Comparative Methods in History and Social Sciences: Perspectives on Interdisciplinary Approach Approach

Historians and political scientists often speak about comparative approach to the topic of patronage and clientelism. However, both disciplines understand both their object of research and the comparative research itself differently. Also, the methods they use to make comparisons are also dissimilar. As Vladimir Gel’man from European University at Saint Petersburg and Aleksanteri Institute put it, it is often the matter of choice of the tool “whether a shovel or an excavator”. The workshop Comparative Methods in History and Social Sciences: Perspectives on Interdisciplinary Approach, held by the CCHPS had the scope of bringing together these often disparate approaches to researching patronage and clientelism in comparative perspective.

History has a long tradition of “going comparative”, argued Mikhail Krom from the European Unviersity. This tradition dates back all the way to Marc Bloch and his seminal article on comparison in history. However, the priorities in comparing cases from historical perspective do not replicate those of the political scientists. A historian does not compare cases in order to isolate single causalities across a broad set of subjects. His task is more restricted, to identify new phenomena and to single out similarities and differences between the cases under discussion.

The content of the presentation later moved from introductory discussion of historians’ and political scientists’ vantage points and moved towards case studies. In his presentation, Roberto Dominguez of the European University Institute and Suffolk University in Boston, took under closer look the developments that had changed the landscape of political clientelism in the region, where it had been first identified by the political scientists – Latin America. According to him, since the end of the Cold War, the practices of political clientelism have changed in order to fit the new realities of democratic transition.

On the second day, Mikhail Krom presented a case study of the clientelism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Muscovy, stressing the importance of the interactional aspect of patronage. Patronage and clientelism are not only the matter of simple economic transaction and exchange of resources. At least as important is the conceptualization of the patron-client relationship as an affective tie, a sort of “lopsided friendship”. The local gentry and lower officials in Muscovy, through their ties with the Duma boyars, were able to gain access to resources and achieve preferential treatment in exchange for their support. However, the instrumental character of these ties and the reciprocal qui pro quo were concealed in the correspondence between both parties.

Vladimir Gel’man moved the discussion back to contemporary phenomena and focused on the seemingly paradoxical cases of sub-national authoritarianism in generally democratic states. Moving from the Argentinian local powerholders, he stressed the importance of this phenomenon in the development of 1990s and 2000s’ Russia, where the regional leaders formed their own local political machines, which they used to make a bid for power on a national level. This attempt largely backfired and the administration of Vladimir Putin removed the most powerful regional leaders and centralized power. However, this substitution of local powerholders with successors more loyal to the national center also meant a decrease in the efficiency of the regional political machines, now in service of United Russia party.

David Szakonyi (Columbia University and Higher School of Economics) continued the topic of the political machines by identifying another space for such political activity. As he pointed out, the power that the entrepreneurs and directors of companies exercise over their employees make workplace a perfect target of administration’s attempt to gain votes. Especially by addressing large-scale companies in the localities of limited job opportunities and dependent on state contracts, the administration is able to mobilize large number of voters with selective incentives and punishments.

Another potential space of patronage, as Mikhail Sokolov (European University at Saint-Petersburg) is the field of science and academic institutions. By distinguishing the academic recruitment systems as whether market-based, network-based or bureaucratic, he analyses to the emergence of one or another practice in different context, drawing attention to the possibility of failure of different methods of academic recruitment, such as market failure or network failure. On this basis, he analyses why the “old boys networks” as the means of recruitment withered away in the Anglo-Saxon academia, while there are still preeminent in the Russian scholarly context.

Vera Lebedeva-Kaplan (University of Tel-Aviv) focused on the issue of transposability of concept from the social sciences to history, taking as the basis of this analysis the concept of patronage. Proceeding from the discussion on the generalization inherent in the concept, which tend to become “free-floating” ideas, which are made in the practice of social sciences. On the other hand, the approach of a historian is a reverse one: through combining abstract notions adapted from the social sciences, historians immerse them in the narrative and tailor them according to the historical facts of the sources. Using Kenneth Pike’s distinction between emic and etic explanations, she argues that while the etic approach can be useful for gaining initial thrust of the research, in historian’s practice it is the emic vantage points that allows the narrative to gain more explanatory power.

In her second presentation, she presented case studies of the patronage in the historical societies in the from the end of Tsarist regime towards a new ideological and social order imposed by the Bolsheviks. As she argued, the impact of the revolution on the careers of societies’ members cannot be treated as a simple outcome of their pre-revolutionary political positions. On the contrary, the social ties and patronage they enjoyed largely influenced their further life courses and often allowed the nationalist scholars to keep themselves afloat, while some others – while they were closer ideologically to the new regime – faced demise.

The round table that started the conclusion of the proceedings had a scope of bringing together different views on the comparative research and to link the discussions on the seminar to the experiences of the workshop’s participants with their own research project.

The final part of the workshop was the open seminar (in Russian) with the lecture of Nikolai Mitrokhin (Universität Bremen) concerning the employees of the Central Committee of the CPSU as a social group. According to him, the central party apparatus should was a space that enforced strict and unelastic rules of comportment on individual employees. The social pressure to follow the set rules of behavior (such as dress code, language, behavior both in work and during free time) led to the creation of an insider culture and discipline among the members of the party central apparatus. One of the unwritten rules was preventing of forming cliques (grupirovshchina) within the administration. While this was successful to the extent that no group enjoyed hegemony among the members of apparatus, such cliques nonetheless appeared and constituted - along with ideological cleveages - the fault lines within the party central apparatus. At the same time, while there was the formation of the cliques based on common geographical origin. This also was not always enforced, since part of the employees were returning to the regional apparatus after their experience in the central apparatus and were interested in maintaining the ties with the party activists in their home regions.