1 Introduction
2 Becoming Homo-Economicus
3 “The Wall in the Head”: Mechanisms of De-socialization
4 The Chinese, Russian, and Eastern German Contexts: Social Values and Economic Change
5 Individualism, Ambition, and Work
6 “Get Rich First!”: Materialism and Consumerism
7 Family Relationships and Friendship
8 Morality, Religion, and Politics
9 The Wild West?
10 Discussion: Ambivalent Individualization and Capitalist Culture
Appendix A: Methods
Appendix B: T-test Results
Appendix C: Results on Social Values and Gender
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Christopher S. Swader


The Capitalist Personality
Face-to-Face Sociality and Economic Change
in the Post-Communist World

Page 2

The Capitalist Personality

Modern capitalism favors values that undermine our face-to-face bonds
with friends and family members. Focusing on the post-communist world,
and comparing it to more “developed” societies, this book reveals the
mixed eff ects of capitalist culture on interpersonal relationships. While
most observers blame the egoism and asocial behavior found in new free-
market societies on their communist pasts, this work shows how relation-
ships are also threatened by the profi t orientations and personal ambition
unleashed by economic development. Successful people in societies as
diverse as China, Russia, and Eastern Germany adjust to the market econ-
omy at a social cost, relaxing their morals in order to obtain success and
succumbing to increased material temptations to exploit relationships for
their own fi nancial and professional gain. The capitalist personality is inter-
nally troubled as a result of this “sellout,” but these qualms subside as it
devalues intimate qualitative bonds with others. This book also shows that
post-communists are similarly individualized as people living in Western
societies. Capitalism may indeed favor values of independence, creativity,
and self-expressiveness, but it also rewards self-centeredness, consumer-
ism, and the stripping down of morality. As is the case in the West, capitalist
culture fosters an internally confl icted and self-centered personality in
post-communist societies.

Christopher S. Swader is an assistant professor of sociology at the National
Research University—Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He teaches
social theory, focusing on individualization and modernization, critical
theory (the Frankfurt School), the life course, and historical sociology.

Page 129

108 The Capitalist Personality


Presently in my age, I attach the greatest importance to achieving my
goal according to my career plan. . . . Therefore, all the members of my
company, including me, have a sense of responsibility. I came to this
company last year when it was just founded and made an exact career
plan. I hoped that I could get to somewhere in a totally new fi eld and
that what I do would be really helpful to the development of agricul-
ture, the society, and the country. So far I still feel that our work is
sacred and full of a sense of responsibility. I think the most important
thing is doing my job well through my own eff orts and the eff orts of the
company. In fact, it’s not easy to do it well for no one knows how to do
it and we are just groping our way along.

Another interviewee links his work not to a general principle of working
hard, but rather to the salary he makes from it and the expectations that
arise from earning that money:


Q: Which ideas make you work hard and improve yourself?
A: There are no specifi c ideas. I should work hard since I receive a

salary. If you receive a salary and work carelessly, you will be
fi red sooner or later.

Although “career” and its relation to earning status and money is more
common among the younger group, some individuals in the older genera-
tion also have an admiration of the status aspects of career. S6, for exam-
ple, most highly admires those who are both successful in their careers in
terms of prestige and who possess a strong moral character:

I have always been impressed by those who enjoy a good reputation for
their career success and for their character.

In summary, there is an agreement between generations that work is
valuable, although the younger informants more readily value work instru-
mentally for status and money rather than as a simple duty. Also, in com-
parison to the older cohort, the younger generation has lost the balance
between the value of work and value of family, with work now tending to
dominate its value systems.

The Moscow Interviews

Interviews with the Russian informants also allude to the expansion of
work-focus at the beginning of the transition. M5 notes that work came

Page 130

Individualism, Ambition, and Work 109

fi rst for him during his period, while M1, another informant, refers to the
growth of work as a “calling” for him during those years. The expansion
of these work values, also reported by M9, is likely due to the material
insecurities brought about during this period in Russia, which M7 calls the
“hungry and poor years.” M5, for instance describes his extraordinarily
high work regimen at the beginning of the transformation years, and the
eff ects this had upon his family:

The reason for losing my fi rst family was that I worked a lot. I mean
that I spent whole days working, and the children did not see much of
me. Additionally my wife stopped taking care of them and lost interest
in me as well. Generally, the family fell apart. That is why currently I
have limited infl uence on the children.

