Re-Examining the History of the Russian Economy
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Re-Examining the History of the Russian Economy

A New Analytic Tool from Field Theory

Jeffrey K. Hass, Jeffrey K. Hass

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Re-Examining the History of the Russian Economy

A New Analytic Tool from Field Theory

Jeffrey K. Hass, Jeffrey K. Hass

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About This Book

This book explores the application of field theory (patterns of interaction) to Russian economic history, and how social and political fields mediate the influences of institutions, structures, discourses and ideologies in the creation and dissemination of economic thinking, theory and practice. Using focused cases on Russia's economy from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, Hass and co-authors expand the empirical basis of field studies to provide new material on Russian economic history. The cases are divided into two complementary halves: i) The role of fields of institutions, discourses, and structures in the development of Russian economic thought, especially economic theories and discourses; and ii) The role of fields in the real adoption and implementation of policies in Soviet and Russian economic history.

With developed discussion of fields and field theory, this book moves beyond sociology to demonstrate to other disciplines the relation of fields and fieldtheory to other frameworks and methodological considerations for field analysis, as well as providing new empirical insights and narratives not as well-known abroad.

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© The Author(s) 2018
Jeffrey K. Hass (ed.)Re-Examining the History of the Russian Economy
Begin Abstract

1. Fields in Russian Economic History

Jeffrey K. Hass1, 2
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, USA
Faculty of Economics, Department of Economic Theory, St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia
Jeffrey K. Hass
End Abstract
This volume resulted from the collective endeavor of an American sociologist and Russian economists. Despite being in different disciplines, we all share more than one might expect. In a departure from all-too-often interdisciplinary struggles and sniping, we all know the same literature from both disciplines and share a healthy appreciation, and skepticism, for the social sciences. In particular, two shared interests made this volume possible. The first is Russia’s economy—past, present, and future—which drives our research and teaching. Each chapter reflects one facet of our myriad interests in how Russia’s economy has operated, changed, evolved, or broken down. The general, abstract theory of economics and sociology comes alive, warts and all, when we engage that theory with Russia’s reality across the centuries. And we all share the conviction that Russia’s stories have something important to add to human knowledge about economics, just as economics and sociology have something to say about Russia’s experiences.
This brings us to a second shared interest: possible insights and potential of field theory. Hass had been working with variations of field theory since his days in Princeton’s graduate program in sociology in the 1990s, where he learned from one of field theory’s founders, Paul DiMaggio. His dissertation and first project involved fields, habitus, and economic practices in Russia’s post-socialist experience. Members of the Department of Economic Theory of the Faculty of Economics at St. Petersburg State University also knew the work of Pierre Bourdieu, and they had been applying various facets of that framework in their work on religion and economy, Old Believers, the historical roots of Russian economic theory, inflation, and so on. We all found it odd that Russia was absent from the general corpus of field scholarship (but we mention a few exceptions later). In discussions over a few years, we concluded that it was natural to combine our interests, knowledge, and efforts to address this oversight, both to expand the horizons of field theory and to open up Russia’s rich economic history to a new analytic approach—one that retained insights of political economy and appreciated of culture in a non-ad hoc manner. This serendipitous congruence of interests and cross-disciplinary knowledge bred this project.
One of our goals is to bring Russia and fields into closer proximity to see how theory and reality can inform each other. Some of us have written explicitly on fields and Russia, and others’ scholarship has come close enough to these two topics that it was natural for them to take the next step of engaging Russia and fields. We have also not been content with the existing state of affairs in much field theory. Neoinstitutionalist field theory, usually employed to organizational analyses, has worked well for cases of stable capitalist economies (especially the United States), but we suspect that this has also needlessly narrowed the possible territory a field framework could cover. For example, the usual field theory tends to focus on organizational and institutional fields, privileging one particular level of analysis (the “meso”). While we will also engage the meso level here, some authors also point to multiple levels of fields intersecting: for example, fields of interpersonal networks nested inside organizations and institutions still might have their own dynamics as a community of actors oriented to particular rules of engagement and goals of strategies and practices. And inasmuch as institutions can create or shape networks by bringing actors into proximity, network-based fields can in turn affect higher-level institutional fields if those actors have positions or luck to propagate particular rules or ideologies.

