Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

From Transformation to Idiosyncratic Modernisation Shifting Analytical Perspectives on the Re-Shaping of Central East and East Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

From Transformation to Idiosyncratic Modernisation Shifting Analytical Perspectives on the Re-Shaping of Central East and East Europe

Article excerpt


The 20th anniversary of the fall of the socialist systems in East, Central East and Southeast Europe marks an important branching out of a research field which has accompanied public discourse for a long time. During the past years, the general view on the phenomenon of transformation (or transition, as the terminology of Anglo-American social science has it)1) has developed in a twofold way: One group of discussants envisage the transformation of centrally planned systems towards market economies to have come to an end several years ago. Therefore, they feel that research on transformation be outdated. Hence, it would be unnecessary to continue it in the long run. Another group point to the fact that, up to date, the 'old systems of the East' have kept leaving their imprint on newly globalising societies and new 'varieties of capitalism' (Hall/Soskice, 2001). As a result, many new structures would keep being influenced by the heritage of socialism, yet in a more indirect and sophisticated way (cf. Kornai 2006). At least, they would be composed of heterogeneous elements which cannot be fully explained by the older idea of a complete replacement of systemic elements. According to this group, it is justified to persistently raise questions about path dependencies, in particular about the passing-on of ideas, the significance of perpetuated institutions and patterns of behaviour, and the emergence of hybrid formations of social practice - oscillating between 'Western' modernisation, everyday resistance against the impositions of globalisation, and nostalgic re-inventions of tradition.

However, the debate is not only characterised by this basic philosophical controversy. There is even more tension due to very different interpretive frameworks, empirical foci and basic ways of conceptualising change. The individual concepts focus on such diverse issues as structural and socio-economic elements of change, socio-political elements which refer to state-society relationships, institutional and governance-related elements, and cultural items in different fields of social life. As these frameworks tended to develop mutually exclusive views on transformation, a number of research gaps have emerged which are still waiting for being bridged. In spite of the fact that many focused approaches lack a comprehensive understanding of transformation, the gaps they created virtually circulate around the fundamental controversial question of structural convergence vs. structural and cultural hybridisation.

This paper undertakes a short critical appraisal of the basic ideas, the changing orientations and the yields of transformation studies. Due to the limitations of this text format, it cannot be exhaustive or go into too many details. At least, it will line out the major periods of research which display distinct arrays of basic assumptions, theory building and problems under scrutiny (chapter 2). It will then give an overview over the most important achievements (chapter 3), followed by an account of the remaining gaps of empirical research and theory-building (chapter 4). The final chapter will sketch a number of important strands of future research and give hints at problems of social and economic differentiation which will require continued reference to the socialist and post-socialist past. It ends up in a postulate for becoming aware of the ever more sophisticated logics of post-transformational development which can only be understood if persisting traits of former historical stages of transformation are reconsidered.

Stages of research on societal transformation, 1990 - 2010

During the 1990s, academic debates on post-socialist restructuring made use of any notion which promised to give apt descriptions of the enormous project of giving up centrally planned economies and introducing capitalist market economies. Very broad and general terms, such as transition, restructuring, transformation etc. were taken from other fields of knowledge in order to fit into the new frameworks of analysis centred on post-socialism. …

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