Seminar on social ties in the study of post-communism at Uppsala

Post-communist economies and societies over the past 25 years have often been described by the metaphors of “clans” and “fiefs”: dense interpersonal networks allegedly compensating for the fragility of formal institutions. Yet at the same time, surveys have shown, levels of interpersonal as well as institution-based trust remain comparatively weak throughout the region. How does this fit together?

An explanation for the prominence of networks metaphors can be found in the intellectual history of the field.  Although self-described as determinedly empirical, the “clan” paradigm is crucially shaped by its origins in the analysis of East Asia, as well as by its use as an ideal-typical opposite of modern market contracting in the “markets and hierarchies” tradition. Both of these factors have fostered a sometimes rosy view of networks as stable, dense and exclusive, and hence, capable of supplying missing social order.

The strength of this paradigm has diverted attention from the potential role of a more fragile form of networks centred around uncertainty. Although interactions are indeed personalized, interpersonal trust often has failed to compensate for missing institutional safeguards. Rather, actors have developed coping strategies: on the one hand vertical integration, on the other hand a hedging strategy of purposeful network redundancy. Even if trust and enforcement remain low, actors can minimize the harm of default by maintaining multiple ties.

About the speaker:

Barbara Lehmbruch is a researcher at UCRS. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Previously, she has taught in the Netherlands, Germany, and Georgia, and also worked as project manager and expert for both the European Commission and USAID. Her main fields of research are in post-communist political economy and public administration.