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Informality in Eastern Europe

Structures, Political Cultures and Social Practices

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Edited By Christian Giordano and Nicolas Hayoz

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.
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Informal and Formal Institutions in the Former Soviet Union

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Introduction

Institutions are the rules and norms that determine the incentive structures that, in turn, condition human behaviour in the political, social and economic arenas. Douglass North defines institutions as “the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, … the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” and “structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic” (North, 1990: 3), while for Helmke and Levitsky (2004: 727) institutions are “rules and procedures (both formal and informal) that structure social interaction by constraining and enabling actors’ behavior.” Institutions can be formal or informal: formal institutions are (normally codified) formal rules, laws and procedures “that are created, communicated, and enforced through channels widely accepted as official” (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004: 727). In the political sphere they include rules that regulate how power is to be divided between executive, legislative and judicial branches of power (constitutional laws) or that determine how courts, elections and markets are to be run. Informal institutions, on the other hand, are “socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels.” (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004: 727).

Helmke and Levitsky developed a fourfold typology of informal institutions based on two dichotomous variables: (i) whether existing formal institutions are effective or ineffective, and (ii) whether the goals pursued by actors that use a particular informal institution are compatible or in conflict with the expected outcome that would be obtained were the formal rules to be...

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