On Possibilities of Applying the Underclass Theory in Russia

Yaroshenko S.S.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), Assoc. Prof. of Comparative Sociology Chair in St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia svetayaroshenko@gmail.com

DOI: 10.31857/S013216250006672-2
ID of the Article:

For citation:

Yaroshenko S.S. On Possibilities of Applying the Underclass Theory in Russia. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2019. No 9. P. 28-38


The main purpose of the paper is to discuss possibilities of borrowing the underclass theory to explain reasons for the reproduction of poverty in Russia. Analysis is based on theoretical and empirical studies of Russian poverty over the last two decades under the conditions of radical social transformation caused by market reforms and transition from real socialism to real capitalism. As a result, the comparative prospects of borrowing a theory created in a specific national context are considered. On the one side, the underclass theory fits into the framework of the critical theory and various mechanisms of social exclusion (from hidden exploitation to cultural imperialism) are examined, and on the other, the external anomalies of the post-socialist context inheriting the achievements of real socialism with full employment and a developed budget sphere are revealed. It is proved that the reproduction of poverty in postsocialist Russia has its specifics: it takes the form of an unfolding exclusion. At the same time, the structuring of positions in persistent poverty goes along class and gender lines and is mediated by defensive strategies: mobilizing previously accumulated resources to cover costs associated with deprivation of means of subsistence, being forced to work for a living and selling labor in conditions of low status.

comparative theories of the underclass; regime of social exclusion; truncated social citizenship; defensive life strategies; postsocialism


Ashwin S. (ed.) (2006) Adapting to Russia’s New Labour Market. Gender and Employment Behavior. London: Routledge.

Balabanova E.S. (1999) Underclass: Concept and Place in Society. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya. [Sociological Studies]. No. 12: 65–70. (In Russ.)

Burawoy M. (2009) The Extended Case Method. Four Countries, Four Decades, Four Great Transformations and One Theoretical Tradition. Berkeley: University California press.

Burawoy M., Wright E.O. (2011) Sociological Marxism. Sotsiologiya [Sociology]. No. 2: 43–57. (In Russ.)

Dean M. (1991) The Constitution of Poverty. Toward a Genealogy of Liberal Governance. London: Routledge, 1991.

Dörre K. (2010) Social Classes in the Process of Capitalist Landnahme. On the Relevance of Secondary Exploitation. Socialist Studies/Études socialistes. Vol. 6. No.2: 43–74.

Emigh R. J., Szelenyi I. (2001) Poverty, Ethnicity and Gender in Eastern Europe during the Market Transition. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Fraser N. (1987) Women, Welfare and the Politics of Need Interpretation. Hypatia. 2 (1): 103–121.

Fraser N., Honneth A. (2003) Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-philosophical Exchange. London: Verso.

Hannerz U. (1969) Soulside. Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community. New York: Columbia University press.

Ken R. (1997) Is There an Emerging British ‘Underclass’. The Evidence from Youth Research. In: Macdonald R. (ed.) Youth, the «Underclass», and Social Exclusion. London: Routledge: 39–54.

Kelso W.A. (1994) Poverty and the «Underclass». Changing Perceptions of the Poor in America. New York: New York University press.

Ladanyi J., Szelenyi I. (2006) Patterns of Exclusion: Constructing Gypsy Ethnicity and the Making of the Underclass in Transitional Societies in Europe. New York: East European monographs, Boulder Co.

Lewis O. (1959) Five Families. Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Lewis O. (1961) The Children of Sanchez. New York: Vintage Books.

Lewis O. (1966) The Culture of Poverty. Scientific American. Vol. 215. No. 4 (October): 19–25.

Lister R. (1996) Introduction: In Search of the «Underclass». In: Lister R. (ed.) Charles Murray and the Underclass: the Developing Debate. London: IEA.

Lytkina Т. (2014) The Social Potential of the Northern City: from Ignoring to Recognition. Zhurnal sotsiologii i sotsial’noj antropologii [Journal of Sociology and Social Anthropology]. Vol. 17. No. 3: 33–47. (In Russ.)

Morris L. (2000) The Concept of Underclass. Ekonomicheskaya sotsiologiya [Economic Sociology]. Vol. 1. No. 1: 67–91. (In Russ.)

Myrdal G. (1963) Challenge to Affluence. New York: Pantheon Books.

Polanyi K. (2002) The Great Transformation. Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. St. Petersburg: Aleteja. (In Russ.)

Smith D. (ed.) (1992) Understanding the Underclass. London: Policy studies institute.

Swidler A. (1986) Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies. American Sociological Review. Vol. 51. No. 2: 273–286.

Tarkowska E. (1999) In Search of an Underclass in Poland. Polish Sociological Review. Vol. 125. No. 1: 3–16.

Vaisey S. (2010) What People Want: Rethinking Poverty, Culture, and Educational Attainment. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 629. Reconsidering Culture and Poverty: 75–101.

Wacquant L. (1996) The Rise of Advanced Marginality: Notes on Its Nature and Implications. Acta Sociologica. Vol. 39. No. 2: 121–139.

Wacquant L. (2008) Urban Outcasts. A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity press.

Wacquant L. (2016) Revisiting Territories of Relegation: Class, Ethnicity and State in the Making of Marginality. Urban Studies. Vol. 53. No. 6: 1077–1088.

Willetts D. (1992) Theories and Explanations of the Underclass. In.: Smith D. (ed.) Understanding the Underclass. London: Policy Studies Institute: 48–54.

Wilson, W.J. (1987) The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago press.

Yaroshenko S. (1994) Syndrome of Poverty. Sotsiologicheskiy zhurnal [Sociological Journal]. No. 2: 43–50. (In Russ.)

Yaroshenko S. (2010) «New Poverty» in Russia after Socialism. Laboratorium. No. 3: 42–72. (In Russ.)

Yaroshenko S.S. (2013) Women’s Work and Personal Well-being. Technology of Exclusion in Postsoviet Russia. Ekonomicheskaya sotsiologiya [Economic Sociology]. Vol. 14. No. 5: 23–59. (In Russ.)

Yaroshenko S.S. (2017) Surplus People, or About Regime of Social Exclusion in Post-soviet Society. Ekonomicheskaya sotsiologiya [Economic Sociology]. Vol.18. No. 4: 60–90. (In Russ.)

Young I. (1990) Justice and Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University press.

Content No 9, 2019