Informality in Eastern Europe

Structures, Political Cultures and Social Practices

by Christian Giordano (Volume editor) Nicolas Hayoz (Volume editor)
©2013 Edited Collection 494 Pages


This volume deals with different aspects of informal structures and practices in Eastern Europe. Its objectives are twofold. It aims at discovering whether or to what extent informal structures and practices in Eastern Europe have meanings, functions, forms and effects different from those that can be observed in the politics and societies of Western Europe. The authors of this volume – most of them are from the region – have been invited to discuss the scientific relevance of the distinction informal / formal in their respective field of research or discipline. This points to the second objective of this volume which is to encourage a more fruitful interaction between disciplines that often disregard each other and which, despite inevitable and essential epistemological differences, have significant shared interests such as the comparative analysis of political phenomena in terms of elementary forms of social organization. The relation between informality and formality in a more methodologically pluralist and ultimately holistic way can be analysed via regards croisés between the disciplines anthropology, political science and sociology. This allows the extension of this comparative and multidisciplinary approach to other themes and phenomena of mutual interests.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Exploring Informality in Eastern Europe through Different Disciplines
  • Part I: General and Comparative Perspectives
  • The Social Organization of Informality: The Rationale Underlying Personalized Relationships and Coalitions
  • Observations on the Changing Meanings of Informality
  • Aspects of “Informality” – with Particular Focus on South-Eastern Europe
  • Visible and Invisible Informalities and Institutional Transformation in the Transition Countries of Georgia, Romania, and Uzbekistan
  • Shadow Economy, Corruption and Informal Political Exchanges: The Greek Case in a Comparative Perspective
  • Part II: Central and Southeastern Europe
  • Analysing Informality: A Case-Study Based Concept applied to the Czech Republic
  • The Synchronization of Communist Legacy in Postcommunist Politics and Labour: the Case of Poland
  • Institutionalization of Market Order and Reinstitutionalization of Vruzki (Connections) in Bulgaria
  • The Everyday Culture of Informality in Post-Socialist Bulgarian Politics
  • Abuse of Office, Informal Networks, “Moral Accountability” – Political Corruption in Bulgaria
  • Informality in Albania – The Case of Rural Land Tenure and Transactions
  • Contested Statebuilding in Kosovo: the nature and characteristics of Serbian parallel structures
  • “They are with the Others”: From Gossip to Stigmatization, Romanian Civil Society through an Informal Perspective
  • Social Representations of Informality: the Roma Case
  • Part III: Post-Soviet Countries
  • Informal and Formal Institutions in the Former Soviet Union
  • The Dominance of Informal Politics on the Eve of the Electoral Year 2011–2012
  • Corruption Networks in the Sphere of Higher Education: An Example from Russian Mass Universities
  • How Unwritten Rules Can Influence Human Resource Management in Russia
  • Informality as a “Weapon of the Weak”? Public Representation of Tatar Youth Movements in Kazan, Russia
  • The Ambiguity and Functions of Informality: Some Notes from the Odessa-Chisinau Route
  • Informality in a Neopatrimonial State: Azerbaijan
  • Formalization of the Informal: Statebuilding in Armenia
  • Informality and the Question of Modernization: the Case of Georgia
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Publications of the series

Christian Giordano and Nicolas Hayoz

Introduction: Exploring Informality in Eastern Europe through Different Disciplines

The idea for this book goes back to a discussion between anthropologists and political scientists on the meanings of informality and on the question about how to link diverging conceptions of informal practices and structures, particularly in the context of the ongoing political, economic and social changes in Eastern Europe. The objectives of this book are twofold.

First, and with regard to the main distinction of this book between informality and formality, it aims to discover whether or to what extent informal structures and practices in Eastern Europe have meanings, functions, forms and effects different from those that can be observed in the politics and societies of Western Europe. The authors of this volume – the majority among them are from the region – working with the conceptual distinction between informality and formality, have been invited to discuss these questions. A particular focus is given to the question of the extent to which informal institutions and practices can be considered as a transitional phenomenon, to be observed in certain fields, areas and periods, or whether we are confronted here with a rather more structural or persistent phenomenon. As all three important regions in Eastern Europe are covered by the contributions we may expect to see that patterns of informal structures and practices are following more-or-less the direction of the transformations in the political systems, the regional economies and societies.

