Introduction: to the Undiscovered Country: a journey through post-socialism
Russia’s journey to its post-socialist Undiscovered Country is a laboratory of social change and an opportunity for theory and data to interact, to enrich analyses while concurrently improving theory and leaping beyond present confines. The death of Soviet socialism and birth of Russian post-socialism as project and journey involved remaking and imposing narratives while reconstructing fundamentals of power and authority, culture and meaning, and everyday practices.6 In fact, this has been two journeys: that of Russians, and all those who experience social change; and that of theory. The usual analysis of post-socialist economic change involves identifying elite alliances and conflicts, laws and institutions, state capacity, and financial structures.7 The Soviet/post-Soviet crisis was primarily financial and legal, to be solved with liquidity, financial controls, and smarter laws. Weakened control of rubles and resources in the late 1980s unraveled the Soviet economy; inflation, taxes, and capital hunger forced firms to use barter, avoid formality, stay small, follow short-term planning, and avoid major changes in production and output. I do not deny these are important pieces of the puzzle as to why and how post-socialist change-or any change-occurs; but such accounts are at best incomplete, at worst misleading on sources and mechanisms of action. Concretely, such explanations of post-socialist change and economic change generally 1) too readily assume the primacy of instrumental action and rationality, to the neglect of meaning-laden action or multiple rationalities, 2) fixate on how contexts (e.g. laws or finances) shape actors and actions without sufficiently examining how actors negotiate these in the first place, and 3) take “institutions” for granted rather than problematize them. To make sense of our stories, we must look beyond macrolevel indicators or “institutions” and explore dimensions of power, culture, and practices, and how these are intertwined.