Conceptualizing Social Transformations: Lessons From Eastern Europe
      Fourth, values and norms change in the way to allow the emergence and stabilization of pluralist institutions. The very core of the developing new values is the modern concept of universal human rights (Held et al., 1999). Thus, the current transformation in Eastern Europe can be schematically presented along typical issues, tasks and effects:
Table 1
      Systemic dimensions of the transformation in Eastern Europe
Issue Task Potential effect
- Technological restructuring  Informatization Adjustment to the global information technologies
- Economic restructuring  Marketization Adjustment to the global markets
- Political restructuring  Democratization Adjustment to the global rationalization of politics
- Cultural restructuring  Universalization Adjustment to the global innovations in culture

     This multidimensional concept of social transformation is intended to theoretically reproduce the growing complexity of social processes and the concomitant uncertainty and risks. The concept does not build upon any assumption about inevitability, linearity and secured success of the rapid social development. To the contrary, the only underlying assumption concerns the potential for tensions in the course of the adaptation to global trends. There could be successful adaptation in one field and unsuccessful adaptation in another, success in the adaptation of specific groups and organizations and failure of others, evolutionary achievements of a particular societal transformation and devastating results of others. 
     Sociology has only one promising move in order to efficiently react to the challenge of social structures, which permanently are in statu nascendi. This is the orientation towards constructivist approaches in theory building. The relative importance of ontologically based concepts of social structures and processes diminishes. This holds true first of all for concepts strongly influenced by historical circumstances, for instance for the concept of society understood as national statehood. However, there are in-built traps in the very constructivist approach to theory building in sociology. One potential extreme is the understanding of the theoretical frameworks just as a net of sensitizing concepts intended to foster the historical analysis. his understanding might lead to doubts about the very possibility to develop generalized sociological knowledge having a systematic explanatory potential. The productive task is different: How to develop this type of explanatory knowledge and apply it on more and more complicated and dynamic processes in social reality?
     One prospective answer seems to read as follows: The task can be resolved by developing the explanatory potential of sociology around a concept offering heuristic potentials both for historical explanations and for building theoretical systems in several directions. First, it should secure constructive freedom and, in the same time, ontological foundation for the development of sociological knowledge. Second, this would basically mean to resolve the traditional sociological dilemma concerning the relations between the individual and the social institutions. hird, the same should apply for the dilemma relating the explanatory potential of technological and economic structures, on the one side, and of ideas, on the other. Fourth, given the trend towards an increase of the relative importance of social change in the building and use of the sociological conceptual framework, it is necessary to leave enough cognitive space for balancing ideas of change and stability, of spontaneity and organization in social life. Fifth, this is a rather essential point because of the inherent connection between social events and social structures. Sixth, the sought for uniting idea of systematic theorizing in sociology should also successfully link the cognitive innovations in sociological knowledge and its capacities to offer orientations for decisions and action in the practical management of social dynamics on the global, regional, national and local level. 
     Given the required conceptual generalization we assume that the central concept of sociological theorizing in question is social interaction understood as exchange of matter, energy and information between social actors. The major analytical dimensions of the concept refer to individual and collective social actors, their relations and the social processes in which they are involved. 
     Following this conceptualization, the adjustment to more developed institutional and behavioral patterns reflects on changes in the major action characteristics of society. New types of actors emerge in the course of the current transformation in Eastern Europe. Private entrepreneurs, democratically responsible state officials and associations of civil society take the lead as bearers of new forms of social and economic organization. Problems in this context are well represented in the convergence and divergence of interests of individuals and organizations. Another set of uncertainties refers to the difficult balance of interests of domestic and international actors, the latter being regional organizations like the European Union or global ones like the International Monetary Fund. New actors bring about and sustain new social relations. They are marked by the shifting focus from the distribution of political power to the economic reproduction and from hierarchical to associational relations. There is no doubt that the current transformation in Eastern Europe engenders an immense variety of relations of coordination and conflict, of well established hierarchy or recently negotiated polyarchy.  The emergence of new actors and relations is a process, which usually brings about a variety of expectations, desires, actions and results. Short-term goals and effects characterize some of the processes. Others are bound to exert long-term impacts on individuals, groups and societies. In terms of social space, some processes have or will have only local relevance by influencing specific groups or communities. Other processes have or will have regional  or even global relevance. 