Second, this volume is an attempt to bring together scholars from different disciplines under the “umbrella” distinction between informality and formality. It aims not only to inform about the potential of this distinction from an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspective but also to address the question of where the points of convergence are and where the differences on the conceptual as well as on the methodological level are. In that sense the volume aims to launch a dialogue, centred on the complex social phenomenon of informality, between various disciplines in the social sciences, which, although next-door neighbours, usually have ← 9 | 10 → little more than a nodding acquaintance with each other. In our opinion, from a theoretical and a methodological point of view they clearly have much to share. These disciplines are political science on the one hand and social anthropology on the other as well as sociology, especially in its more interpretative, and thus rather qualitative, forms.

The above disciplines have significantly different theoretical and methodological scopes. Yet, we believe that this interdisciplinary exchange would be fruitful, not because we are under the illusion that a common approach might be found but precisely because we wish to highlight differences and similarities between the various disciplines’ approaches, which are nevertheless characterized by family resemblances (in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s terms) due to shared cognitive interests. Finally, we believe that the discussion of the relevance of informal patterns and particularly the relationship between formal and informal norms or rules is a fertile and “productive” terrain to assess such questions. We can see only what our distinctions allow us to see! In an interdisciplinary enterprise the interesting point would be to learn to see how different disciplines address the main informality/formality distinction differently.

Political Informality in Eastern Europe

Informality has become, without any doubt, a fashionable topic of research. The amount of literature on informal practices and networks in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has increased rapidly, producing useful empirically based research material.1 Typologies and research agendas advanced by authors like Helmke and Levitsky, focusing on the correlation between the effectiveness of informal and formal institutions and their outcomes, have obviously inspired many scholars to produce empirical research on the questions raised by these authors.2 This is also the case here in this ← 10 | 11 → volume: Helmke and Levitksy’s conceptual framework is used or critically discussed in more than half of all contributions. This can certainly be considered as a good example of the productive use of conceptual distinctions allowing a discussion with neighbouring disciplines, despite the fact that such typologies deal primarily with problems related to the political system and that the notion of institutions, so central for political scientists, is not necessarily useful for other disciplines.

Moreover, the growing interest among scholars in topics related to informality may also be explained by the fact that, in many Eastern European and Central Asian countries, different forms of informal power networks hinder or even block the democratization process. Hybrid political regimes, or regimes with considerable democracy deficits, cannot operate without informal institutions and practices.3 One may even conclude that informality is part of the governance mode of all more-or-less soft variants of authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, it seems obvious that personalized governance networks are not really structures supporting democracy and rule of law; on the contrary, they undermine them. Political scientists analysing the more-or-less democratic character of specific political structures and procedure cannot avoid the question of the impact of informal arrangements, rules or institutions on democracy.4

There are many contemporary studies on informal institutions revealing the persistence and perverse effects of such informal structures.5 The economic crisis, however, particularly in Southern Europe, has again shown the extent to which clientelist networks are co-responsible for the political, economic and financial crises in the region, in addition to the populist movements riding on the waves of widespread distrust between political elites and the population at large. However, it would be erroneous to insist only on the negative effects of informal practices or to pretend that the bad informality is only in Eastern Europe or, more generally, in the countries of the “global South”. It would be also completely misleading to put the “negative” conception of informality, usually associated with corruption and clientelism, in the camp of political scientists worrying about democracy and to leave the “good” informality to anthropologists ← 11 | 12 → and sociologists who do not need to deal with a particular function system such as politics.

There is the truism that no organization or democratic state can avoid informal practices, which which make sense only with regard to a formal rule. To put it differently, informality can only exist in the presence of formal rules The meaning of these relations between the informal and the formal changes depending on specific contexts. In fact there is a growing literature, in the context of the established democracies, which analyses informality in terms of informal governance, as a “coping strategy”, particularly of executive authorities confronted with complex situations, which are not at all substituting democratic rules of the game by private ones.6 This changes when moving to the shores of countries with rather authoritarian political regimes such as Russia, where informal as well as formal rules are used to keep the incumbents in power and to control deviant behavior or opposition in society. In such a context it does even not make sense to speak about the danger of informal networks for democracy since the formal legal system is already an instrument of power to avoid democracy. Such informal power networks for political elites should be carefully distinguished from practices and networks at the level of “everyday citizen behaviour”, where they retain a different meaning (“to get things done”).

