An Institutional Logics Perspective on Civic Organizations in Russia

On 28 October, the Centre for Comparative History and Political Studies hosted a lecture by Dr Sarah Spencer, titled “An Institutional Logics Perspective on Civic Organizations in Russia”.

  • Sarah Spencer - PhD in Sociology, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Higher School of Economics; specializes in research in the fields of sociology, anthropology and organization studies.

At the seminar, Sarah Spencer presented the findings of her current research project. In her research, Dr Spencer studies civic organizations in Russia, their nature and the type of the relationship between their members. In her previous research, Sarah Spencer explored social relations in post-Soviet societies in terms of how the national and organizational culture influence their development. As a result, Dr Spencer found that the majority of public organizations in Russia were influenced by the cultural heritage of patronage and personalism, i.e. they were Soviet-style groups. According to Spencer, the reproduction of these cultural norms led to the freezing of social capital, rather than to the development of a democratic society.

Based on these findings, Spencer together with Irina Skalaban and students from the NSTU conducted new research about NGOs in Novosibirsk (2010). 50 semi-structured interviews were collected. However, Dr Spencer reconsidered the theoretical model of her research in 2014. She was inspired by Patricia Thornton’s theory called "The Institutional Logics Perspective " (2012). Sarah Spencer rethought empirical data through the prism of Thornton’s theory, placing her preliminary research results within the frame of neoinstitutional logics in order to better understand the impact of cultural institutions on individuals, organizations and on society.

As a result, Sarah Spencer identified several reasons for the emergence of non-governmental organizations: family culture, community, reciprocity, social entrepreneurship and state logic. All of them may induce people to start working there. According to Spencer, generally there are four types of organizations based on two parameter

-          formal / informal,

-          member orientation (D. North logic)/ other orientation (R. Putnam logic).

The lecturer emphasized that the models of leadership in these types of organizations are different.
However, the main finding made by Spencer was the definition of Russian civic organizations logics, for instance, "us vs them" and "non indifferent vs professionals." Thus, the dichotomies describe two types of non-governmental organizations: collective vs team, which corresponds to two types of logic: the non-market and the market. Collective logic (“логика коллектива”) is the logic related to the soviet past that is why it is non-market, team logic (“логика команды”) is the logic which appeared after the USSR collapse. The word “team” has a western (“capitalist”) meaning to it. However, these dichotomies are not related to the official types of commercial and non-commercial organizations, because both of them can use the market logic according to circumstances and ignore their officially registered status. Furthermore, according to Sarah Spencer, the most significant aspect defining Russian civic organizations is a kind of leader, as he/she sets an agenda and forms the pattern of development for the civic organization. The discussion that followed the seminar raised the issue of the compatibility of institutional logics in various types of organizations, touched upon the characteristics of Spencer’s research sample, and the propensity of various social organizations to support the state logic, which means the significant impact of the legislation on civic organizations.