“Out of the Ghetto”: On the Contribution of Post-Soviet/Russian Studies to Contemporary Political Science

“Out of the Ghetto”: On the Contribution of Post-Soviet/Russian Studies to Contemporary Political Science

Melville A.Yu.,

Dean of Faculty of Social Science, National Research University Higher School of Economics, amelville@hse.ru

elibrary_id: 251142 | ORCID: 0000-0002-1414-5783 | RESEARCHER_ID: B-1152-2014

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2020.01.03

For citation:

Melville A.Yu. “Out of the Ghetto”: On the Contribution of Post-Soviet/Russian Studies to Contemporary Political Science. – Polis. Political Studies. 2020. No. 1. P. 22-43. (In Russ.). https://doi.org/10.17976/jpps/2020.01.03

The article is based on a report by the author at the international conference Regime Evolution, Institutional Change and Social Transformation in Russia: Lessons for Political Science (Yale University, April 27-28, 2018). The author is sincerely grateful for the comments and advice to M. Ilyin, I. Lokshin, B. Makarenko, O. Malinova, M. Mironyuk, N. Petrov, D. Slider, S. Fish, L. Way and other colleagues with whom they discussed manuscript of this article, including during informal seminars at the Department of Political Science of the Higher School of Economics. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers, whose critical remarks I tried, as far as possible, to take into account when finalizing the text for the Polis journal.


The article discusses the relationship between post-Soviet studies of the last three decadesand political science and comparative politics in particular. We provide an analytical overview of majorpublications on (1) preconditions of democracy and democratization, (2) authoritarian modernizationwithout democratic reforms, (3) possibilities and limitations of the institutional approach, (4) role ofthe state and state capacity, (5) varieties of post-Soviet authoritarianism, and (6) subnational politicalprocesses. This analysis demonstrates fruitful interactions between post-Soviet studies and new conceptual and methodological developments in modern political science and comparative politics. 

post-Soviet studies, political science, comparative politics, democratization, authoritarianism, modernization, political institutions, state capacity, subnational political processes.


 A Quarter Century of Post-communism Assessed. 2017. Ed. by M.S. Fish, G. Gill, M. Petrovic. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-43437-7

Back H., Hadenius A. 2008. Democracy and State Capacity: Exploring a J-Shaped Relationship. – Governance; An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions. Vol. 21. No. 1. P. 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0491.2007.00383.x

Bratton M., Chang E. 2006. State Building and Democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Forwards, Backwards, or Together? – Comparative Political Studies. Vol. 39. No. 9. P. 1059-1083. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414005280853

Bunce V., Wolchik S. 2011. Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Post-communist Countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511977404

Burkhardt F. 2017. The Institutionalization of Relative Advantage: Formal Institutions, Subconstitutional Powers, and the Rise of Authoritarian Politics in Russia, 1994-2012. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 33. No. 6. P. 472-495. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2017.1388471

Busygina I. 2016. Putin’s Russia: The State-Building Strategy. – Russian Politics. Vol. 1. No. 1. P. 70-94. https://doi.org/10.1163/24518921-00101004

Busygina I. 2017. How Does Russian Federalism Work: Looking at the Internal Borders in the Russian Federation. – Journal of Borderlands Studies. Vol. 32. No. 1. P. 105-119. https://doi.org/10.1080/08865655.2016.1197790

Busygina I. 2018. Russian Federalism. – Russia: Strategy, Policy and Administration. Ed. by I. Studin. London: Palgrave Macmillan. P. 57-64. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56671-3

Colton T. 2017. Paradoxes of Putinism. – Daedalus. Vol. 146. No. 2. P. 8-18. https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00430

Colton T., Hale H. 2009. The Putin Vote: Presidential Electorates in a Hybrid Regime. – Slavic Review. Vol. 68. No. 3. P. 473-503. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0037677900019690

Diamond L. 2002. Thinking About Hybrid Regimes. – Journal of Democracy. Vol. 13. No. 2. P. 21-35. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2002.0025

Easter G. 2008. The Russian State in the Time of Putin. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 24. No. 3. P. 199-230. https://doi.org/10.2747/1060-586X.24.3.199

