The workshop “Boundaries of the public and private within institutions and organizations in the (former) socialist space”

The two-day workshop “Boundaries of the public and private within institutions and organizations in the (former) socialist space” was successfully held at the CCHPS on 7-8 May 2015. Four scholars from diverse academic fields took part in the workshop with lectures about publicness and buget-ness in Russia, the role of social capital in Russia, the relationship between Islamic scholars and state authority in Central Asia and specific features of the Uzbek civil service. Despite the difference of topics, all of the presentations were related by the concept of public and private.

The first lecture “Publicness and Budget-ness: Public finance and the institutional roots of Russian Governmentality” was held by Barbara Lehmbruch from Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Dr Lehmbruch showed that in accordance with T.H. Rigby’s interpretation of the public and private spheres within the Soviet system, the post-communist transition, and in particular the privatization of industry, has been seen as the creation of “public” and “private” actors in place of the old “mono-organizational” state-cum-society mix. The lecturer argued that an overly simplistic understanding of Soviet society as “mono-organizational” may keep us from understanding the complex nature both of the Soviet past and of the administrative transition. According to Dr Lehmbuch, in actual reality, underneath the “single overall command” claimed by Rigby lay deep institutional divisions. Rather than a single form of organization extending across the whole of society, there were clearly separate organizational spheres within the command economy, often associated with the mode of financing (budgetary vs. self-funded or cost-accounting based). In the lecturer’s opinion, distinctions of this kind were not merely formalistic but instead proved extraordinarily consequential both on a structural and on a normative level. Even more importantly, Soviet notions of publicness deeply influenced post-Soviet reactions of what were, and what were not, considered legitimate spheres of activity for public organization.

The second lecture “Voice and exit types of social capital and their role in urban development in Russia” was given by the Russian economist Leonid Polishchuk from HSE. Prof. Polishchuk focused on social capital, defining it as a capacity for collective action. In his opinion, societies can respond to governance failures by two types of collective action. One, powered by civic culture, aims at improving democratic accountability of the government, whereas another one, powered by apolitical “horizontal” social capital, directly tackles the problems caused or left unattended by the government, without attempting to discipline the latter. The professor argued that the latter type of social capital could have a “dark side” by further weakening performance incentives of public servants. This view sheds light on the interplay between different stripes of social capital and was tested on the Russian city-level. It showed that more civic of Russian cities are better governed and their residents have higher life satisfaction, whereas the prevalence of “horizontal” social capital is associated with poorer local governance and lower life satisfaction.

The third seminar “The Sovereign and the Sage: The paradoxical relationship between Islamic scholars and state authority in Central Asia (1747 - 1917)” was far from topics about Russia and the Soviet Union but also focused on the specific features of public and private in non-Western societies. The seminar was held by James Pickett from Princeton University. The lecturer showed the relationship between state and non-state actors in early modern and colonial Central Asia. He traced several families of Islamic scholars who rose to prominence through alliances with the political elite, which in turn allowed themselves to establish family dynasties lasting over a century. He claimed that even as Islamic scholars depended on the Turkic military elite for patronage, however, they imagined their moral universe to be separate and superior. This remarkable disconnect between ideology and practice meant that Islamic scholars often undermined the very power on which they relied. As James Pickett announced, his findings can help to illuminate the question to what  extent a public-private distinction relates to the temporal-religious power model of the pre-modern Central Asian world.

The last presentation “Discrepancies between the apparent and the real in the Uzbek civil service” was held by the workshop initiator Jesko Schmoller from the CCHPS. The lecturer demonstrated the existence of a patronage relationship between ustoz and shogird (the master and apprentice or mentor and protégé) in the civil service of present-day Uzbekistan. That phenomenon (ustoz and shogird) is known from the handicraft sphere and the Muslim brotherhoods of Central Asia but seems to have found its way into the administrative realm during the times of Russian Tsarist rule in the region. Dr Schmoller argued that the relationship between ustoz and shogird is determined by loyalty and trust, but that there is also evidence for the exploitation of this institution by young employees eager to make a career. Finally, the lecturer introduced the concept of performance to make better sense of what goes on in the civil service. He suggested to rethink the concept in order to move it away from deception and closer to tradition and ritual.