Informality as Rational Choice in Society

This last remark brings us back to the second objective of this volume, concerning the dialogue between disciplines. As a starting point for such a dialogue, here between political science and anthropology, one could try to overcome a certain number of simplifications and misunderstandings in the way the two disciplines perceive each other. That “top-down” approaches are rather on the side of political science and “bottom-up” approaches are on the side of anthropology may be very often the case but, as such, it induces a wrong opposition and is not helpful. In fact the political science-oriented literature on informal governance precisely focuses on political actors – more specifically on the relationship between the interests ← 12 | 13 → of actors, cultures of informality and formalized institutional contexts. Obviously, the differences between the disciplines with regard to the object of analysis also involve different theoretical and methodological choices, for example the use of a quantitative or a qualitative research strategy.

This being said, the usual level of analysis of institutions-oriented political science is rather on a meso level and on the macro level, whereas anthropology is interested more in the exploration of the micro level. However this does not mean that political science focuses only on the formal structures in society (the political ones) whereas anthropology or sociology would mainly deal with informality. The literature on political informality, whether focusing on democracies, transition countries or on authoritarian regimes, shows that and reveals how political scientists have learned to develop adequate concepts and distinctions to analyse the relationship between formal and informal structures and practices.

On the other hand social and cultural anthropology and interpretative sociology, characterized more by their micro perspective and usually a bottom-up outlook, are making other theoretical and methodological choices with regard to informality. Given this specific approach, data collection in anthropology and interpretative sociology, not surprisingly, is based on techniques specific to qualitative research, such as participative observation, life histories and in-depth interviews. In terms of the analysis of the various forms of informality and their relation to formal structures, anthropology and interpretative sociology tend to employ paradigms based on the concept of Verstehen introduced by Max Weber,7 developed by Alfred Schütz8 and applied to anthropology by Clifford Geertz.9

Clearly, therefore, at the centre of these two disciplines’ interest is the intentionality of action as set forth in Husserl’s phenomenology.10 Thus, the point is to find a behaviour’s underlying sense in line with the social logic of the culture to which the actor belongs. If Geertz is correct in stating that individuals are enclosed in sense-making structures that they themselves have created, yet are never determined by them, then the task of the anthropologist and interpretative sociologist is to reconstruct this sense from the actors’ point of view. This involves understanding, in its Weberian meaning, the actions of actors who are mostly from another culture ← 13 | 14 → and bringing to light the normality of socially and culturally shared representations and behaviours. However, Weber’s understanding must not be confused with the Herderian notion of stepping into the other’s shoes or identifying with the other, nor with the more modern notion of empathy derived from psychology. Understanding means keeping one’s distance – better yet, employing the regard eloigné in line with the principle by which there is no need to be Caesar in order to understand Caesar.11

Therefore, the anthropologist and the interpretative sociologist view informality and its practices, which, to a Western observer, may at first seem primitive, archaic, premodern, if not uncivilized, inacceptable, corrupt, amoral and possibly repugnant, as being neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative and neither functional nor dysfunctional, but simply sensible in a given sociocultural context. Thus, informality, as an alternative to formality, becomes a form of rational choice within a given society or culture.

To exemplify this contextual rational choice, we can mention the case of societies in which the political and bureaucratic apparatus suffer from a permanent legitimacy deficit due to repeated negative collective experiences endured by the community of citizens in the past and confirmed in the present. Ultimately, this lack of trust in formal organizations, of both the state and of civil society, will also characterize the future horizon of expectations. Since these past collective experiences are confirmed in the present, then these societies cannot rationally have any expectation of trust in formality in the future. Individual members of these societies will justifiably choose to organize themselves into action sets, coalitions, factions, groups, and so forth, characterized by informal and highly personalized relationships.12

