The vast literature on informality that has emerged in the past ten years can be regarded as supporting two opposite positions. One approach tends to condemn informality or at least classify it as a transitional phenomenon given its alleged negative effects on a number of aspects of public life (Acemoglu & Verdier, 2000; Bhattacharyya & Hodler, 2010; Johnson, Kaufmann, & Zoido-Lobaton, 1998; Kaufmann, Kraay, & Mastruzzi, 2010; Rothstein & Teorell, 2008). The second one concentrates on dynamics and mechanisms to understand and explain it, while also debating its relationship with the market and society (Gudeman, 2001; Hann & Hart, 2011; Sahlins, 1976).
Recent writing on informality has gone beyond both a mere economic view and, drawing on early works of Granovetter (Granovetter, 1985), and rediscovered its interconnection with social phenomena (Gudeman, 2001; Yalçın-Heckmann, 2014) to propose a more holistic interpretation of the meaning of informality and its influence in various spheres of life (Helmke & Levitsky, 2004; Isaacs, 2011; A. Ledeneva, 2009; A. V. Ledeneva, 1998; Misztal, 2000; Morris, 2011).
The post-socialist world has provided one of the largest empirical contributions to informality (Giordano & Hayoz, 2013; Morris & Polese, 2014, 2015; Polese, 2014, 2015; Polese, Morris, Kovács, & Harboe, 2014; Round & Williams, 2010). However, in many respects the Caucasus region has remained largely underexplored. While sporadic chapters and articles have engaged with a broad informality framework (Aliyev, 2014; Rekhviashvili, 2015), a larger body of research has tended to take a normative stance against informality in the region, primarily focusing on corruption (Engvall, 2012; Kupatadze, 2012), nepotism and the lack of bridging social capital (CRRC, 2011). In this context, we feel that the specificities of the region are such that more efforts need to be devoted to a debate on local issues, before or while engaging with a broader audience.
We propose to do that through a two-fold approach. First, we intend to explore the evolving role of informal practices in the Caucasus region to further feed into scholarly debates on informality, especially given the role that informality has been playing as a socially and culturally embedded phenomenon, throughout the pre-Soviet, Soviet (Dragadze, 1988; Mars & Altman, 1983) and post-Soviet periods (Aliyev, 2015). Second, we propose to focus on informality as a determinant of social organisation, thereby also looking at the way it shapes and reshapes social resistance against symbolic and real political order(s). By doing this, we expect to challenge some recent tendencies to “orientalise” Caucasian societies as overly traditional or insufficiently modern, and to understand better the complex (social, cultural, political, and symbolic) roles, values and meanings of informal practices in the region.
The focus we have chosen, informality and power, allows us to approach the topic from a standpoint that goes beyond the economic rationale. We suggest that a Polanyian analysis of embedded economies versus dis-embedding processes of marketization can allow us to move beyond reductionist and functionalist portrayals of informal economic practices. Moreover, a Polanyian institutionalist perspective can offer a theoretical footing to map and analyse different integrative modes alongside markets, such as reciprocity, redistribution and household economy, that informal practices inhibit (Hillenkamp, Lapeyre, & Lemaître, 2013; Polanyi, 1957, 1968). Informality is, in our view, embedded in social and cultural relations and sometimes used as a currency that is even more important than money, that holds symbolic power and that can be exchanged in a short-term logic (i.e., gift exchange, bribery, favours) or a long-term one (non-reciprocated favours that create a debt/credit towards someone, actions that increase respectability or “honour” of a person or that bring other kinds of advantages). The primary focus will be on the Caucasus, but we foresee being able to accept a paper or two from a neighbouring country (Turkey, Iran) if this allows us to draw parallels with some institutions or norms present in the region.
We are looking to explore modes and expression of informality in the Caucasus region from a variety of perspectives. Informality has been approached from micro and macro points of view and this special issue is intended to provide a number of accounts locating informality in the Caucasus region. By doing this we expect to:
- provide empirical evidence on the ways informal practices emerge, develop and persist in a variety of countries, regions and spheres of life;
- frame the case studies provided in a broader theoretical approach that mediates between global, regional and local scholarship of informality, thus contributing to locating the informal practices observed in this special issue in the global literature on informality
- where possible, we look to enhance a policy dialogue so to provide some insights on informal practices that may be used as a starting point by decision makers and analysts when proposing measures to tackle, liquidate or formalise informality in the region.
Scope and aim of the call
We are currently looking for 1-2 articles to expand the content of this special issue. The regional focus can range from the Northern and Southern Caucasus to neighbouring areas (Iran, Turkey, Iraq), as long as they are relevant to the Caucasus region. There is no limitation to the topic but the article should provide some novel case study, embedded in informality theory (for a review see Willias, 2013), so to advance the debate on the post-Soviet region and beyond on informality.
If interested, please contact the guest editors to agree on a topic and/or submit an abstract by the 31st October 2015. Papers should be in the region of 8,000 words and use the journal's citation style. For relevant information on style and submission procedure, please see the instructions for authors here.