Expanding Field Theory, with Help from Russia’s Economic Reality

Field frameworks were embraced in the natural sciences, but in the social sciences and humanities, the pace of development has been slower. Psychologists in the Gestalt tradition grounded their theory in fields of perception, and Max Weber’s sociology has a field logic running through it (Martin 2011). Much social science continues to focus on correlations between actors as bundles of traits essential to that actor (years of education, “gender,” employment) when trying to explain tastes or consumption, careers, wages, and so forth. Studies of policies and development are little different, except actors are not individuals but institutions and the explicandum is economic structure, productivity, or growth. Much scholarly progress was made in this logic of analysis, yet there were limits, such as the persistence of seemingly irrational behavior or the failure of regression to norms (whether economic policies and structures, or everyday practices).
Enter field theory, which made strides after the appearance primarily of Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell’s (1983) famous article in American Sociological Review, Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) study of tastes (Distinction), and Neil Fligstein’s (1990) analysis of corporate strategies and structures. In the 1990s, this spawned follow-up studies and helped generate work in political sociology (cf. Fligstein and McAdam 2012). As field theory seemed to reach a lull , Fligstein and McAdam (2012) and John Martin (2011), drawing on different theoretical traditions, tried to expand the foundations and scope of field theory. Martin has proposed less of a framework than notes toward a framework, and in this work, we draw primarily on neoinstitutionalism and Bourdieu. In the neoinstitutional framework (DiMaggio and Powell 1983, 1991; Fligstein 1990, 2001), which draws in part on Bourdieu and Max Weber, Anthony Giddens’ (1984) structuration theory, and on other strands of structuralist work (in particular, ideas of structural equivalence Harrison White), neoinstitutionalists posit that organizations operate in fields of other organizations, all of whom share an accepted affinity and similar structural locations. Usual economic theory claims that organizations orient primarily to consumers (who make up markets that firms need to service to survive), with competitors and regulatory states shaping the context in which firms address consumers’ wants and needs. While neoinstitutionalists do not deny the importance of consumers and markets, they do not elevate them above states and communities of firms. Rather, organizational elites pay close attention to others in their particular field for ideas to common problems and for legitimacy, and to state and other powerful players (such as financial organizations) that wield legal or dependency power (Roy 1997). Organizational elites then adopt strategies and structures that conform to those of leaders in their field so as to retain legitimacy and a sense that they are playing by accepted rules. These three forms of influence are isomorphic mechanisms (DiMaggio and Powell 1983): mimetic, normative, and coercive.
Neoinstitutionalist field theory is primarily structural and meso-level: actors themselves are buffeted by isomorphic forces within fields. Bourdieu, however, adds actors to his framework to make sense of how collective practices and structures are continuously reproduced in the first place, especially when not everyone in a field is a winner. An important facet of a field framework is how actors are conceptualized. Rather than being a bundle of “preferences” for consumption or gain that a rational agent seeks to maximize, we have actors that are intersections of various relations, which in turn shape that actor’s broader dispositions and knowledge. The usual instrumental approach of microeconomics and much political science, unfortunately, misses two important facets of economic practice: the source of actors’ own preferences and “tool kits” of perceptions and strategic responses, and emergent properties of institutional systems and actors. So, Bourdieu’s schema begins with habitus: crudely put, an individual’s structured knowledge and how to use that knowledge. This constrains and enables how one interprets and responds to the world. A second leg of Bourdieu’s framework is capital, existing resources actors deploy: social (e.g. networks and reputation), economic (money or shares), cultural (tastes and behavioral skills), and symbolic (status symbols, such as credentials). (One could add institutional capital, i.e. formal access to formal rules and organizations.) Bourdieu suggests that how actors use capital depends, first, on habitus—do they know how to gain and use capital—and on the rules of the concrete institutional context that govern the status and use of said capital. This brings in the third leg of Bourdieu’s framework, fields, which are arrangements of actors and rules. (Bourdieu uses two metaphors to illustrate what he means: a magnetic field orienting actors in a particular way, e.g. categories and strategies of action, and a field of battle with actors arrayed in alliances and confrontations.) Behavior in the field is governed by doxa, taken-for-granted rules of entry into and engagement within the field.
These three entities interact in Bourdieu’s framework. Field location shapes an actor’s habitus and capital, the first from experience and the second from rules of resource access. Actors internalize field rules, and resulting habitus influences how they judge and respond to contexts (opportunities, threats, etc.), although habitus does not overwhelm individual agency. This suggests that post-socialist economic change has not been only competing elites and interests. Rather, it has been competing assumptions and knowledge of how a “normal” economy operates, and conflict over ritualizing and normalizing these assumptions—and primacy of particular knowledge, habitus, and capital—in organized fields of property and governance. This suggests that economic organization is not merely the evolutionary emergence of efficient means for producing, trading, and making profit. Rather, economic organization is the institutionalization of norms and logics of what constitutes a “normal” economy. Actors compete and struggle to defend and enforce what they consider to be the ultimate meaning of economic action, which acts as a measuring rod for the status and legitimacy of economic tactics and relations. Victors in such struggles impose their versions of normality via laws, organizational structures and procedures, and arrangements of property ownership. In this regard, post-socialist economic change has been no different than the emergence of capitalism or state socialism. To better understand the post-socialist process, we must broaden our vision, beyond usual political economy of immediate interests of state and business elites, to logics of economic action—logics inculcated in their biographies and manifest in habitus of knowledge, strategies, and practices.
In its neoinstitutional version and to an extent in its Bourdieusian version, fields do not replace institutions or structures. Rather, they add a dimension of real practice. In new institutional economics and much political economy, “institutions” are formal rules and procedures that shape costs and benefits of action; in the sociological understanding, known institutions are also categories and schemas of action, position, and identity. However, these notions are too broad; nearly anything routine, it seems, can be an “institution.” Separating the rule facet from other components would make it easier to p...

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