Informality, therefore, offers the chance to infiltrate the perilous formalized social spaces of the public sphere by means of intelligent and thus sensible strategies and, to a certain extent, privatize them to one’s advantage. However, for the anthropologist and the interpretative sociologist these behaviours are not the outcome of forms of atavism, egoism, familism, nepotism and fatalism or other sociocultural and political deficits. These forms of collective representations and social behaviours are, instead, the logical consequence of a fundamental failure of the formal apparatus of the state and of civil society that has engendered an historical and deep-seated feeling of marginalization. ← 14 | 15 →

Organization of the Volume

The book is organised in three parts. The first deals with rather general, theoretical and comparative perspectives. The second focuses on Central and South-Eastern Europe, and the third brings together contributions focused on post-Soviet countries. There are good reasons for such groupings. In a post-Soviet context, with many countries under the control of rather authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian countries, specific cultures of informality may be expected which are different from those in other regions. Specific forms of informality are defining features of political regimes. Authoritarian regimes show typically more problematic and illegal forms of informality, for example corruption, and networks of power find a natural “biotope” in nondemocratic contexts.

Part I: General and Comparative Perspectives

From the “bottom-up” perspective of the anthropologist, Christian Giordano observes that, in South-East European and Mediterranean societies, what undermines public structures is not so much informality but rather the opposite: an ongoing failing statehood leads to the emergence and proliferation of informality. In this case informality is a lubricant, not a hindrance, in the organization of a society’s public life. The author shows in his historical-anthropological approach that the extent of clientelistic, corruptive and Mafia-like phenomena in public mistrust societies is correlated with a permanent discord between state and society. Informality, then, is an adequate principle of social organization linked to the dreadful experiences that members of a given society have continuously had with the state, both in a recent and distant past. For the actors affected by the permanent disaster of public powers and civil society’s institutions, the persistence, resurgence and expansion of informal behavioural models are simply the outcome of a contextual rational choice.

Nicolas Hayoz picks up this “bottom-up” perspective and tries, in the perspective of political sociology, to integrate it into a more general conception of the formality/informality distinction, where formality is always supposed to generate deviation from formal rules in the form of informality. Informality is the necessary “byproduct” of formality. Moreover, ← 15 | 16 → historically and empirically, one can easily see how and to what extent the normative claims of a formal political order with all its planning, control or repression from “above” has provoked informal answers in form of strategies in order to adapt or undermine the system. Modernity is about balancing order and disorder as well as formality and informality. Quasi-authoritarian countries such as Russia, with their antimodern network structures cannot accept that they control deviation in form of protest through repression and legal means; on the other hand they admit informal deviation “internally”, for example in the form of corruption, which is a core aspect of such regimes.

From a sociological perspective, Anton Sterbling understands “informality” as the subversion of the formal rationality of the modern “legal-rational state” and its institutions via the dominance of personal relations and informal social networks. Against the background of this analytical framework, the author examines typical aspects and consequences of “informality” in South Eastern European societies. The author echoes the conclusions of Christian Giordano and emphasizes historically rooted experiences of “lifeworld” resistance to coercion by foreign or illegitimate rule, to the coercion of authoritarian regimes. On the other hand the author observes, particularly for the postsocialist period, strong “lifeworld” elements in companies and institutions, which are not really in line with the principles of modern institutions and their criteria of rationality and efficiency.

Then Kristof Van Assche, Anastasiya Shtaltovna, Anna-Katharina Hornidge, building on the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann, on institutional economics and on anthropologically-inspired case studies, try to develop a perspective on the dialectics between formal and informal institutions and how it affects the potential for institutional transformation. They illustrate the making and breaking of formality by means of three case studies of evolving spatial governance, in Uzbekistan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia. Each of these cases presents specific configurations of formality and informality, which point to socially more-or-less harmful forms of management between transparency and opacity, certainty and uncertainty. The shadow economy and corruption in Greece is the main focus of the last contribution of this section, Maximos Aligisakis’ study, which examines the Greek case in the context of other European countries (especially Southern Europe and the Balkans). The author tries to explain the reasons for the Greek situation, with its shadow economy and ← 16 | 17 → its form of clientelism, by pointing to the economic and social history of the country. The author identifies in the Greek case the existence of a typical vicious circle where parallel economy and fiscal evasion, corruption and distrust reinforce each other – a cycle that is difficult to break.