This heightened work focus continued until enough material resources
were accumulated, as was the case with all young informants except for
M9 and M11. M9 is not as wealthy as the others, while M11 is extraor-
dinarily achievement-oriented and has not yet fulfi lled his material and
career goals. Once their material well-being was achieved, informants
then transitioned into a second stage of life, with some taking time out
for family (M7) and others devoting their lives to leisure (M5). However,
some informants, such as M1, never transition out of this work stage,
even when they have enough. Instead, M1 continues to devote all his time
to work without reassigning his priorities to family or leisure, as work for
him brings “moral calm.”

In contrast, most of the older informants—M6, M2, and M12—did not
experience an expansion of their work values during the early transforma-
tion years, since they were retired. The two older informants who contin-
ued to work during these years also illustrate that, despite their age, they
experienced enhanced work valuations at this stage of their lives. This is the
case with both M10 and M8, the latter of whom is a workaholic valuing the
family only “by default.”

Comparing the generations as pairs leads to the same conclusion, with
the younger cohorts experiencing adaptive expansion of work values in
comparison to the older generation. One piece of evidence for this is that
time diary data indicate that most of the young cohorts work at least one
weekend day per week, as opposed to their fathers, who reported having
their weekends free during Soviet times.

One father-son pair that fi ts the expected pattern is M5 and M6. For the
father, M6, work was his “second love,” second to his family. In contrast,
at the beginning of the transformation, work became fi rst for his son. Now
the son is in an advanced stage of success, where the business functions on
its own, but he does not spend his extra time with his family. Rather, he is
torn between spending his money, which he calls “leisure,” and spending
time with his family.

Page 257

236 Index

family, relations 133–157; Chinese
history of, 77–78, 80–82; East
German history of, 86–88,
90–93; niche type of, 82–83,
86–87; relative value of, 179;
Russian history of, 82–84,

fi lial piety, See respect for elders
fresh contact, Karl Mannheim, 75,

friendship, 137, 139, 146–149,

152–153, 157, 179

Gandhi, Mahatma, 114
gender, 6–7, 16–17, 51, 221–222
Granovetter, Mark, 38–40

Habermas, Jurgen, 32
homo-Sovieticus, 42–44, 85
human nature, 19, 34

ideological confl ict, 57–59
image cultivation, 55, 121–123, 131
independence. See individualism
individualism, value of, 94–112, 145,

151, 173–174
individualization, critical, 27–36;

defi nition, 21–22; ‘nothing has
changed’ variant of, 36–37;
optimistic, 22–27

individuation, 26
Inglehart, Ronald, theories of, 6,

17–18; critique of, 24–25,

instrumentalization. See exploitation
intergenerational changeover, 48, 74–76

Leipzig, description of, 7
leisure, 102–103, 109–110
life course, phasation of family valua-

tions, 102, 149, 186
life stage eff ects, vs. cohort eff ect,

luxuries, 10, 13–15, 48, 113–132, 152

mass media, and advertising, 32–33,

49–50, 81
materialism, 113–132, 177–178
mechanisms, of desocialization, 46–76

methods, research, 45–46, qualitative
design, 192–198; quantitative
design, 199–205

money, versus morality, 66; wishing for
versus working with, 120, 130.
See materialism

morality, sacrifi ce of, fl exibility of,
160–162, 180–181; 65–66, 166;
trader‘s honor, 168–169

Moscow, description of, 7

OECD, comparison with post-commu-

nists and developing countries,

parents, as role-models, 143. See also

peer-group, infl uence of, 47–48, 55,

74–75, 184
pendulum eff ect, hypothesis,

performativity, 19
personality, 4–5; American frontier

type of, 34; and occupation, 2;
post-communist, 26–27;

Polanyi, Karl, 30
politics, value of, 159–160, 163–165
postmaterialism, hypothesis,

profi t calculation. See cost-benefi t

praxis, 8–9, 190

qualitative design. See methods
quantitative design. See methods

religion, spiritual life, 50–51, 74, 154,

156, 157, 159–160
Riesman, David, 37–38
risk taking, value of, 101, 174–175,
Rokeach, Milton, 18
role models, 75. See also, parents, as


Schwartz, Shalom, 18–19
Shanghai, description of, 7
social brain theory. See human nature
social control, 12, 15–16, 19–21, 25,


Page 258

Index 237

thrift, 115–116, 121–123, 175–177
time, value of, 56–57
tools of success. See best-practices
Tönnies, Ferdinand, 29
transitology, 40–44; technocratic

nature of, 40–42

values, 12–44, 183–190; defi nition of,

15–19; state policies of, 49; in
tension, 45–76

Weber, Max, 14, 23, 26–27, 29–32,

72, 96–97, 119
welfare state, 50, 74
work, focus, 54, 71–72, 94–112; as

career, 107–108; as enslave-
ment, 104, 111; as family,
140, 155; as salvation, 103,

Zelizer, Viviana, 38–40, 67

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