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Article

Linking Normlessness and Value Change in the Post-Communist World

Studia Sociologia. 2011. Vol. 56. No. 1. P. 63-94.
Swader C. S.

The apparent realities of the communist dystopia lead to specific expectations from the transition to capitalism: the replacement of communism should cause not only a boon in human happiness, but also a resurgence of social life. Two types of observations in the past 20 years challenge these expectations. First, people from former-communist countries are often nostalgic and pessimistic when discussing changes in social relationships, friendships, family, and social engagement. Many lament the perceived decay of relationships due to a claimed growth in egoism, materialism, working hours, and moving abroad. Such stories suggest that people may have come to devalue the interpersonal social sphere during the transition years. In addition to these changes in values, there is evidence for enhanced normlessness. An example is the steep increase in murder, suicide, alcoholism, and juvenile delinquency in many post-socialist societies. However, these two observations, changing values and social disorder, have not been fully integrated, whether theoretically or empirically. As a first step toward alleviating this, the present article connects both of these changes to the reintroduction of a capitalist economic structure. Post-communist social disorder, such as deviance, can be explained if the free-market transformation weakened social values and thereby undermined the informal social control which depends on these values. This article will, in two steps, empirically investigate this proposition. First, it will ask whether the transformation to capitalist culture has resulted in individualized values that challenge informal social control. Second, this new latency of sociality will be linked to normlessness.