Electoral Authoritarianism. The Dynamics of Unfree Competition. 2006. Ed. by A. Schedler. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Fish M.S. 2005. Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511791062

Fish M.S. 2017. What is Putinism? – Journal of Democracy. Vol. 28. No. 4. P. 61-75. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2017.0066

Fish M.S. 2018. What Has Russia Become? – Comparative Politics. Vol. 50. No. 3. P. 327-346. https://doi.org/10.5129/001041518822704872

Foa R. 2018. Modernization and Authoritarianism. – Journal of Democracy. Vol. 20. No. 3. P. 129-140. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2018.0050

Frye T.A. 1997. Politics of Institutional Choice: Postcommunist Presidents. – Comparative Political Studies. Vol. 30. No. 5. P. 523-552. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414097030005001

Frye T. 2010. Building States and Markets After Communism. The Perils of Polarized Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511779718

Frye T. 2012. In From the Cold: Institutions and Causal Inference in Postcommunist Studies. – The Annual Review of Political Science. Vol.15. P. 243-263. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-043010-095817

Frye T. 2017. Russian Studies is Thriving, Not Dying. – National Interest. No. 151. URL: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/russian-studies-thriving-not-dying-22547 (accessed 15.11.2019).

Frye T. 2018. Bringing Kitshelt Back In: A Comment on “Rethinking Structure and Agency in Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics”. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 34. No. 5. P. 348-352. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1518203

Geddes B.A. 1995. Comparative Perspective on the Leninist Legacy in Eastern Europe. – Comparative Political Studies. Vol. 28. P. 239-274. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414095028002003

Gel’man V. 2015. Authoritarian Russia: Analyzing Post-Soviet Regime Changes. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press. 208 p. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt155jmv1

Gel’man V. 2017. Political Foundations of Bad Governance in Post-Soviet Eurasia: Towards a Research Agenda. – East European Politics. Vol. 33. No. 4. P. 496-516. https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2017.1348350

Gel’man V. 2018. Bringing Actors Back In: Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 34. No. 5. P. 282-296. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1493785

Gel’man V., Starodubtsev A. 2016. Opportunities and Constraints of Authoritarian Modernization: Russian Policy Reforms in the 2000s. – Europe-Asia Studies. Vol. 68. No. 1. P. 97-117. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2015.1113232

Golosov G. 2004. Political Parties in the Regions of Russia: Democracy Unclaimed. Boulder: Lynne Reiner. 307 p.

Gontmaher E., Ross C. 2015. The Middle Class and Democratization in Russia. – Europe – Asia Studies. Vol. 67. No. 2. P. 269-284. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2014.1001578

Goodin R.E. 2011. The State of the Discipline, the Discipline of the State. – The Oxford Handbook of Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199604456.013.0001

Greene S. 2015. The End of Ambiguity in Russia. – Current History. Vol. 114. No. 774. P. 251-258. http://www.currenthistory.com/Greene_CurrentHistory.pdf

Greenе S. 2018. Running to Stand Still: Aggressive Immobility and the Limits of Power in Russia. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 34. No. 5. P. 333-347. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1500095

Grindle M. 2004. Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries. – Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions. Vol. 17. No. 4. P. 525-548. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0952-1895.2004.00256.x

Guriev S. 2017. How Transitional Institutions Could Transform Russia’s Economy. – Carnegie Moscow Center. URL: http://carnegie.ru/commentary/74790 (accessed 15.11.2019).

Guriev S., Zhuravskaya E. 2010. Why Russia is Not South Korea. – Journal of International Affairs. Vol. 63. No. 3. P. 125-139. https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/why-russia-not-south-korea (accessed 15.11.2019)

Hale H.E. 2015. Patronal Politics. Eurasian Regime Change Dynamics in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139683524

Hanson S. 2017. The Evolution of Regimes: What Can Twenty-Five Years of Post-Soviet Change Teach Us? – Perspectives on Politics. Vol. 15. No. 2. P. 328-341. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592717000044

Hanson S. 2007. Rationality, Structure, and Agency in Post-Soviet Russian Democratization. – Perspectives on Politics. Vol. 5. No. 4. P. 793-802. https://doi.org/10.1017/S153759270707226X

Hellman J. 1998. Winners Take All: The Politics of Partial Reform in Postcommunist Transitions. – World Politics. Vol. 50. No. 2. P. 203-234. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0043887100008091

Huntington S. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.

