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Vol 3, No 9
5 March 2001
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Map of Central Europe On the Verge of Convergence:
Social Stratification in Eastern Europe

Central European Univ Press, 2000
ISBN 9639116823

Steven Saxonberg

Henryk Domanski's book examines the theme of social stratification in post-Communist Eastern Europe in great detail, squeezing out every bit of empirical evidence which can be gained from the survey data used for his study.

For some readers this very strength might also be the book's weakness. The theme of social stratification easily leads to technical discussions that may only be interesting for specialists in this area of sociology. Those who are not specialists might have wished for a more general discussion as to why stratification is such an important issue for understanding the transformation process.

In addition, although the author generally shows impressive statistical skills, he does not always devote enough space to explaining the logic behind different statistical methods, which means that readers without strong statistical backgrounds can get lost at times. For example, not many undergraduate students will know what "zero order correlations" are; nor will they understand the logic of using odd-ratio coefficients instead of regular coefficients in doing logistic regressions. At one point, the author seems to have used factor analysis, but he only states so in an indirect manner.

Of course, Domanski could rightfully defend himself on the grounds that he was not writing for a general public or even for undergraduates; rather he was aiming for a specialized group of scholars. His book is undoubtedly an important contribution to this scholarly debate, especially at the empirical level. This study will certainly be much quoted and used as a starting point for many analyses on stratification in Eastern and Central Europe.

Patterns of stratification

Yet Domanski's main findings are hardly surprising. He shows that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have come closest to Western patterns of stratification, while Bulgaria and Russia are the farthest from them and Slovakia lies somewhere in the middle. Although the author demonstrates this quite convincingly, he does not devote much space to explaining these differences. This emphasis on description at the cost of explanation can leave the reader very frustrated. It means that despite Domanski's attempts to link some of his results to traditional sociological theory, the book still seems overly empirical.

One result that particularly stands out is the almost complete lack of gender differences in Bulgaria, even in areas in which gender turns out to be a highly significant factor in the remaining five countries of the study. Why just Bulgaria? The author ventures no explanations. Another example is the fact that Russian entrepreneurs have more "sophisticated" cultural patterns than professionals, while the opposite is true for the remaining five countries.

Furthermore, despite Domanski's impressive knowledge of a variety of statistical methods, at times he is a bit careless in using these methods and his interpretations of his results. Even his methods of operationalizing his terms are sometimes questionable.

Cultural sophistication

An example of a questionable methodological approach is his (apparent) decision to use factor analysis to construct a scale for degree of cultural sophistication. Domanski's main idea is that there are different survey questions that can measure cultural activities. By using a sophisticated method, he found a score for degree of cultural sophistication. However, factor analysis is meant to be used for determining how many dimensions a scale has. If the scale only has one dimension (ie degree of cultural sophistication), then it is more appropriate to do a reliability test (such as one based on alpha scores) or a test of "difficulty" (such as the Mokken scale) to see which questions really measure cultural sophistication and then add the scores of these questions together.

Domanski's interpretation of statistics are generally quite good, but he often fails in his discussions to take into account important issues such as levels of significance. At times he makes statements about results which are not statistically significant, which means that we cannot really know if his results are based on a "true" relationship or simple sampling error.

Domanski often compares the strengths of standardized coefficients to claim that some relationships are stronger than others, even though the variables with higher coefficients in some cases have lower levels of significance than variables with slightly lower coefficients. Under these circumstances, one should be cautious in making conclusions about the relative strengths of variables.

Middle class proprietors

Domanski's operationalization of terms is a problem that even readers without statistical backgrounds might notice. For example, in discussing middle class proprietors, he claims that the normal Western pattern is for the category of "higher professionals and managers" to have higher incomes than owners of small businesses. That is probably true, given that managers of large corporations will usually earn more money than owners of small stores. However, he measures owners of small businesses under the heading "owners with employees," which even includes owners of large multinational corporations.

In the West, this distinction might not be such a problem, as large corporations are usually owned by many shareholders rather than by one person. However, because of the peculiarities of the privatization process, it is probably more common for East European firms to be owned by one person. An example would be the restitution of the Bata shoe company to the son of the original owner. If the company had not been nationalized in the Communist era, then it might well have become an incorporated stock company, but since the Czech section of the company came under state control, it never reached this level and thus was given back to the son of the original owner.


Another example of the problem of operationalization comes in Domanski's discussion of nomenklatura ownership versus self-recruitment. He concludes that although being a member of the nomenklatura improved one's chances of becoming an entrepreneur, self-recruitment is even more important. His main measure of self-recruitment is the issue of whether or not one had owned a private enterprise in 1988.

It is hardly surprising that somebody who owned an enterprise in 1988 also owned one in 1993, especially since they were likely to have continued owning the same enterprise. This obvious correlation tells us really nothing about the privatization process. If owners of enterprises in 1988 were more likely to own different enterprises in 1993, that would tell us much more, but Domanski's survey data does not differentiate between these two types of ownership.

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Domanski also measures self-recruitment by investigating whether there was a correlation between the father or grandfather having owned an enterprise and the son owning one in 1993. Such a discussion quickly becomes rather meaningless if the restitution process is left out. If a man who starts his own business in the 1990s had a grandfather who had a different enterprise in the pre-Communist times, then we see an important sociological process underway. That means that entrepreneurial skills and values have been transmitted over generations.

However, if a man received his grandfathers's former business from the state through a restitution law, then this tells us much more about the political situation than any kind of sociological process. Even if the survey data does not show whether the private property was gained through restitution, Domanski could have discussed the different laws on restitution in the six countries and then related it to the survey results.

For instance, since the Czech Republic had the most ambitious restitution laws, then a higher correlation between parental ownership and ownership by the son/grandson would likely reflect the differences in processes of restitution. On the other hand, a high relationship in Russia would not reflect any laws on restitution, since after more than 70 years of Communist rule, there was no property that could be easily restituted.

Despite these criticisms, Domanski's book is a welcome addition to our knowledge about the transitional process. Although many researchers may be frustrated by the lack of explanations of certain statistical results, Domanski's study will likely encourage these frustrated researchers to carry out their own studies in order to answer these questions. If so, then Domanski's book will become an important impetus for research on the transition to market economies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Steven Saxonberg, 5 March 2001

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