Dense and incisive, built around actors’ testimonies and based on solid theoretical foundations, this work by a young scholar of the Manchester Business School innovates in at least two matters. On the first hand, this is the first systematic study of the economy of Tatarstan considered for itself and not in comparison with those of other regions of the Federation of Russia. Coming from a thesis of economic sociology (Kent University), the book uses material collected during a fieldwork in the Volga region (1999-2000). On the other hand, the book provides a salutary inquiry on the validity of the overused paradigms of globalisation (as a process of cultural mixing and of states integration into a common economic space). According to the author, the dominant position of the globalisation theory in all social sciences is linked with the fact that it has been overestimated in the majority of academic works devoted to the economic transition of the post-Communist worlds. Leo MacCann had already presented his view in a collective work with an explicit title: Russian Transformations: Challenging the Global Narrative (London – New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004). Inspired by precursor works by Karl Polanyi, the author replaces the social factor at the centre of economic analysis by taking into account the ethnographic ground of the local population to seize in all its complexity the historical and cultural context in which economic actors are interacting. On this basis, his purpose is to reconsider the neo-liberal assumption of an inescapable transition of post-Communists countries to free market economies. Applied to a specific case, his qualitative investigation focuses on localised forms of development. The author wants to show how both actors’ behaviours, at a micro-social level, and the development of capitalist relations, at an intermediate level, obey to particular logics, historically and territorially determined.
In a first part including the first and the second chapters, the author introduces his own approach and compares it with the general tendencies of economic surveys. Even if one can regret the lack of reference to local scholars, the great quality of the book is to refrain from generalisations based on secondary sources (that is the general way of working for sociologists dealing with these areas) and to deal with the alive and relevant material collected during about fifty semi-directing interviews (with local and Western managers, employees of the industrial complex and heads of small companies). After having explained his method, the author details the various theories of globalisation (that, optimistic, of Anthony Giddens; those, more critical, of neo-Marxist economists for whom globalisation is responsible for the fall of the USSR; last that, particular, of Robert Castell viewing globalisation as a system of inclusion and exclusion). One of the most interesting aspects of the book is made of the explanations given on the respective positions of these theories about Russia’s economic transformation. Concluding that all these (pro or anti) approaches look upon globalisation as a reality, the author focuses on its failures in the case of post-Soviet Tatarstan, and he establishes an interesting distinction between globalisation as a process and as a purpose.
The second part of the book (chapters 3, 4 and 5) uses the collected data to explain a paradox: politically stable, provided with skilled labour, Tatarstan remains until now unattractive for foreign investments. Each chapter is a journey deep into the concrete reality of local economic life. The author successively identifies the informal networks functioning in Tatarstan, the clear outcomes of the regionalisation process and the claims for an autonomous economic development. Weakened by the crisis of its processing industries, Tatarstan is a region where some economic sectors (petro-chemical with Tatneft’, which benefits provide quite all the local budget, and car industries with Kamaz) are considered strategic by the Tatar Republic. For preserving them the local government, instead of applying E. Gaidar’s ‘shock therapy’, has been trying since the 1990 Declaration of sovereignty to get rid of both Russia’s intermediary and the requirements of the world economy. In his description of the constraints upon the economic actors, the author insists on several points: the preservation of state control on industrial production; the permanence of local elites who take profit of benefits gained during privatisation in order to preserve their positions; the central role played by ‘clientelist’ networks and the interrelation of political and economical activities. Dominated by the administrative system led by the President of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, the regional economy seems to exclude itself from the process of commercial globalisation. According to the author, the opening of a second Mac Donald’s restaurant in Kazan brings no change to his analysis. Through protagonists’ testimonies, the informal economy and corruption are resituated in a local context characterised by the opacity of the informational system and by the generalised arbitrary of various administrations, in particular the customs and the tax inspection. Unfortunately, the author too easily sends back such practices to an overall “Soviet heritage,” despite his first intentions of understanding their historical and cultural causes..
In the third part (the last chapter), the author concludes that none of the theories that he has been detailing in his introduction is relevant to deal with the Tatarstan case, which remains outside the international flow of capital, has refused for internal reasons to open itself to world-wide markets, but at the same time cannot be considered a “globalisation loser”. Far from neo-liberal paradigms, the empirical observation reveals the persistence of regional traditions and the primacy of local institutional arrangements. As the Tatarstan example suggests, that does not mean that the post-Socialist world did not become capitalist or cannot develop. Questioning the assumption of an economical convergence towards the Western model, the author supposes the existence, beside the Tatarstan case, of a variety of other capitalisms. The asset of the book is to propose a new schema of interpretation, more attentive to social and local dynamics. One will certainly regret the absence of statistical data, the tedious repetitions, the lack of a historical exploration (especially of the economic autonomy obtained by Soviet republics during the 1970s). Nevertheless, this book offers a stimulating view on post-Soviet economic history, manages to share a passion for Tatarstan, and remains essential for all people interested in the contemporary transformations in the Volga region. (A French-language version of this review has been published in the Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest 37/1 : 195-8.)