Informality assignments

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Assignment 1

How did the studies of informal practices develop and contribute to the studies of the postcommunist transformation? You can choose your own practice, theme, area, discipline, sector and investigate in which context informal practices have been discussed in that field.

Identify a colloquial name of the practice Blat
Give definition Use of personal contacts for getting things done
How universal is it? Associated with economy of shortage
In which countries/industries/ contexts is it spread? Spread in the countries of former Soviet Union, post-socialist countries
Identify analogous practices, named differently in different countries in the dataset Guanxi in China, wasta in the Middle East, pituto in Chili, kombinowanje in Poland
How does it function? By personalizing bureaucracies, by developing personal networks/social capital that can be converted in various forms of benefit (time, convenience, access to limited resources etc.)
How does it relate to other informal practices (discuss similarities and differences if appropriate) See article on comparison of blat and guanxi (Ledeneva 2008). See also comparion of blat (for personal consumption) and tolkachi (for the benefit of the firm of plan completion in the Soviet planned system), blat and bribery, blat and corruption (Ledeneva 1998)
Indicate key sources in which it is analysed? Mi Lenning on blat in postcommunist societies (2010), Mayfair Yang on guanxi (1995), Rehn, A./Taalas, S. (2004)
Provide abstract of the best article/book/source (from Amazon or JSTOR) Website on blat that sums up the argument and gives example is: Blat (Russia), blog 1 and blog 2
What are the implications of the chosen practice for politics/economy/ society? Blat is the reverse side of the overcontrolling center, it subverts but also supports the institutional framework within which it develops
Which other practices is it linked with? Patronage, mutual help, exchange
Which method was or can be used for researching this practice? Ethnography, public opinion polls, in-depth interviews
Give examples of the practice One could buy goods in short supply (once a TV or a fridge) by finding connections to a gatekeeper
How can the practice be measured? Perception of the practice can be measured (see Ledeneva’s From Russia With Blat in Social Research).
How visible the practice is in a society? The practices used to be both ‘unsocial’ and ‘legitimate.’ Few written sources in the Soviet Union, but many more since its collapse.

Assignment 2

Explore the range of possible categorisations or clustering practices similar to how practices are organized in The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality. Try to find your own way of clustering practices (pattern recognition). Analyse similarities and differences of similar practices in your cluster, aim to find comparative angles, note contexts and implications. Make an electronic summary for your cluster.

Chose a category for clustering An economy of favours
Give definition Personalised sets of strategies for coping with constraints (shortages of goods and services, red tape etc.) or for seeking competitive advantage (employment, career development etc.)
How universal is it? Associated with poverty, limited access to infrastructure, post-socialism but also found in developed societies in Europe and Asia. Patterns of reaching our in the US and pulling strings I the UK are fairly universal
In which countries/industries/ contexts is it spread? Spread in the countries of Latin America, Asia etc. (see Chapter 1 in The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality)
Identify analogous practices, named differently in different countries I included 21 names into the Chapter 1 cluster and places some similar practices into other clusters where they also belong and have a key word ‘economy of favours’
How does it function? Identify the principles of an economy of favours, if possible, say: use of friends, mediation, brokerage
How does it relate to other informal practices (discuss similarities and differences if appropriate) Similarity is limited access to resources (water, sanitation), poverty levels, economic and political frameworks; differences could be of socio-historical nature; explore the role of ethnicity, regional factors, religion, age, gender.
Indicate key sources in which it is analysed? See Preface by Alena Ledeneva, Introduction by David Henig/ Nicolette Makovicky and Conclusion by Florence Weber in Part I of The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality.
Provide abstract of the best article/book/source (from Amazon or JSTOR) that is not in your reading list but relevant to the categorization you are exploring ... The state is an informalized entity, or informality from above. I argue that informality has to be understood not as a grassroots phenomenon, but rather as a site of extra-legal discipline, continuous with formal systems of regulation (Roy, 2003). ...
What are the implications of the chosen understanding of informality in your cluster for politics/economy/society? Connivance of the state, impossibility for the political regime to survive without turning a blind eye to economies of favours
Which other concepts is it linked with? Connections, social ties, informal networks
Which method was or can be used for researching practices in your cluster? Ethnography, sociological research, opinion polls, mass media and social media content analysis
How can you visualize the pattern you’ve identified? A triangle, mediation of needs and wants
How can the informality be measured? Size of informal networks and cost of maintaining them

Informality simulation game

You are a CEO of a Russia-based joint venture in which an international company, where you have worked for the past ten years, has acquired a 50% stake just six months ago. The remaining 50% equity is split between a small group of Russian entrepreneurs. You have an initial contract for three years. The shareholders’ agreement stipulated that you had to resign from your mother company and so now the JV is your sole employer.

As CEO you want to increase cash flow from your business and build your leadership capital in order to be effective in the long run. You have an initial fund of $10 million and your goal is to increase your fund as much as possible. Your leadership capital can also increase or decrease, and this is reflected by your movement forward or backwards across the board. The higher you leadership capital the faster you move and thus earn more money. The game has three periods (full board cycles), with each period corresponding to one year. Every time you pass “Start” you receive an extra $10 million. The game lasts until the first player to complete three circuits of the board does so, after which any players who have not had their turn yet during this round get to roll the dice a final time so that, when play has finished, each player has had the same number of turns. The player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.

