Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences: Ethnic Markets in post-Soviet Transitional Space / Their Role in Society and the Research Area

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Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences: 2016, Vol. 9, Issue 4
Diatlov, Victor I.
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Diatlov, Victor I.:Irkutsk State University 1 Karl Marx Str., Irkutsk, 664003, Russia; E-mail:
ethnic markets; post-Soviet transitional space; shuttle traders; ethnic economy; crossborder migrants

Open-air markets have become an essential element of the post-socialist transitional space. They appear over a vast area from China to Poland and Germany. Coupled with the huge scale and meaningful “shuttle trading”, they formed a new phenomenon in the economic, social, political and cultural life. Markets have become a mechanism of economic survival for the vast number of people who have lost their former status and sources of income; they created the launching pad for the formation of small and medium-sized businesses. For some time they have been a key element of the supply of goods and wage, especially for low-income strata. As the first and final points of shuttle trading system, markets have integrated into the global system of relationships, not only trade ones, but socio-cultural as well. Open-air markets have become an important area of economic activity for the cross-border migrant workers, facilitating their economic and cultural integration. In conjunction with their huge role in promoting Chinese and Turkish goods into the emerging markets, the markets have been treated in urban communities as “ethnic” markets, namely Chinese, Kyrgyz and Caucasian. As such, they quickly outgrew usual marketplaces and turned into sophisticated and self-developing social organisms, clumps of social connections, networks, conflict places, power and control mechanisms. In many Russian cities the largest ethnic and migrant clusters formed around these markets. They became “a meeting place” and a place of daily mass contacts, cooperation and conflicts; representatives of different languages, cultures and traditions. Markets have gained tremendous symbolic importance, commonly representing a lot of new forms of life, economic and cultural practices, ways of social contacts and relationships. The end of the post-socialist era drew a line under this very role of “ethnic” markets. They have not disappeared completely, but changed themselves and change their function and place in the community. Many of the markets have been closed, the remaining ones have been marginalized and relegated to the outskirts of cities and in the periphery of economic life. They are changing their format; and on the site of the former wholesale and retail markets in the open air now there are hypermarkets, malls, etc. This does not mean the end of “ethnic business”; it is also “being rebuilt” and efficiently developing new formats and new rules of the game. Great importance of “ethnic” markets in the era of post-socialist transitional space is paradoxically combined with weak public attention and little research. Political turmoil and social upheavals overshadowed this problem in the minds of people and in the views of researchers. The purpose of this text is to classify and organize what we know (and what we presumably do not know) about the open-air “ethnic markets” in the post-Soviet era. Perhaps this work will formulate an agenda for future research

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