Part II: Informality in Central and Southeastern Europe

Part II, focusing on country-specific case studies, opens with Nicole Gallina’s chapter looking at the nature of informal power mechanisms in the Czech Republic. Nicole Gallina argues that informality in this country is systemic without being tied to clans. Rather it is linked with selected elites forming coalitions. The author concludes that informal practices tend to be volatile and are tied to persons, a situation quite different from cases of institutionalized informality such as rule capture in the case of the so-called and rather short-lived “justice-mafia” case. Interestingly, the author points to an informality circle, a game in which the participating elite configurations, interests and objectives change continuously.

Veronika Pasynkova’s chapter is focusing on the analysis of institutionalization of communist legacy in postcommunist politics and labour. The communist legacy is understood as collapsed formal communist institutions and informal relations of late communism. A process of transforming formal and informal institutions after the postcommunist institutional change is considered as synchronization, or balancing, of formality and informality. To illustrate this model, the case of Poland is analysed, including mainly the relationships between the successor party (Social Democracy of the Polish Republic) and the former communist trade unions (All-Poland Agreement of Trade Unions). The analysis demonstrates that they were institutionalized as a result of informalization and formalization of their communist legacy.

In her chapter on the institutionalization of the market order and reinstitutionalization of vruzki (connections) in Bulgaria, Tanya Chavdarova explores the process of institutionalization of market exchange in Bulgaria after 1989. She shows that the formal institutions of market are ineffective in Bulgaria and that informal institutions such as vruzki may produce outcomes that simultaneously converge with and diverge from the ones that formal market institutions aim at. Vruzki practices embody, on the one hand, the principle of reciprocity, which contributes to the deep ← 17 | 18 → social embeddedness of the market economy without undermining it. On the other hand, they may uphold the mode of hidden redistribution, which systematically subverts the market economy. During socialism, the redistributive economy was simultaneously lubricated and subverted by reciprocity and hidden market mechanisms. Chavdarova shows also that the actual market economy in Bulgaria is at the same time sustained and undermined by reciprocity and hidden redistribution.

The everyday culture of informality in postsocialist Bulgarian politics is the subject of Katerina Gehl and Klaus Roth’s chapter. The authors examine the thesis that the (often very conspicuous) informality of most members of the Bulgarian political class and in political culture in general occurs for different reasons and has different social ramifications: it appears to be an integral part of the past and present political culture in South-Eastern Europe in general and therefore deserves closer inspection. They conclude that the South-Eastern European societies and their political cultures are marked by a kind and degree of informality that is very deep rooted and is thus part of their “thick culture”, where informality functions both as a quasi-natural given and as a populist strategy to safeguard legitimacy and support for the political elites.

Edvin Zhllima and Drini Imami look at other forms of informality in the case of Albania: their chapter is about rural land tenure and transactions. Zhllima and Imami discuss the issue of informality within the context of land reform and property insecurity in Albania. The objective of this chapter is to investigate evidence of informality in land tenure and the land market and the strategies applied by rural landowners to face the assorted flawing cases of land transactions. This study explores the reasons and mechanisms behind the emergence of “informal institutions” to address tenure insecurity. It is based on a purposive sample survey that was carried out in various regions of Albania, taking into considerations various types of land distributions.

Adem Beha’s chapter identifies informality in the Serbian parallel structures established under conditions of contested state building in Kosovo. With the withdrawal of Serbian administration from Kosovo, following the international intervention, the United Nation Interim Mission Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) was mandated to operate and extend its authority fully over Kosovo based on the UNSC Resolution 1244. In response to the suspension of sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia over Kosovo by NATO troops through UN Security Council ← 18 | 19 → Resolution 1244, the Serb leadership continued to resist the establishment of new international administration institutions by creating so-called parallel structures. The author shows that while Serbian parallel structures in the eastern and western parts of Kosovo have diminished their presence following Kosovo’s independence, parallel structures, especially in the north, continue to be resilient, stable and resistant to integration as Kosovo institutions.