Table 2
Action dimensions of the transformation
Dimension Tasks Effect
- Actors  Initiative and responsibility  Competitiveness
- Relations Balancing hierarchy and poliarchy Meritocracy
- Processes  Effective allocation of resources Innovation 
     Bearing in mind the already attained level of cultural and organizational development, one could have assumed at the beginning of the nineties that the transformation was to be implemented in the form of a controlled social innovation. Some processes in the region tentatively followed this pattern of change. However, in most parts of the region neo-liberal policies favored spontaneous market forces deviating from the pattern of organized change. Complications were conditioned by the fact that exactly at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties the world economy was moving through a recession cycle. 
     Consequently, the experience of the nineties forced the need to change the conception of change in the region. It is clear now that the technological lag between the Eastern and the Western parts of the continent has deep historical roots and cannot be easily overcome but might even become broader. In a number of cases, competitive politics brought about turmoil and disappointments all over Eastern Europe. Commercialization undermined moral and aesthetic values and norms. The expected diversity of actors and paths of their development came about in principle, but unemployment, impoverishment and crime preclude individuals and groups from self-realization and future prospects. The previous hierarchical system of social relations dominated by party affiliations was replaced by other inequalities mainly based on the steep differentiation of incomes and wealth. Due to the worsening standard of living and quality of life, social time actually decelerated for large segments of Eastern European societies. This development immediately threw doubts on the meritocratic effects of the transition. 
     Moreover, it turned out that the cultural and institutional legacy of state socialism has been much more influential than assumed at the beginning of the transformation. Now it is a commonly shared view that the prevailing egalitarian and statist characteristics of the previous social system corresponded to influential economic and political preferences of large segments in the Eastern European societies. 
     This is the typical context of permanent production and reproduction of risks understood as probability of disfunctional impacts of processes on a given social system. As seen from this point of view, Eastern European societies are still risk societies per ce in much broader terms than this applies to societies in Western Europe. The conceptual outline of risk situations facing social systems in the region might be presented as follows:
Table 3
  Analytical dimensions of a risk situation
Registration  Action form   Prediction  Norm
What is the effect? EVALUATION OF REACTION  What will be the effect?  What criteria for evaluation are acceptable?
Who reacts in which way?
Who will react in which way?  What forms of reaction are acceptable? 
Who (what) causes risk? 
Who (what) will cause it?  What causes of risk are acceptable?
What is the intensity of risk? 
 What will be the intensity of risk?  What intensity of risk is  acceptable?
What poses a risk? 
What will pose a risk?  Is this risk acceptable?

    How could the analytical framework connecting ideas of global trends, national transformations and risks help the efforts to conceptually cope with the above dynamic and controversial situation in the Eastern European region? 

4. Instrumental Activism and Sustainability
    The introduction of market mechanisms after decades of central planning is a civilizational step forward in social rationalization. The evolutionary universal of market economy has been suppressed for decades and needed reestablishment on its own right. This is part and parcel of the normalization of social relations and processes in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the normalization itself is full of tensions requiring careful conceptualizations. They have to be certainly more comprehensive than the idea of a transition from organized disorder towards disorganized order (Domanski and Rychard, 1997: 9f).
     First of all, constraints of rationalization are connected with the difficult balance between the autonomous and instrumental values. In its official ideology state socialism was oriented towards the autonomous values of egalitarianism and solidarity. No question, everyday life deviated from the ideological cliches. Therefore, one may interpret the ongoing transformation as a step towards bringing together autonomous and instrumental values mostly by means of market mechanisms. However, the controversy is already in-built in the process since market mechanisms are instrumental in principle. Profit could be presented as an autonomous value only in a rather limited context. This might be a reason for theoretical and practical concerns since there could be no stable social order based on instrumental values alone. The empirical evidence supporting the point is abundant. The rapid instrumental commercialization of social life brought about new forms of alienation and critically undermined the ultimate values of solidarity and social justice. 
    The above problems are closely related to the tensions between the short-term and the long-term rationality in the course of the ongoing rationalization. At least in the first decades after the Second World War state socialism was ideologically oriented towards long-term strategic aims of action. They included visions about mass wellbeing and the development of strong collectivist solidarity. Under the specific historical conditions both aims increasingly turned out unrealistic. They had to be pushed to the more and more distant future and to be replaced by short-term goals of everyday life. However, it was exactly in this context of a shortened time perspective that the centralized planning turned out to be less efficient compared to the mechanisms of market economy. 
