- A Law & Society Take on Legality in the Former Soviet Union:An Introduction to the Special Issue
This special issue, along with the forthcoming issue of Europe-Asia Studies,1 brings together the work of established and early-career social scientists who write about the post-Soviet region from the law & society perspective. The core premise of law & society scholarship is simple: it focuses not on the letter of the law but on the many ways that the law shapes, and is shaped by, social processes, actors, and institutions. Macaulay, Friedman, and Mertz explained it as the "outside point of view" on "law, legal systems, and legal institutions," which stands in ostensible contrast to the "inside perspective," which focuses on legal processes "the way that lawyers and judges usually see them" and "accepts them more or less at face value" (2007: 1).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the primary geographic focus of North American law & society scholarship is the developed West. Thus, in the last thirty years, the dedicated section of the American Sociological Association has awarded its annual prizes to only two articles written by graduate students and one authored by a faculty member with a focus on the Global South. While the Law & Society Association has a stronger international orientation than its sociological counterpart, it has not fared much better: since the mid-nineties, only five of its book prizes (awarded often to two books a year) have recognized studies of non-Western countries. Notably, none of these award-winning studies have focused on the former Soviet bloc or Central and Eastern Europe.2
Despite this lack of formal recognition, a number of talented scholars (primarily in political science) have applied the law & society framework to analyses of the former Soviet bloc. The most prominent studies within this body of work include Kathryn Hendley's work on courts (2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2017); Alena Ledeneva's scholarship on [End Page 3] petty law-breaking and informal exchange systems (1998, 2006, 2008, 2013); Vadim Volkov's research on illegal and extra-legal entrepreneurship and provision of private security (2000a,b, 2004a,b, 2016); Marina Kurkchian's work on Russian legal culture (2007, 2009, 2011); Peter Solomon's (1995, 2005a,b, 2007), Brian Taylor's (2006, 2011, 2014), and William Pridemore's (2002, 2005a, 2005b, 2006) analyses of crime, deviance, and criminal justice practices in the region; and Kim Lane Scheppele's work on the rule of law and democratization (1999a, 1999b, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2015). A crop of these and other scholars' students—now established researchers themselves—have also engaged in critical sociolegal analyses of the region's courts (Marat 2010, 2012; Trochev 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014), policing practices (McCarthy 2015; Marat 2010, 2018; Light 2013, 2014), informal economies (McMann 2015; Osipian 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017), property rights (Gans-Morse 2012, 2017; Serban 2019), legal careers (Wilson 2017), and a host of other law-related topics.
The marginal status of Eastern Europe-focused research within the institutionalized field of law & society in the United States is hardly a reflection on the quality or promise of this scholarship. Rather, it stems from the widely acknowledged parochialism of American sociology, which remains the primary disciplinary home of law & society (Armer 1987; Dodoo 2005; Calhoun 2007; Kurien 2015). Sociology's ethnocentricity is exacerbated by the post-Cold War fatigue with the region in the academy and beyond: since the mid-nineties, Russian and Eastern European Studies programs in Western universities have experienced a substantial decline in funding and enrollment levels, while the attention of scholars and policy-makers has shifted from the former Soviet bloc to the Middle East, China, and Africa (Redden 2013).
At the same time, this marginality also suggests that law & society students of the post-Soviet region have not yet established a shared identity that would make them recognizable to the rest of the field for their theoretically unique, surprisingly coherent, and highly policy-relevant contributions. The primary goal of this special issue, then, is to create a dialogue between several socio-legal scholars of the former Soviet bloc, some of whom have already had a strong impact in their respective disciplinary fields and some of...