Renegotiating Social Policy through Informality: A Post-Socialist Perspective

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:00 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Abel POLESE , Political Science and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia
Borbala KOVACS , Central European University, HI, Hungary
This paper demonstrates that informal practices may allow for the participation of a wide variety of citizens in policy making processes. In particular, it focuses on the renegotiation (at the formal and informal level) of social and welfare policies in postsocialism.

Two main paradigms, informed by development theory, have characterised the study of social policy and welfare in transitional countries. The first one, springing from modernisation theory maintains that developing countries will eventually converge into the path of industrialised ones. As a result, research has been preoccupied with possible areas of interventions, and steps to take, in order to speed up this convergence. This assumption has been challenged by an emerging body of literature that, starting from a post-structuralist perspective, suggest that development patterns may differ geographically and historically and that there are alternatives to capitalism (de Soto 2000, Gibson-Graham 1998).

Gathering evidence from case studies (Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Uzbekistan) a mix of ethnographic methods and national surveys designed by the authors this paper suggests that: 1) citizens unable to use traditional channels (voting) or consolidated tools (contentious politics) may be able to informally renegotiate a policy that they are unable or unwilling to comply with. In this it builds from a long anthropological tradition of unorganised resistance (Scott 1984) to show the role informal practices may have in the renegotiation, or even rejection, of formal policies; 2) the incapacity of a state to act as welfare distributor does not imply automatically lack of welfare tools in that society. By organising themselves, citizens may be able to create parallel structures securing welfare without necessarily passing through the state. In this the paper will start from Polanyi's (1968) distinction between pre-modern and modern economies to critically analyse literature on the lack of structures and social capital in post-socialist spaces.