François Ruegg’s chapter on social representations of informality in the case of the Roma starts with the observation that informality has no value in itself but is defined through its social representation, which can be negative or positive. Since the social status of Roma is that of outcasts, their informality, which is considered to be their major survival strategy, will not be recognized as positive. The author understands informality as part of the Roma’s assigned and assumed identity as well as contributing to forming various stereotypes about the Roma. The author concludes by observing that informality is the very motor of Roma/Gypsies’ refusal to be included in mainstream society. Once formalized, informality becomes a stigma, a formal exclusion from the normal society. The author sees here, in the formalization or stigmatization of Roma informality, a contradictory move: the recognition of any minority goes hand-in-hand with the exclusion of this minority.

Fanny Sbaraglia’s chapter also starts by considering informality as a construction of discourse. The main focus is on the question of how informal networks between individuals have influenced the relationship between the NGOs and state institutions in Romania. Combining three levels of analysis the author tries to understand how the actors of the NGO sector define their sector through their perceptions. Their discourses seem to be based, on the one hand, on the representation they have of each other in the NGO sector and, on the other hand, on their relations with state institutions. Civil society in Romania is a closed sector of people working for different networks.

Political corruption, abuse of office and informal networks in Bulgaria are the subject of Sonja Schüler’s chapter. The author argues that the country`s political and socioeconomic development after the end of socialism has been strongly influenced by factors such as nepotism, clientelism, systems of privileges and loyalties, a culture of personalized informal networks and, last but not least, the consequences of social alienation from politics and the state. The ongoing protests in Bulgaria against political ← 19 | 20 → corruption seem to confirm the author’s conclusion to this analysis: the protest is also about protesting against a regime that is not able to take protest seriously or to realize serious institutional reforms.

Part III: Informality in Post-Soviet Countries

Jonathan Wheatley’s chapter on informal and formal institutions in the former Soviet Union opens Part III, on informality in post-Soviet countries. It investigates the dynamic relationship between formal and informal institutions in the former Soviet Union. Political life in many republics of the former Soviet Union (outside the Baltic region) appears to be conditioned by the informal norms that prevailed during the late Soviet period. The informal institutional framework that prevails is defined by low levels of adherence to formal norms. The chapter shows how formal and informal institutions interact in such a context and looks at how informal institutional change can occur. Democracy is not a likely outcome in such political contexts dominated by informal institutions. The author shows convincingly that the impulse for change must come from outside the governing political elite rather than from within it.

Galina Michaleva’s chapter on the dominance of informal politics in Russia, particularly on the eve of the electoral year 2011–12 looks at the informalization of political parties and civil society in Russia. This trend is considered as result of informal practices, of the informalization of the state under Putin’s rule and of increasingly repressive legal institutions making life difficult for political actors such as parties and NGOs. On the one hand, informal practices are the norm in government and bureaucracy. On the other hand even the opposition is forced into informality – due to increasing repression. Several new laws and other repressive measures were introduced recently and prevent the opposition from using formal/legal measures to express their opposition to the regime. The protest movement in Russia, as it articulated itself in the demonstrations of 2012, can also be considered as protest against this informalization of politics operated by the elites, which need to consolidate their power by establishing “subversive” institutions and by legislatively restricting civil and political activities.

In her chapter on corruption networks in the sphere of higher education in Russia, Elvira Leontyeva examines the embeddedness of corruption in the system of social practices through an analysis of network exchanges in Russian ← 20 | 21 → universities. She shows how important changes to the Russian higher education system have resulted in the growth of informal activity and corruption at universities. Informal practices at Russian universities are distinguished according to a typology correlating corrupt/noncorrupt types with monetary and nonmonetary ones. The author identifies specific forms of informal practices such as blat at the universities – blat in the sense of the shadow exchange of grades. She highlights the fact that, in Russian universities, nonmonetary forms of corruption are much more often in use. Elena Denisova-Schmidt’s chapter tries to explain how unwritten rules can influence human resource management in Russia. The author identifies informal practices in that field and concludes that many practices from the Soviet era have survived and are part of today’s corporate culture. Studying the unwritten and/or unspoken rules that are widely used in Russian personnel management is important in order to understand how to operate more successfully.

