Consumers during the 2008-2011 Economic Crisis in Estonia: Mainstream and Grass Roots Media Discourses

Triin Vihalemm, Margit Keller, Kristin Pihu


In this paper we discuss the development of consumer culture in Estonia, which is a vivid example of the ways consumers make do in rapidly changing circumstances.  Our specific focus was on the period of 20082010, a time of severe economic crisis, unemployment and reduction of income, when consumption per household fell by a total of 12 percent compared to the pre-crisis period. We employed quantitative content and discourse analysis of media texts published in the Estonian-language press, on forums and in blogs to study representations of consumer culture during crisis. In general, the media discussion featured (self)-criticism about succumbing –with little calculation and thought about the precariousness of the future – to the hedonistic allure of the market. Nor was a serious alternative offered to the economic crisis, which was portrayed by the media as a temporary condition and not as a new normality.  Thus the mediatization of the people's experiences of the downturn during 20082011 did not bring about any principal change to the pre-crisis normalities of Estonian consumer culture. This can partly be explained by the fact that consumption-related aspects of the recession were mainly represented in the Estonian media from the point of view of the middle class, who had sufficient resources. Social media channels also mainly reflected the middle class’s experience of perceiving the crisis as temporary and only involving slight lifestyle modifications that could be endured by working hard and being a smart consumer. Any critique of consumerist values and calls for solidarity expressed by journalists or the cultural elite did not resonate with the grassroots level social innovations born of everyday frugality and sharing.


contested consumption; economic crisis; mediatization

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