Kitschelt H. 1995. Formation of Party Cleavages in Post-Communist Democracies: Theoretical Propositions. – Party Politics. Vol. 1. No. 4. P. 447-472. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068895001004002

Kuran T. 1991. Now Out or Never: The Elements of Surprise in the East European Revolutions of 1989. – World Politics. Vol. 44. No. 1. P. 7-48. https://doi.org/10.2307/2010422

Laitin D. 2000. Post-Soviet Politics. – Annual Review of Political Science. Vol. 3. P. 117-148. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.117

LaPorte J., Lussier D. 2011. What Is the Leninist Legacy? Assessing Twenty Years of Scholarship. – Slavic Review. Vol. 70. No. 3. P. 637-654. https://doi.org/10.5612/slavicreview.70.3.0637

Ledeneva A. 2013. Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511978494

Levitsky S., Way L.A2010. Competitive Authoritarianism: Competitive Authoritarianism After the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 517 p. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511781353

Linz J.J., Stepan A. 1996. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 479 p.

Lipset S.M. 1959. Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. – American Political Science Review. Vol. 53. No. 1. P. 69-105. https://doi.org/10.2307/1951731

Makarenko B. 2012. The Post-Soviet Party of Power. – Russian Politics and Law. Vol. 50. No. 1. P. 54-83. https://doi.org/10.2753/RUP1061-1940500103

Makarenko B. 2015. The Role of Elections in Democracy. – Democracy in a Russian Mirror. Ed. by A. Przeworski. New York: Cambridge University Press. P. 130-146. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107282070

Makarenko B., Melville A. 2015. How Do Transitions to Democracy Get Stuck and Where? – Democracy in a Russian Mirror. Ed. by A. Przeworski. New York: Cambridge University Press. P. 268-297. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107282070

McFaul M. 2018. Choosing Autocracy: Actors, Institutions, and Revolution in the Erosion of Russian Democracy. – Comparative Politics. Vol. 50. No. 3. P. 305-325. https://doi.org/10.5129/001041518822704971

McMann K., Petrov N. 2000. A Survey of Democracy in Russian’s Regions. – Post-Soviet Geography and Economics. Vol. 41. No. 3. P. 155-182. https://doi.org/10.1080/10889388.2000.10641137

Melville A. 2019. The Illiberal World Order and Russian Liberals. – Dimensions and Challenges of Russian Liberalism: Historical Drama and New Prospects. Ed. by R. Cucciolla. Springer. P. 205-221. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05784-8

Melville A., Mironyuk M. 2016. “Bad Enough Governance”: State Capacity and Quality of Institutions in Post-Soviet Autocracies. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 32. No. 2. P. 132-151. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2015.1052215

Moller J., Skaaning S.-E. 2009. “Stateness First?” – Democratization. Vol. 18. No. 1. P. 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2011.532607

Petrov N. 2011. The Political Mechanics of the Russian Regime: Substitutes versus Institutions. – Russian Politics and Law. Vol. 49. No. 2. P. 34-69. https://doi.org/10.2753/RUP1061-1940490202

Petrov N. 2013. From a Federation of Corporations to a Federation of Regions. – Russia 2025: Scenarios for the Future. Ed. by M. Lipman and N. Petrov. London: Palgrave Macmillan. P. 181-201. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137336910

Petrov N., Lipman M., Hale H. 2014. Three Dilemmas of Hybrid Regime Governance. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 30. No. 1. P. 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2013.825140

Reisinger W. 2013. Studying Russia’s Regions to Advance Comparative Political Science. – Russia’s Regions and Comparative Subnational Politics. Ed. by W. Reisinger. London and New York: Routledge. P. 1-24. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203075869

