Transitional Imaginaries – Socialities
Post-Socialist period in CEE counitres is based on the disintegration of the previous centralized system of economy and politics. No one new for sure where the transition exactly would lead after dismantling the communist party and political apparatus. The only perceivable goal was that somehow societies would transform into Western-Style democracies but no theory of transition was ever proposed nor written that would provide guidelines for this process. Every country was supposed to find its own path (Stanilov, K. 2007). However, there is a certain consensus among scholars which interpret the notion of the post-socialist transition as top-down market economy driven economic and institutional transformation accompanied with democratization of politics. According to Ludek Sycora, the development of the post-socialist cities is today governed by the shift towards market economy. Therefore, it could be assumed that the economic restructuring is the main driver of institutional change in the CEE countries. In this context, the institutional reforms were the top-down process of the ideologically based reforms characterized by the departure from the centralized system based on “multiple transformation dynamics” (Sykora) consisted of institutional, social and urban transitions.
If the economy was conceived as the diving engine of change imposed from the top down, what if the questions are posed from the other end, from within the complex and diverse fabric of society that provide many cultural and social nuances, invisible for the eye of the classical economic science based on their reductive lens.
In the Eastern European context the advanced liberal economic policies imported from the west are at the heart of the mechanisms driving the social and institutional transformations. The paradox is that in the West there are calls to “rethink economy as a central organizing cultural frame” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). This is exemplified through the calls for alternative thinking by the “Occupy Movement” for example or by other types of social movements critical of the blindness expressed by the “economic orthodoxy” that calls for growth and overarching economic theories, no matter what the consequences for the environment or for the perpetual threat of economic crises.
Within economic anthropology studies there are efforts to approach economic practices that are based on “performative rethinking” about economic practices.
The important point here is that the diverse economic practices of the everyday are taken into account through the ethnographic studies. This approach takes into account the “rich pallet” of interactions that make up the daily pattern of human life, such as “making a living, surviving, getting by, getting ahead, gaining respect, building a future, maintaining habitats and juggling different regimes of value” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). The ethnographic approach is especially relevant in the places where there is an ongoing social change, such as in the post-Socialist transition because they reveal and engage with the complexity of social processes revealing nuances that are invisible through the conventional empiricism.
One may claim that an illusion of the linear conception of time represented by the notion of “transition” as conceived within a dominant capitalist economic transformations are the product of the “capitalocentric discourses of economy” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014) that leave very little space for non-capitalistic imaginaries. The alternative would be to theorize economies that provoke open questions, instead of providing dead ends theories that examine all social change according to the dynamics of capitalist and market economic processes.