In a different context Andrea Friedli looks at the public representation of Tatar ethnocultural youth movements in Kazan. Informal relationships are considered as a “weapon of the weak”. They seem to give the members of the Tatar youth scene and movements access to resources that allow them to represent their identities and interests in the public sphere. In that sense, informal social networks are forms of social capital and, as such, means of social struggle. Abel Polese’s chapter is on the ambiguity and functions of informality exemplified by an analysis of the “running bazar” called the elektrichka, a small train between Odessa and Chisinau. This train is presented as microcosm incorporating many relevant aspects of post-Soviet society, particularly informal practices of the shadow economy, corruption and border problems. The weak state in Ukraine and Moldova is considered as an alimenter for a circle of smuggling and corruption; it seems to enable functioning transactions where people themselves are organizing their welfare without the state, in order “to get things done”.

In his chapter on neopatrimonalism in Azerbaijan Rail Safiyev looks at specific forms of informal practices: power structures in Azerbaijan, which are described as a neopatrimonial form of rule. The author shows how formal structures and informal practices go hand-in-hand in an authoritarian neopatrimonial power structure that is, by definition, highly personalized, allowing the ruler to control his state bureaucracy by informal means (for example by putting people in positions or by transforming positions into material benefit) as well as through formal rules. Clientelism is in fact a key feature of such a system. ← 21 | 22 →

Alexander Iskandaryan’s chapter focuses on the importance of informal institutions for statebuilding in post-Soviet Armenia. The author argues that the nonexistence of formal institutions has led to the creation of substitutes that function, to a certain extent, like formal institutions but which remain informal. On the other hand, the author observes how, during this process of formalization of informal institutions, the informal substitutes change. Changing values in society, together with an emerging middle class, could contribute to the strengthening of formal institutions such as elections and political parties. The author sees, here, a chance for the formalization of informal substitutes.

In the last chapter of this third part, Giga Zedania focuses on the relationship between informality and the question of modernization in the case of Georgia. He parallels the distinction particularistic values/universal values with the informal/formal distinction, and differentiates between two types of informality. The author shows how, in the modernizing and changing context of the Georgian case, the relationship between informality and formality also changes. Distinguishing modernization as an ongoing process and modernization as a project put forward by political elites, Zedania observes how different political contexts produce different forms of informal institutions. He concludes that in the period after the rose revolution, the “top-down” modernization project of the new political elite – imposing new formal institutions – was not and will not be possible without a highly informalized power structure and without (re)producing new informal institutions and practices.


This interdisciplinary exchange of ideas should be more than a dialogue of the deaf. It could open new and more regular lines of communication, thus encouraging a more fruitful interaction between disciplines that are barely on speaking terms and that often disregard each other and which, notwithstanding inevitable and essential epistemological and methodological differences, have marked and significant shared interests such as the comparative analysis of political phenomena in terms of elementary ← 22 | 23 → forms of social organization. This proposal therefore aims to encourage consideration of the relation between informality and formality in a more methodologically pluralist and ultimately more holistic way. This can also be achieved via regards croisés between the various social sciences present in this volume. In conclusion, we hope that our attempt at dialogue will open the way to further dialogue in order to finally establish a permanent bridge between political science, anthropology and sociology, which will allow the extension of this multidisciplinary consideration to other themes and phenomena of shared interest.



ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (November)
anthropology political science sociology
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 494 pp.

Biographical notes

Christian Giordano (Volume editor) Nicolas Hayoz (Volume editor)

Christian Giordano has doctorates in sociology (University of Heidelberg) and anthropology (University of Frankfurt/M.) and an honoris causa doctorate from the University of Timisoara. He is Full Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and a guest professor at the universities of Bucharest, Murcia and the University of Malaya, Asia-Europe Institute. Nicolas Hayoz is an associate professor of political science and the Director of the Interfaculty Institute of Central and Eastern Europe at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). He has published articles on politics and state reform in Eastern Europe. He has conducted research projects in Russia and in Georgia. His research interests include transition studies in Eastern Europe, particularly the transformation process in Russia, political sociology and political theory.


Title: Informality in Eastern Europe
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