Crafting Democracy: How Novgorod Has Coped With Rapid Social Change

In This Review

Crafting Democracy: How Novgorod Has Coped With Rapid Social Change

By Nicolai N. Petro
Cornell University Press, 2004
272 pp. $39.95
Purchase

Petro's is a doubly innovative contribution. To the copious, contentious literature on "democratization," he introduces the novel (though not entirely original) notion that the process should be studied at the local as well as the national level. One needs to explain why a region such as Novgorod, where he has spent considerable time, has done so well on this path, while other Russian regions with comparable characteristics have not. Second, he argues that the answer lies not where most political scientists look--that is, in institutions and the incentive structure of actors--but in culture. Culture, in the form of symbols drawn from history, not only can serve as context in turbulent times, but can also "cause" change, and with surprising speed. Although Petro has a tendency to make culture the agent, he is in the end arguing that it comes down to how players make use of symbols--if they are lucky enough to have useful ones.