Persistence and Strengths of Informal Networks – Clientelism in the post-Soviet Union

Horak, S. & Bader V. (2023). Persistence and Strengths of Informal Networks – Clientelism in the post-Soviet Union. European Journal of International Management, 19(2), 265-294. DOI: 10.1504/EJIM.2020.10021180

In this theoretical study, we challenge two prevalent assumptions in the international business domain: the “disappearance of informal networks” and the “strength of weak ties” assumption. By doing so, we draw from cultural as well as informality studies and explore the phenomenon of clientelism and its characteristics in the post-Soviet Union. We first conceptualize clientelism as an informal reciprocal exchange mechanism between a patron and a client, defined by mutual benefits on a long-term basis that also can underlay and lead to other forms of informal exchange practices such as clanism, blat, and kinship. As a result, we argue that informal networks and ties based on patron-client relations are neither disappearing nor is weakness a characteristic that makes them strong. We propose that diverse clientelistic ties appear to persist in the post-Soviet Union, as they are culturally embedded and dynamically adjust to changes in the environment. Furthermore, we assume that, contrary to the West, typically strong ties prevail in informal networks in the East. Finally, we argue that the nature of clientelism is paradoxical: on the one hand, it is prone to favoritism, unfair competition, corruption or bribery but, when it comes to weak governments, clientelistic practices may, on the other hand, be seen an effective means to give aid to poor or disadvantaged citizens. Also, it can help to overcome social boundaries by connecting persons of different social classes. Our conceptualization of clientelism and the specifics of informal networks in the post-Soviet Union, as well as our propositions, can inform future research at the intersection of international business and informality studies.

Clientelism, patronage, corruption, informality, informal institutions, blat/svyazi, post-Soviet Union, emerging markets, Russia

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