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Post-socialist life normalized through changes in everyday life, says professor

Post-socialist life normalized through changes in everyday life, says professor

"We think of globalization as something new, but it’s not," says Katherine Sredl, PhD. "The current experience of globalization of neoliberalism is something new."

By Monica Sather | Student reporter

Globalization leads to massive cultural change, including in gender roles and consumer needs, says Katherine Sredl, PhD, clinical professor of marketing. Changes to social life and everyday interactions help individuals normalize this cultural shift. 

Sredl, who is of Croatian heritage, studied the recent cultural shift in Zagreb, Croatia, because she wanted to bridge the gap between people’s lived experience during socialism and afterward, when the end of socialism brought in privatization and global capitalism. In 1991, Croatia formally declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and began its transition from socialism to capitalism. 

Her study, titled “Gendered Market Subjectivity: Autonomy, Privilege, and Emotional Subjectivity in Normalizing Post-Socialist Neoliberal Ideology,” was recently published in the journal Consumption Markets and Culture. She was also recently appointed as a visiting scholar at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Economics and Business, from 2017 to 2019.

Here, Sredl discusses her current research on how globalization impacts markets and why it is important to the business world and Quinlan students.

What questions are you trying to answer in your research?

In my research, I try to understand globalization and how consumers are affected by it. It’s really interesting to study how men and women are differently affected by the cultural change that happens with globalization. I ask questions such as how do work and family roles change? What does it mean to be a woman and how does it change? Cultures change with globalization, for example, as countries become part of the European Union.

In this journal article, I’m interested in how women experience the transition from socialism to capitalism in Croatia. I study women who are working class, middle class, and upper middle class, and I study women from three generations—so grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. These are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who experienced the height of consumer culture in socialism, then its slow decline, and then Millennials, who came of age during privatization.

When I compare their experiences related to work and family meals, then I can see the differences that emerge between the past and present and understand what it means to be a woman in this global age of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a global political-economic arrangement that favors free markets.

We think of globalization as something new, but it’s not. Yet the current experience of globalization of neoliberalism is something new.

What are some key research findings?

The key finding was that people began to normalize the key changes of the big structure, not just through major things like voting but through changes to everyday social life.

Changes such as having lunch at a different time of the day with your family, not socializing at work as much as they used to, or not socializing after work. Social interactions changed and it normalized these huge, massive ideological shifts. It makes that new way of thinking normal. It’s just in the minutiae of everyday life.

Why is this topic of interest to business?

Globalization is important because any business that wants growth is going to have to go global. And any time there is globalization, there is immense cultural change. Marketers must understand what happens to cultures as markets change.

There’s always massive change in gender roles as women become employed in the formal labor economy and get paid. Family dynamics and women’s roles will change. Buying patterns for food will change as each family member’s activity becomes dominated by work. For children, individual activities, rather the group activities, are thought to prepare the child for living in a market that favors individualism. Consumption of education changes as women become more autonomous in a market that favors workers who are autonomous.

So for companies to sell products, they have to understand what’s going on when globalization happens. They have to ask how the selfhood changes and how can they meet new consumer needs.  

What makes your research relevant to the Quinlan community?

My research honors that we’re an international community at Quinlan, in our faculty and our student body. It also honors the Jesuit global presence.

My research can help our students understand the connection between markets and cultures, the changing consumer needs of emerging markets, and how those needs can be responsibly met through marketing.

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