As a research team our shared focus is on how the state is negotiated, building deeper understanding of markets and exchange, and the creation of values. In addition to having a similar thematic focus, we use common methodologies. For example:

  • the types of sites where we conduct research are similar. These include, but are not limited to, border markets, labour markets, bazaars, and other sites of entrepreneurship;
  • the researchers use a range of sources that include archives, opinions, official documents, informants, mass media, and observing practices; and,
  • the researchers extract data from the above sources through common methods/tools, for example questionnaires, open-ended interviews, participant observation, genealogical methods, biographies, build GIS maps and do content analysis.

Besides collecting specialized data, the collaborators try to collect similar data from all research sites. This should result in a coherent dataset from across the region that hopefully will provide a synchronized snapshot of “grassroots globalization”/ ”globalization from below” processes.

In order to generate comparative research we have synchronized the questions that we begin with. These hypotheses and themes emerge from the thematic approach common to all of the projects (negotiating statehood, the role of markets, and the creation of value). At the same time, they also originate from a common theoretical approach, which starts from the presumption that economic activities can never be isolated from socio-political contexts.

Thus, all researchers in this team will inquire into the modalities of market activities they investigate and the typologies governing commercial exchange. We all start with the same set of introductory questions, for example:

What are the typologies of our markets (for example, bazaars, flea markets, labour markets)? Why are these typologies assigned to particular markets (what defines different types of markets)? What patterns of mobility (of goods and peoples) are encompassed in these markets? What material and immaterial resources are exchanged? What are the formal, institutional constrains (for example, laws and obligations)? What are the motivation and expectations of the agents (traders and officials)?

These practical questions help us to clarify our shared working hypotheses, which build on five points of common understanding: (1) While states, institutions, and value sets vary from place to place, the practices of negotiation situated in the marketplace remain comparable across the Caucasus and Central Asia; (2) instability and violence (for example, the Tajik Civil War, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, or the 2010 upheaval in southern Kyrgyzstan) have two outcomes: in general, a decline of trade, and specifically, a rise in informal trade; (3) exchanges that fall under “globalization from below” have played as important a role as formal trade in giving shape to market structures; (4) globalization from below increases mobility, builds transnational webs of exchange, and shapes community; and (5) adhering to formal regulations impedes trade flows.

All seven researchers in our team will explore how informal markets and trade transform the community, and transform socio-cultural ideas, worldviews, traditions, informal norms, laws and rules, and affect views on religion and morality. Accordingly, we all focus on the following questions:

Is there a core value set in relation to economic activities? What values are the most important? Is there a clash of values, and if so, why? What are the obstacles to trade/ entrepreneurship? Why might people be reluctant to enter into trade? Does trade/ business/ entrepreneurship have negative connotations? Is economic success — when feared, perceived as corruption, or achieved through circumventing regulations — positive or negative? As an extension: Is trade/ entrepreneurship perceived as “real work”? Does trade evoke concerns of contamination through flows of goods and people that raise moral concerns? Is profit perceived as anti-social? Do socio-cultural values compete with individual values and trade? For example: does trade affect the so-called purity of female traders? How do community values restrict or support trade/ markets/ entrepreneurship?

We will also inquire: Why do people resort to informal practices? What is the link between informality and political and economic transition? Does informality adversely affect formal institutions? Are informal practices more efficient than formal practices? Are they more consonant with social norms, or less so? How does informality affect economic development? What formal obstacles do people face when they enter the market? What are the roles of formal regulations in global contexts? Does it make sense to formalize informal exchange? Is the formal/ informal binary useful for overall economic development? What are the short-term and long-term implications of practices associated with globalization from below?

The above clusters of questions overlap as all topics are interrelated. Hypotheses and questions will be complemented, adapted, and specified at different stages of our research.

Additionally, each of the subprojects involves close attention to the interaction between the state bodies and traders, as well as to the interrelations between state institutions, and how law and regulation are interpreted and negotiated.

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