“Working for Yourself”: Resource Theft at a Factory in the Late Soviet Era

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Olga Smolyak


This article focuses on the practice of “working for yourself” (rabota na sebia), which was common in the Soviet Union in the 1970s–1980s and entailed manufacturing and repairing household items during work hours, using factory resources. The theoretical approach is based on Michel de Certeau’s theory of everyday practices as anonymous creativity and on Igor Kopytoff’s concept of the cultural biography of things—the displacement of objects in social space and the resultant shift in their cultural meanings. I examine the creation and function of handmade objects, paying particular attention to their movement between the domestic sphere (private realm) and the enterprise (public realm). The objects are presented as participants in quasi-professional interactions, where they function as a tool for the creation of social networks. I conclude that during the late Soviet era the practice of “working for yourself” promoted the expression of professional identity and pride in work and was taken as the realization of socialist ideals of ownership. However, in the post-Soviet period, workers connect their limited access to factory resources, imposed by management, to disrespectful attitudes towards workers and the loss of social justice. In Russian, extended summary in English.


Social Space, Soviet Everyday Life, Cultural Biography of Things, Public and Private Spheres, Social Network, Do-It-Yourself, Time Theft, Resource Theft, Workplace, Moral Code

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