Making Russian democracy work: Social capital, economic development, and democratization in Russia

Date of Completion

January 1998


Political Science, General|Sociology, Social Structure and Development




This dissertation tests the explanatory power of two competing theories of democratic development and applies them to the Russian case. The first, modernization theory, is based on the strong correlation between socio-economic development and democracy and leads to the position that socio-economic factors play an important role in the process of Russian democratic development. The second theoretical position considered is based on Robert Putnam's social capital thesis, which maintains that social capital, as measured by the presence of indicators associated with a civic community, is a stronger determinant of democracy. Having suffered through the Soviet Union's systematic annihilation of social capital, the conditions for democracy in Russia may not be propitious.^ This dissertation juxtaposes the two theories in quantitative analyses based on indicators from Russia's regions. Two different levels of analysis were employed. On the first level of analysis, based on Russia's macro regions, the strong relationship between levels of socio-economic development and democracy was confirmed, while the civic community was not significantly correlated. On the second level of analysis, based on the political-administrative regions, the relationship between socio-economic development and democracy was again confirmed, while the civic community was found to be statistically significant and strongly correlated with democratic support. However, the latter relationship was inverse.^ The prospects for Russian democracy based on this study's findings were also considered. Given the country's relatively high levels of education, industrialization, etc., it was concluded that the people of the Russian Federation have the requisite level of socio-economic development to sustain democracy. In order for Russian democracy to become consolidated and retain the support of the people, however, the government must address many of the problems introduced by the transition. If Russian democracy is going to work, it must prove itself more effective at addressing the needs of the people than its Soviet predecessor. Finally, it is possible that social capital in Russia is being used by the people to place demands on the regime for a more equitable distribution of wealth. Social capital, therefore, may be the key to making Russian democracy work. ^