    Contrary to widespread expectations, the re-introduction of market mechanisms did not immediately provoke an enlargement of the time perspective of everyday life. The general de-stabilization of life in the course of transformation caused an additional shortening of the time perspective of orientations, decisions and actions of large groups in Eastern Europe. This metamorphosis of social time and the concomitant social pathologies offer a broad area for sociological theorizing and for enlightening empirical studies on the definition and use of time. 
    The rapid instrumentalization of social life by means of market mechanisms brings about still another problem connected with the trend towards Weltbeherrschung. The spread of instrumental activity potentially involves a new round of exploitation of natural, social and human resources. Neither the careless abuse of the nature nor the degradation of social and human resources could promise sustainable development. That is why sociological conceptualizations and the empirical studies on environmental imbalances, forms of social isolation and marginalization undermining social solidarity and integration might be quite helpful in illuminating the traps of instrumental activity. 
      A special issue in this context is the spread of private entrepreneurship as the major incorporation of instrumental activity under the given historical conditions. The point is that in a variety of cases private enterpreneurs operate in Eastern Europe on the verge of what is legally allowed and what is a criminal or semi-criminal activity. This could hardly be a good promise for societal integration and sustainability in institutional and value-normative terms in the long run. 
5. Individualization and Societal Dynamics
     The ideological assumption of flattened social-structural landscape of state socialist societies precluding individualization could hardly pass the theoretical and historical proof. At the end of the eighties Eastern European societies were clearly structured in terms of income, political power and prestige thus allowing a wide variety of specific paths of individualization. The accelerated individualization in the course of the nineties continued some of these paths and opened a new window of opportunities (Slomczynski and Szabad, 2000). 
There is no doubt that state socialism laid the stress on the rationality of collective actors and generally neglected the need to tolerate and properly remunerate the rationality of individuals. This is the background of another major dilemma of the current transformation. It concerns the complex and dynamic relationships between individual and collective rationality. The experience accumulated in the nineties provides abundant evidence that the rapid individualization in Eastern Europe all too often came about at the expense of the collective rationality. Thus the burning theoretical and mostly practical problem concerns the possibility to retain and to develop the evolutionary achievements of individualization and to simultaneously reduce its extremes by strengthening the social and cultural status of collective rationality. 
     In theoretical terms, the sociological tradition offers enough arguments supporting the case that a stable social order cannot be established and maintained on the basis of the value-normative assumptions and institutional arrangements of extreme individualism. The crime wave, which flooded Eastern Europe during the nineties, provides strong evidence supporting the point. One important explanatory strategy connects the process with the rapid rise of personal expectations at the beginning of the decade. The expectations met a widespread decline of practical opportunities for personal development and realization in the context of a deepening economic differentiation. This imbalance between rising expectations and diminishing resources to meet them became one of the major factors for the criminalization of economy and social life in most countries in the region after 1989. White-collars crime notwithstanding, a large proportion of criminal acts can be mostly explained by dysfunctional effects of unemployment and the ensuing impoverishment. Theoretical models and empirical studies clearly reveal the destructive impact of unemployment on work motivation, education, training, social habits, definition of the self and respect of social norms by unemployed persons. Another factor determining this development was the spontaneous or intentional weakening of crucial state institutions, the legal system including. 
     The achievements, problems and prospects of individualization are being typically conceptualized in the advanced societies in connection with the idea of a new middle class. Its members are defined by their possession of specific cultural capitals circulated on the market by professional groups of middle-level managers, engineers, university teachers, researchers, physicians, etc. This large social group is considered as rather different from the old middle class based on property and traditional production skills in small businesses. The rapid development of Eastern European societies put both ideas into question. In fact, the new middle class in the above sense was numerous all over Eastern Europe before 1989. Contrary to developments in the advanced societies, this social group suffered substantial losses in terms of income, political power and prestige during the nineties. On the other side, hopes for success in individualization and general social advancement and political stability were connected with the re-emergence or strengthening of the old middle class based on property. In most Eastern European societies it could not develop according to the expectations. Flourishing small private entrepreneurship still remains very much desirable in the region. This development poses serious conceptual challenges to sociology since the problem is not just focused on individualization alone. The major issue in the given context concerns the social-structural basis of the emerging social order. 
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