Russia Between System Catastrophes and Evolutionary Transformations: Aspects of Political Ontology

Russia Between System Catastrophes and Evolutionary Transformations:
Aspects of Political Ontology

Efremenko D.V.,

Dr. Sci. (Pol. Sci.), Deputy Director of the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.,

elibrary_id: 101363 |

Dolgov A.Yu.,

Cand. Sci. (Soc.), Senior Researcher, Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

elibrary_id: 622383 |

Evseeva Ya.V.,

Researcher, Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

elibrary_id: 638404 |

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2017.05.03

For citation:

Efremenko D.V., Dolgov A.Yu., Evseeva Ya.V. Russia Between System Catastrophes and Evolutionary Transformations: Aspects of Political Ontology. – Polis. Political Studies. 2017. No. 5. P. 24-42. (In Russ.).


The article considers issues of social and political transformations in Russia in the late 1980s – early 2000s. It analyzes the historical forks on the road that determined the catastrophe of the Soviet state and the establishment of neopatrimonialism in post-Soviet Russia. Issues of institution building, the dichotomy of structure and agency, as well as the role of network interactions are discussed in the theoretical context of political ontology. The authors show that the social and political dynamic of the perestroika era is broadly consistent with the logic that leads to the onset of a “critical juncture” in the functioning of Soviet political system. The weakening of the rigid hierarchical structure of governance created suitable conditions for new actors (individual as well as collective) to enter the political arena, and the scope of their activities was rapidly expanding. It is equally important that the Soviet system was permeated with a multitude of informal network interactions providing circulation and reallocation of resources. Those interactions ultimately transformed the essence of the system, reconciling the official ideology and repressive practices with the realities of late sovietism. As a result, by the time the USSR disintegrated, an utterly unstable institutional constellation had taken shape, in which informal institutions mostly served as mechanisms correcting the actions of formal ones. Demanding the ”return of the state” at the end of the 1990s mainly had to do with the fact that further expansion of informal institutions and relations could transform from a mechanism of reducing uncertainty into a source of generating new social risks. Meanwhile, in high demand was the ability of a political leader on top of the power hierarchy to manage uncertainty and risks, even if it was exercised by using a combination of formal and informal institutions. In fact, in the late 1990s – early 2000s a request was fulfilled for system stabilization, establishment of generally understandable and acceptable ”rules of the game”, besides in a compromise version, excluding property redistribution, as well as ”privatization” of the state by particular network structures. In general, this regime transformation is a milestone that should be regarded not as a mere change of political leadership, but as a negotiation of the critical phase of post-Soviet development and the onset of a historically long stage characterized by a relative balance between hierarchy and networks, formal and informal institutions, agency and structure.

collapse of the Soviet state; neopatrimonialism; formal and informal institutions; hierarchy and networks; structure; agency; social and political ontology.


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Content No. 5, 2017

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Starikov Ye.N.,
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