Mining postsocialism: work, class and ethnicity in an Estonian mine

Keskula, Eeva. 2012. Mining postsocialism: work, class and ethnicity in an Estonian mine. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My thesis is a study of what happens to the working class in the context of postsocialism, neoliberalisation and deindustrialisation. I explore the changing work and lives of Russian-speaking miners in Estonia, showing what it means to be a miner in a situation in which the working class has been stripped of its glorified status and stable and affluent lifestyle, and has been stigmatised and orientalised as Other. I argue that a consequence of neoliberal economy, entrepreneurialism and individualism is that ethnicity and class become overlapping categories and being Russian comes to mean being a worker. This has produced a particular set of practices, moralities and politics characterising the working class in contemporary Estonia, which is not only a result of its Soviet past and nostalgia, but also deeply embedded in the global economy following the 2008 economic crisis, and EU and national economic, security and ethnic policies.

Miners try to maintain their autonomy and dignity. Despite stricter control of miners’
time and speeding up of the labour process, workers exercise control over the rhythm of work. The ideas of what it means to be a miner and ideals of a good society create a particular moral economy, demanding money and respect in return for sacrificing health and doing hard work. Increasing differences in consumption patterns are levelled with leisure activities such as drinking and sport that are available to all. New management practices such as outsourcing labour and performance reviews assist class formation processes that increase workers’ precarity and the differentiation between workers and engineers in a previously relatively equal community. Despite this, management practices often have unexpected outcomes in everyday situations in which actors with different worldviews and ambitions meet. Miners’ labour politics might not correspond to Western ideas of strong unionism, but show that trade unions can take different shapes depending on local context.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Anthropology of industry, work, class, postsocialism, Eastern Europe, mining

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



September 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2013 15:20

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:36


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