Institutions and Entrepreneurs: Cultural Evolution in the ‘De Novo’ Market Sphere in Post-Soviet Ukraine

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Wynnyckyj, Mychailo
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This dissertation examines the social origins, values orientations, moral beliefs, and behavioural strategies of a small sample of successful post-Soviet ‘de novo’ firm founders, and argues that entrepreneurial individuals such as those who are the subjects of research, have effected a transformation of the informal institutional framework of Ukraine’s nascent market sphere. In contrast to the prevailing approach of the literature on post-Soviet transitions, instead of focusing exclusively on the effects of elite-led formal institutional change and reform policy implementation (or its lack), this dissertation presents an alternative ‘bottom-up’ perspective on Ukraine’s development during the past decade. Framed within the paradigm of institutionalist sociology, analysis of the qualitative data - collected through a combination of in-depth interviewing and structured questionnaire inquiry - points to a need to re-evaluate the widely accepted portrayal of new firm start-ups as playing a largely peripheral role in the transition from state socialism. Firstly, the literature’s universal equation of ‘de novo’ with ‘small’ with respect to post-Soviet firms is found to be outdated in the Ukrainian case. Furthermore, instead of reflecting a ‘homo sovieticus’ or ‘neo-patrimonial’ mentality, the moral beliefs and resultant strategic postures of a significant number of the interviewed Ukrainian firm-owners are found to be focused on accumulation through reinvestment, and a goal-orientation that may legitimately be called ‘entrepreneurial’. Secondly, the widely accepted contention regarding the ‘nomenklatura’ origins of successful post-Soviet business owners in the FSU is found to require refinement. Private enterprise owners appear to have initially followed path dependent behavioural strategies that were conditioned by their socialisation according to a particular normative system (including the ethic of ‘blat’), but as Ukraine’s transition progressed, ‘de novo’ entrepreneurs seem to have independently and successfully converted what were once believed to be informal institutional liabilities into assets that both facilitated their personal successes and resulted in an evolution of the cultural environment in which they are embedded. On a meta-theoretical level, it is argued in this dissertation that in Ukraine, individual entrepreneurs have effected an evolutionary change in the informal institutional arrangements that govern behaviour in the country’s nascent market sphere. The result I contend, has been a morphogenetic re-evaluation of social conventions, moral beliefs, and norms of interaction ingrained during decades of Soviet rule.
Wynnyckyj M. Institutions and Entrepreneurs: Cultural Evolution in the ‘De Novo’ Market Sphere in Post-Soviet Ukraine : dissertation is submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy : [preprint] / Mychailo Wynnyckyj. – Sidney Sussex College (University of Cambridge), 2003. – 262 р.