ABSTRACT

Introduction: the durability of transition theory All forms of economic reform led by global institutions are, at their heart, aimed at marketisation. The creation, or realigning, of economies towards the market has been the cornerstone of meta-global policy from Latin America in the early 1980s, to Eastern Europe later in the decade, in the post-Soviet states during the 1990s and to the responses to Europe’s financial crisis from 2008 onwards. This is because there is a fundamental belief that market-led reforms such as the deregulation of the economy, the withdrawal of state involvement and the opening up of the market will lead to both growth and a ‘trickle down’ of the benefits to the majority. In return for financial assistance from organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF ), often desperately needed to pay debt obligations or social welfare transfers such as pensions, countries agree to wideranging market-oriented reforms. Almost always the reforms involve measures such as the privatisation of state assets, the liberalisation of the economy, deregulation and austerity. From the mid-1980s, states undertaking such reforms came to be known as ‘transition’ countries as they were moving from one economic system, be it from military-based governance, a command economy or a mismanaged state heading towards bankruptcy, towards a market economy. In other words, they were transiting from one economic form to another, with a starting and an end point when the reforms are complete. The role of this chapter is to provide a critique of the notion of transition, concentrating on three interlocking points. First, the very idea of transition is extremely flawed as it suggests that the concept of the perfectly working market economy actually exists outside of the textbook (for a discussion on the varieties of capitalism in operation, see Lane 2007). From this, therefore, there is an end point at which reforms will be complete. It also

suggests that all starting points are the same, and that economic geographies and histories are irrelevant. Second, the social costs of such reforms are almost always ignored. While there is an acknowledgement that there will be short-term social ‘costs’, it is assumed that as the market develops, the majority will benefit. As this book shows, depending on the criteria you take, this is simply not the case. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the role of informal practices within everyday life is simply not acknowledged in such reforms. This is the case at all scales, be it the practices used by business people to grab the benefits of privatisation schemes or the informal coping practices used in everyday life by the economically marginalised. Given that within the social sciences there has been considerable critique of transition theory, it might seem that the book is setting up a ‘straw man’ to knock down. Here, therefore, it is important to demonstrate why discussions on its use are still of vital importance to understanding everyday life in post-Soviet spaces and the nature of informal practices. Pickles and Smith (1998: 2) were among the first to develop a systemic critique of transition theory. As they state,

Transition is not a one-way process of change from one hegemonic system to another. Rather, transition constitutes a complex reworking of old social relations in the light of processes distinct to one of the boldest projects in contemporary history – the attempt to construct a form of capitalism on and with the ruins of the communist system.