Development Of Suburbs In The Context Of Post- Socialist Consumption Models: The Case Of Pierīga

Gunta Darbiņa, Agita Lūse

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Transition from socialism to capitalism in Eastern and Central Europe has been characterized as the most courageous experiment with neo-liberal ideas in the contemporary world. Neo-liberalism as the process, it has been argued, had to be domesticated not only by political elites, but also by individuals, families and communities (Creed, 1998). Having a closer look at post-socialist home life the term “normal” stands for a life standard which is extraordinary in the local context and is likened to an “average level of West” and is being realized in the sphere of housing development and body care (Fehérváry 2002). A private house in a suburb is perceived as signifying the middle-class consumption standard in the West, and also in postsocialist societies middle-income strata are aspiring to affirm their status by Western consumer symbols. In the course of last decade, a considerable number of middle-class-in-the-making families in Latvia made decisions to apply for mortgages in order to acquire a ‘house of their dreams” in a suburb. The paper intends to examine how the families have managed to fulfil their hopes for a “normal life” in a comfortable suburban house. In Latvia it is, first of all, Pierīga, the suburban zone surrounding the capital city of Riga that corresponds to the concept of suburb as developed in the classical theories of urban space. An active property development in Pierīga began at the turn of the
new millennium when the real estate market was booming. Most municipalities envisaged an unprecedented rise in number of real property and hurried to plan the development of their territories accordingly. The outcome was dozens of widely scattered real property clusters, built with no overarching communal development plan and with none or underdeveloped infrastructure. A folk term for such type of settlement was soon coined, pļavu ciemi (“the meadow villages”). A private house in a post-socialist suburb like Pierīga at times reminds a heterotopia – a space contrasting to the surrounding area. This process is not
an illusion but a compensation (Foucault 1986), that has been made possible by Latvians’ capacity, developed in socialist times, to disregard (to a certain degree) the surrounding social world. The paper is based on study that seeks to integrate quantitative and qualitative methods. A recent population survey
(SKDS, 2009) reveals that suburb is a desirable living place, even though suburb residents lack a sense of affiliation with it. The survey data suggest that, while being only partly satisfied with the infrastructure and the development of their territory, the suburbanites seldom interact with the local government and are unwilling to take part in the activities of the local community. Semi-structured interviews with owners of new private houses in Pierīga, in turn, reveal that having purchased a suburban family house, few owners have fulfilled their aspirations for a “normal life”. A heavy burden of debt weighs upon all interviewees. In such a situation, families have had to modify their life-style and habits Anxiety about their long-term capability to deal with mortgages accompanies all interviewed families. The intreviewees’ narratives highlight the neo-liberal developments in the private sphere, the family life, as well as the public sphere, the suburban social environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101
Number of pages110
JournalEuropean Integration Studies
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • suburb
  • post-socialist society
  • consumption
  • private house
  • heterotopia

Field of Science*

  • 5.4 Sociology

Publication Type*

  • 1.3. Anonymously reviewed scientific article published in a journal with an international editorial board and is available in another indexed database


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