CFP: Studies of Transition States and Societies – June 2020 issue

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Call for papers: Informality and Development (rolling deadline, we will consider papers submitted until the 30th of November 2019)

Studies of Transition States and Societies – June 2020 issue

Studies of Transitions States and Societies is an open access, APC-free, bi-annual journal published by Tallinn University. Published since 2009 it is already indexed in Scopus, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), EBSCO, ProQuest, Central and Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL) and the International Political Science Abstracts (IPSA).

You can look at our authors and their contributions here: http://publications.tlu.ee/index.php/stss/

We are currently looking for contributions for our June 2020 issue. Any topics within the scope of the journal would be welcome. But we would particularly welcome contributions discussing the relationship between informality and development (ideally, based on recently-collected empirical material). If interested, please submit a paper through the website. If you have an abstract and you are not sure whether your research will fit, you are welcome to write a (short and clear) message to the co-editor in chief at ap@tlu.ee<mailto:ap@tlu.ee>

Rationale: Informality and Development

Since initial conceptualization, a large stream of research on informality (also known as informal sector, gray or shadow economy) maintained that the phenomenon would soon disappear as an effect of economic modernization (Lewis 1954, 1959). Yet, further studies acknowledged the resilience of a robust informal sector able to outlive market reforms (Hart 1973), a fact that also gained the attention of the International Labour Organization (1972, 1973). Furthermore, it was believed that informality affected predominantly lower segments of society and be limited to the poor, the marginalized and the weak (Scott 1985). This is why the interest in creating an interpretative framework to understand informality came largely from anthropologists or economic sociologists concerned with the cultural contextualization of informal practices (Palmer 1989; Parry and Bloch 1989) or their embeddedness in society (Granovetter 1984). These approaches framed unrecorded and shadow transactions (including informal payments and other practices classified as corruption by international organizations) in a dualistic competition between strong and weak society’s actors, attributing informal practices predominantly to society’s reactions to externally imposed decisions (Gupta 1995, Scott 1976). Studies produced between the 1980s and 1990s questioned such paradigms proving that informality existed in developing as well as in advanced societies (Schneider 2002, Williams and Windebank 1998), therefore substantiating claims that people often recur to informality to deal with the shortcomings of ineffective and inadequate economic reforms, or lack of the same (De Soto 1989). These findings were corroborated by Gibson-Graham in her seminal feminist critique to capitalism (1996), who demonstrated that, in contrast to most neoliberal assumption, individuals play a major role in perpetuating local informal economies. Eventually, (St. Martin, 2005, Varley, 2013). Gibson-Graham’s study feed a whole new research stream expanding into anarchist and critical geographies, where economic and social alternatives to the capitalist model were given greater voice (Gibson-Graham and Roelvink, 2011; Springer 2012; St. Martin, 2005, Varley, 2013). A second guiding framework for the study of informality was provided by Ledeneva (1998) and her study of informal practices in post-Soviet countries. The study testified to the impact that informal micro practice in post-Soviet countries, in such case “blat”, had on these countries’ macroeconomic phenomena and dynamics. As the scholars furthered illustrated (2013) such a practice originally developed from one-to-one relations, evolving in a whole “sistema” of alliances that survived the transition of Russia into post-Soviet states. Such studies demonstrate that informal practices are resilient and have the potential to impact states’ micro and macroeconomic practices and, therefore, markets.

Since then, the economic significance of informality has been largely acknowledged. In 2009, estimates pointed at two/third of the global working population (1.8 billion) active in the informal sector (Jütting and Laiglesia, 2009). In the EU, the informal economy is estimated to amount to approximately 18.4 per cent of the national GDP, but these figures are likely to be much higher when transitional states, including the post-Soviet regions with peaks of 40 and 60 percent, are taken into account (Schneider 2012, 2013). It is not a case, in fact, that post-socialist spaces are the places where research on informality has been most coordinated (Giordano & Hayoz 2014; Makovicky & Henig 2014; Morris & Polese 2014, 2015; Polese et al. 2018). These studies explore the short-term or one-time effects of informal transactions (Patico, 2002, Polese 2008), the long-term impact and systemic nature of informal practices (Ledeneva, 2009; Yang, 2002), or the long-term dependency relationships that informality generates (Rivkin-Fish, 2005). Other studies, instead, looked at informality as a coping mechanism towards the implementation of neoliberal reforms (Kaneff, 2002; Smith and Stenning, 2006). A recent tendency has thus emerged in the past ten years and informality frameworks have been used to explain not only micro phenomena that happen at the bottom of a society. Explanations of macro and meso phenomena have started taking into account the role of informality. Scholars have acknowledged, and set out to study, the role of informal political institutions at the national (Helmke and Levitsky 2005) and international level (Dixit 2007). Informality has featured as the theme for the 2012 annual meeting of the Academy of Management, thus recognizing that it has a role well beyond sweatshop and micro-processes. Eventually, it has become also a prism for interpretation of some decision-making processes in international organizations.

Building on, and engaging with the above debates, we have a three-fold goal. First, it will expand the scope of theoretical research on informality beyond its economic understanding at the national level, something pointed out in the above studies by Dixit, Helmke and Levitsky and Stone as something necessary, but not yet systematically approached. We will look at the role of informal practices in the redefinition and renegotiation of business environments and how entrance and exit barriers are created, causing the reversal that state-led measures were intended to bring about. Second, it will apply this interpretative framework to look at the way policy making, and development policies, are affected by informality in the transitional world. This will eventually allow us to engage with worldwide debates in a comparative perspective. Our starting point is, indeed, the post-socialist region, where informality has been widely studied. However, we intend to upscale the scope of our inquiry to Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America. Third, inasmuch as this has been timidly attempted so far. Our event represents a chances to shed the basis and the social capital to establish and develop a research group on informality that can work together to funding applications and publication projects as outlined below.

Scope of the contributions

In the past ten years, there have been several names and approaches used to describe political phenomena that originate beyond the state level and use institutions other than the official ones. However, the boundary between unorganised and organised dissidence has started being explored only recently. Interestingly enough, a number of relevant observations has been drawn from literature on rebel, insurgent and real governance (Péclard and Mechoulan 2015).

Informal economies are an act of deliberate, if unorganised, non-compliance. They may be distinct from rebel and insurgent governance in that the people who engage with them are not necessarily interested in finding a group identity or refer to a central leader. But it is possible that they are two sides of the same coin or that can be considered two positions on the same spectrum of non-state governance (Polese and Kevlihan 2015). On the one extreme we have informal practices, individual-centred, unorganised and socially irrelevant, in the very beginning at least. These practices can become more and more popular and spread across a given population. They are initially perceived as a survival strategy but are also a way to deny or challenge the role of the state in a given moment, or the right of a state to regulate a particular aspect of its social or economic life. It is possible to hypothesise the existence of a tipping point after which a leader emerge, a collective consciousness spreads and people become aware of being part of a larger movement. After all, all relevant social movements have lived through a tipping point, passing from virtually unknown to nationally or internationally recognised. Where were the (anti-austerity movement) indignados before 2011? Or the Polish Solidarity movement before 1980? The fact that they were not famous or widely visible as they would be does not deny their existence before.

We welcome contributions that explore the scope of research on informality through three distinct approaches: theoretical and methodological dilemmas in the study of informal economies; informal economies in a European context and informal economies in a world context.

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