Throughout the game you will have to deal with different business-related situations that are described on coloured cards. These decisions help determine the outcome of the game. The situations fall into four categories:

  • ‘Cases’ (neutral colour) that require you to think strategically and make multiple-choice decisions.
  • ‘Mini-cases’ that require you to confront different aspects of Russia’s business reality: government and regulations (red), PR and networks (yellow), markets and conflicts of interest (green), and people and internal governance (grey).
  • ‘Pure chance” (blue) in which uncontrollable events have positive or negative impact on your cash flow or leadership capital.
  • ‘Lessons learned’ (neutral colour) in which you receive specific pieces of advice about doing business in Russia.

You will be competing against other players who will find themselves in similar situations. Players take turns to roll the dice and move their markers along by the number of spaces indicated by the dice. Each situation you encounter may result in positive or negative cash flow and may cause you to move forwards or backwards along the board.

If you run out of money during the game then you may take out a loan of up to $5 million from the Bank. This loan can be repaid at any point during the game with added interest of $1 million, regardless of when it is repaid. If you are unable to repay an outstanding loan at the end of the game then the Bank will confiscate all of your money. You may also attempt to negotiate loans from other players.

Game procedure

  1. Arrange cards on the playing board according to their colour.
  2. Nominate a Banker, who will be responsible for collecting and dispensing cash during the game and for ensuring each player adheres to the instructions of the cards they pick up.
  3. Nominate a Controller, who will be responsible for ensuring all players respect the rules and uphold a spirit of fair play. The Controller is also responsible for counting each player’s money at the end of the game.
  4. Each player chooses their marker and places it on the ‘Start’ space.
  5. Each player receives $10 million.
  6. Each player in turn throws the dice. The player with the highest score plays first; the player with the second-highest score plays second; etc.
  7. The first player to start rolls the dice and moves his or her marker along by the number of spaces indicated by the dice. The player then picks up the top card from the corresponding deck.
  8. The player reads out the card and follows its instructions, paying or receiving money from the bank and moving his or her marker as instructed.[1] If a player receives a ‘Case’ card, he or she must choose one of the four available courses of action, pull out the corresponding coupon, read out the instructions on the coupon and receive or pay cash accordingly.
  9. The player replaces their card at the bottom of the deck and his or her turn is over.[2]
  10. The next player rolls the dice…


There are two players: Anna and Michael. Anna goes first, rolls a one and moves her marker one space forward onto a space marked ‘Lessons learned’. She takes the top card off the ‘Lessons learned’ deck and reads it out: “You mention to the head of your marketing department, whose wife is the daughter of Kazakhstan’s Minister of Natural Resources, that you cannot get clearance to participate in a tender for a new license in Kazakhstan. In two weeks’ time you hear that your company has been invited to tender. You learn the power of administrative resource. Move forward two spaces.” Anna moves her marker two spaces forward and lands on a space marked ‘Case’. Anna’s turn is now over.[3]

Now it’s Michael’s turn to roll the dice. He rolls a three and moves three spaces forward to the space marked ‘Case’. Michael takes the top card from the deck marked ‘Case’ and reads it out: “Case 6. At a social function you learn from a colleague – the CEO of a marketing company – that the leasing enterprise providing cars to your managers belongs to the sister-in-law of your HR director. Surprised, you make some enquiries that not only confirm this to be the case but also show that your company is the only client of this leasing enterprise. You check both Russian legislation and internal company procedures and find that this situation does not qualify as a ‘conflict of interests’ because your HR director and his sister-in-law are not classed as ‘close relatives’. However, you feel uncomfortable. The HR director has been with your company for more than ten years, and although he keeps a somewhat low profile, he is always on top of current issues.

Actions available to you

  1. You ask your procurement director to organise a tender for transportation services within the next month.
  2. You ask the head of internal audit to conduct an investigation into the issue and report back to you.
  3. You invite the HR director for a conversation, ask him for explanations and request that he removes his sister-in-law’s company from your suppliers.
  4. You send an informal signal to the HR director that you do not like the situation and that you will no longer tolerate it.”

Michael chooses Option 1, pulls out Coupon 1 from the card and reads it out: “You ask your procurement director to organise a tender for transportation services with in the next month. Five companies participate in the tender including the current provider, who submits the best bid and wins. You feel somewhat embarrassed and sense that you are back to square one. Move two spaces back, collect $1 million.”

Michael inserts the coupon back in the card, replaces the card at the bottom of the deck marked ‘Cases’, moves his marker two spaces back to a space marked ‘Lessons learned’ and collects $1 million from the Banker. His turn is now over. Anna rolls the dice.
  1. If you receive a card with orders to move your marker back, do not move it back beyond the ‘Start’ space but leave it on the ‘Start’ space.
  2. If you received the same card in the next round, you may skip to the next card in the deck.
  3. NB Anna does not pick up a ‘Case’ card since she has already picked up a card in this turn.