„Then I understood that you do not have to be smart‒ you have to have acquaintances“: the use of social capital in the work narratives of Russian-speaking women

Kadri Aavik

Today’s Estonia is characterized by the ethnicity- and language-based segregation of acquaintance networks that influences Russian-speaking people’s chances of advancing in workplace hierarchy. Studies conducted this far indicate that in the case of Russian-speaking population the lack of social networking may become an obstacle to realizing one’s proficiency in Estonian. Access to prestigious positions is especially limited for Russian-speaking women, as they have been excluded from social networks that facilitate access to such positions because of their gender and ethnicity.

The article analyses, by employing intersectional analysis, the representation of social capital in the work narratives of Russian-speaking women and the meanings assigned to it. The focus is on the experiences of the so-called marked group in terms of gender and ethnicity: Russian-speaking women with higher education and good Estonian pro ciency who are either unemployed or work in menial jobs in Tallinn and Tartu.

The results show that the participants considered social capital an important means for finding work and improving one’s work status in today’s labor market, but also believed that they had few opportunities for using acquaintances for finding work. They discursively expressed disempowerment in the context of finding work both through formal and informal channels. The boundaries of social networks were perceived to be based primarily on ethnicity.

The narratives also demonstrate how Estonian labor market and society at large are characterized by norms that prefer Estonianness, masculinity and youth and thus construct Russian-speaking women as marked and as deviating from the norm, as so-called „internal others“.