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Marginalized for a lifetime: The everyday experiences of gulag survivors in post-Soviet Magadan

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Over the past decade notions of social capital have become embedded in the social development lexicon, often presented as the ‘missing link’ within development theory. Much social capital-based research takes Robert Putnam's theorization of the subject as its starting point. Putnam's work argues that social capital can be measured by a region's levels of trust and civic engagement. While its use, and conceptualization, has undergone much academic debate, often formal institutions still employ this very narrow, and arguably Western-centric, reading of the subject. This paper argues that while at the micro-level social capital has little to do with the civic engagement and trust theories posited by Putnam, it still has relevance to the lives of marginalized individuals and is an important factor in their continued survival. To explore this, drawing on extensive qualitative research conducted in Magadan, Moscow and St Petersburg, I critically examine the construction of everyday survival strategies among Gulag survivors living in Russia's far northeast city of Magadan. Denied a return to their ‘homeland’ upon their release, this group experienced considerable marginalization in the post-Stalin period. This was exacerbated when the collapse of the Soviet Union saw pensions in the far northeast of Russia fall to below 50% of the state-set subsistence minimum. The paper demonstrates the importance of social capital to this group by showing how their survival is based on far more than interactions with formal and informal organizations.
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Keywords: Gulag survivors; Magadan; Russia; marginalization; social capital; survival strategies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Leicester, UK

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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