‘Choosing the lesser of evils’: cultural narrative and career decision-making in post-Soviet Russia
This paper employs the concepts of cultural narrative to examine career choice among post-Soviet Russian teenagers going into higher education. Drawing on insights from cultural sociology more broadly and the cultural autonomy thesis more specifically, we demonstrate how the cultural narrative of a university degree as a ‘must-have at all costs’ subjugates various career decision-making logics identified, while downplaying individual agency and reflexivity. We argue that, by misdirecting career choice from opportunities to constraints, the dominant narrative serves to limit, rather than diversify, young people’s career choice and social mobility potential. We go on to theorise the interplay between culture and social institutions. Drawing on the cultural interpretation of Unified State Exam – a neoliberal educational governance tool – we show how cultural narrative hijacks institutional interpretations and usages, re-grounding neoliberal sensibilities in Soviet-era ones.