Reisinger W., Moraski B. 2017. The Regional Roots of Russia’s Political Regime. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 268 p. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9281269

Reuter O.J. 2013. Regional Patrons and Hegemonic Party Electoral Performance in Russia. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 29. No. 2. P. 101-135. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2013.780410

Reuter O.J. 2017. The Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 336 p. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316761649

Reuter O.J., Remington T. 2009. Dominant Party Regimes and the Commitment Problem. The Case of United Russia. – Comparative Political Studies. Vol. 42. No. 4. P. 501-526. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414008327426

Roeder P.G. 1994. Varieties of Post-Soviet Authoritarian Regimes. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 10. No. 1. P. 61-101. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.1994.10641378

Ross C. 2011. Regional Elections and Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia. – Europe – Asia Studies. Vol. 63. No. 4. P. 641-661. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2011.566428

Russia: Strategy, Policy, and Administration. 2018. Palgrave Macmillan. Ed. by I. Studin. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56671-3

Simpser A., Slater D., Wittenberg J. 2018. Dead but Not Gone: Contemporary Legacies of Communism, Imperialism, and Authoritarianism. – Annual Review of Political Science. Vol. 21. P. 419-439. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-062615-020900

Smith R. 2006. Candidate Strategies and Electoral Competition in the Russian Federation: Democracy without Foundation. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511510397

Starodubtsev A. 2018. Federalism and Regional Policy in Contemporary Russia. Abingdon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

The New Autocracy. Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia. 2018. Ed. by D. Treisman. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Treisman D. 1996. The Politics of Intergovernmental Transfers in Post-Soviet Russia. – British Journal of Political Science. Vol. 26. No. 3. P. 299-335. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123400007481

Treisman D. 2017. Democracy by Mistake. Working paper 23944. NBER Working Paper Series. https://doi.org/10.3386/w23944

Turovsky R. 2015. The Systemic Opposition in Authoritarian Regimes: A Case Study of Russia’s Regions. – Civil Society Awakens? The Systemic and Non-Systemic Opposition in the Russian Federation: National and Regional Dimensions. Ed. by C. Ross. London: Ashgate.

Turovsky R., Gaivoronsky Y. 2017. Russia’s Regions as Winners and Losers: Political Reasons and Outcomes in the Distribution of Federal Transfers. – European Politics and Society. Vol. 18. No. 4. P. 529-551.


Way L.A. 2015. Pluralism by Default: Weak Autocrats and the Rise of Competitive Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Way L., Casey A. 2018. The Structural Sources of Postcommunist Regime Trajectories. – Post-Soviet Affairs. Vol. 34. No. 5. P. 317-332. https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1494959

Way L., Levitsky S. 2006. The Dynamics of Autocratic Coercion after the Cold War. – Communist and Post-Communist Studies. Vol. 39. No. 3. P. 388-410. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postcomstud.2006.07.001

\White D. 2018. State Capacity and Regime Resilience in Putin’s Russia. – International Political Science Review. Vol. 39. No. 1. P. 130-143. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192512117694481 

Content No. 1, 2020

See also:

Kozyreva P.M., Smirnov A.I.,
Shifts in the public life and the problem of democracy support in Russia. – Polis. Political Studies. 2013. No5

Makarenko B.I.,
Post-soviet party of power: the «United Russia» in a comparative context. – Polis. Political Studies. 2011. No1

Bezvikonnaya Ye.V.,
Systemico-Synergetic Model of a Political System. – Polis. Political Studies. 2009. No3

Smorgunov L.V.,
Political event analysis and its significance for modern comparative political studies. – Polis. Political Studies. 2011. No1

Round Table of the «Polis» Journal, Gaman-Golutvina O.V., Avdonin V.S., Sergeyev S.A., Chernikova V.V., Sidenko O.A., Sokolov A.V., Evdokimov N.A., Tupaev A.V., Slatinov V.B., Zhukov I.K., Kozlova N.N., Rassadin S.V., Chugrov S.V.,
Regional political processes: how «subjective» are subjects of the RF. – Polis. Political Studies. 2013. No5

Screen version