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A small talk with the Professor Zweynert

Joachim Zweynert, Professor of Political Economy at Witten/Herdecke University presented his new book«When Ideas Fail: Economic Thought, the Failure of Transition and the Rise of Institutional Instability in Post-Soviet Russia» at the joint meeting of the Political Science Departmental Seminar Series and IIMS seminar on September 28, 2018. After the seminar we asked Professor Zweynert a few questions about the origins of his research interest in the history of Russian economic thought. 

We know that your work is dedicated to the study of the history of the Russian economic thought? What is the origin of your interest? Why do you study this particular field?

It was really my personal interest. I chose Russian as a second foreign language at my gymnasium which was in Hamburg in West Germany; it was quite common that you could choose Russian there. I got interested in the country and visited the Soviet Union for the first time in 1987 and I really wanted to understand twhat was going on there. I spent a lot of time in Russia in the late 80s and early 90s and I understood that the problem of Russian economy was not only of economic nature, but had to be set in a product context, including the context of the ideas. So I decided to study the history of Russian economic ideas in the 19th century, and the purpose was to understand better what the ideation of the foundations of the Russian economic system. From the start the main idea was that this might help us better understand why it is so difficult to establish a functioning market economy in post-soviet Russia. So my PhD project on the history of the Russian economic ideas very naturally led to the recent book project.

And how has your study of  ideas progressed from that time?

After I had submitted my PhD thesis in 2002 I just took on this project and started to work on articles in 2003 and then every couple of years I published an article until I finally found time to turn them into the book which was the main idea from the very beginning.

What are your further research plans?

At the moment I am working on Mozambique and I decided to take a short break from Russia, because for the last 20 years I have done little else but to study Russia.Definitely, I will return to the topic, but I do not know what it will be like. For the time being I need a one- or two-year break. I think it is important in order to stay open-minded.

Sure, it is veryimportant. But why Mozambique?

It is a coincidence. We have this international master program in philosophy, politics and economics and a student of mine from Mozambique offered a very interesting topic during the seminar session, and  I said “Let’s do it!” and tthis is what I am doing at the moment. 

Could you tell us about your cooperation with HSE and IIMS?

I do not remember exactly when my cooperation with HSE and IIMS started. We met with Andrei Yakovlev for the first time in Bremen at the Research Center for East European Studies in around 2000. Since that time I have attended the April Conference at HSE very regularly for, I think, ten years. I was always extremely impressed with the level of the scientific discourse, with open-mindedness and also with the internationality of this place, which I think at the moment stands out in all Russian economic and social science research andteaching institutions.

Joachim Zweynert  has been the Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Witten/Herdecke (Germany). In 2001 he received his PhD in political science from the University of Hamburg. His PhD thesis was published as a monograph "Eine Geschichte des ökonomischen Denkens in Russland 1805-1905" and was awarded a prize from the European Society for the History of Economic Thought, in the nomination for the best book in the history of economic thought, published in 2000, 2001 or 2002.

His new book "When ideas fail: economic thought, the rejection of the transition and the increase of institutional instability in post-Soviet Russia» was publishedby Rutledge in 2017.

This study offers an ideational explanation of Russia’s relative failure to establish a functioning market economy and thus sets up a new and original perspective for discussion. In post-Soviet Russia, a clash between imported foreground ideas and deep domestic background ideas has led to an ideational division among the elite of the country. Within economic science, this led to the emergence of two thought collectives, (in the sense of Ludvik Fleck), with entirely different understandings of social reality.

This ideational division translated into incoherent policy measures, the emergence of institutional hybrids and thus, all in all, into institutional instability. Empirically, the book is based on a systematic, qualitative analysis of the writings of Soviet/Russian economists between 1987 and 2012.

This groundbreaking book makes an important contribution to Central Eastern and Eastern European area studies and to the current debate on ideas and institutions in the social sciences.