The production of ambition: the making of a Baltic business elite
London School of Economics, University of London, Department of Anthropology,
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This dissertation comments on the current period of intense social change in the former Soviet Union by charting processes of elite production at a business school in Riga, Latvia. It is concerned with an ethnically diverse group of students from the Baltic states who attend a Swedish institution established to accelerate the transition. I suggest that rather than producing ‘catalysts of change’ the business school represents a foreign-direct-investment into human capital. The thesis tackles the transnational complexities of the organisation by combining ethnographic description with an analysis of the historical and ideological shifts in international relations and a review of the anthropological literature on socialism.
The thesis also responds to the lack of anthropological research on elites by presenting the first ethnographic study of a business school. It investigates elite schooling practices and parameters through an engagement with the debates on reproduction in education. In Riga an off-the-peg curriculum sidelines issues specifically concerned with the Baltic context; instead of addressing local problems students are increasingly drawn towards transnational corporations. During their attendance they partially develop their own agenda, which is a finding that questions prevalent assumptions about the docility of students in elite education. Other key factors of the students’ transformation are language, image, style, school space and consumption. Their collective grooming project forms an important part of the esprit de corps at the school. Additionally, the thesis highlights the establishment of a multi-ethnic networks on the basis of shared interests, thus challenging one-dimensional reports of nationalism in the region.
Caught between the post-Soviet context and a forceful Swedish vision of change students experience upward mobility along with problematic negotiations of ongoing circumstance. Intended as a contribution to anthropological studies of post-socialism the thesis explains how the business school generates graduates who are willing and desirable recruits for the capitalist expansion.
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