“I Proved in Court that I am Not a Camel”: Everyday Law among Businesspeople in Russian Local Communities

Maria Sakaeva


While the rule of law has been an important topic of research for entrepreneurship in transition economies, the relationship entrepreneurs have with the body of law remains understudied. This article explores everyday legality among politically affiliated and non-affiliated businesspeople in Russia; that is, the role of laws, written rules, standards, and requirements in their everyday business activities. Drawing on interviews and participant observations in Russian communities, I trace how an individual’s political position impacts the ability of small entrepreneurs to navigate paperwork and bureaucracy. Utilizing a sociological approach to explore the behaviour of the law among businesspeople, my research demonstrates that although bureaucracy and written rules affect all entrepreneurs, multiple facets of the law constrain or promote an individual’s access to opportunities in different ways. I found that political affiliation strengthens the power to succeed in the bureaucratic game, and to protect one’s interests through court appeals. In contrast, non-affiliated entrepreneurs are limited in their capacity to deal with Russian bureaucracy, and to litigate the state using legal procedures. The main conclusion of the research is that political affiliation is the most significant line of differentiation and inequality among small and medium-sized enterprises because it affects their legal knowledge, their strategies for coping with paperwork, and their opportunities to mobilise the law. In addition, the study of small entrepreneurs also shows that in contemporary Russia everyone depends greatly on the power of the bureaucratic machine, rather than on the power of the law.


everyday legality; small entrepreneurship; paperwork; bureaucracy; political networks; mobilisation of law; post-Soviet studies; Russia

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