Rafael Mrowczynski (Leipzig/Bonn): You Eat What You Kill? Practicing Law and Making a Living in Post-Socialist Market Economies


Since the “rule of law” (or the “law-based state”) was among the major declared goals of the post-socialist transformations, legal reforms and fundamental reorganizations of judicial institutions have been one of the focal points during the transitional period after 1989/91. Changes of fundamental legal norms regulating property rights, economic, but also political and civic, activities were the key instruments of post-socialist reforms. They contributed inter alia to the emergence of normative-regulatory frames for nascent market economies, but they were at the same time influenced themselves by volatile economic processes and particularistic group interests. While the law and the administration of justice in socialism were subordinated, although not entirely, to the power of the party-state and its ruling elite (“dual state” or “rule by law”), it was envisioned as the supreme form of normative regulation for post-socialist societies. As a consequence, there was an expectation that the importance of legal professionals would significantly increase in the course of post-socialist transformations.

From the social-constructivist perspective, the core of legal professionals’ activities—sometimes called “lawyering”—is normative interpretation of (potential) social conflicts. Lawyers, as members of a “normative profession” par excellence (Halliday), simultaneously interpret two types of texts: legal norms (“law on the books”) and narratives about (potential) conflicts. The aim of their interpretative activities is to decide how these (potential) conflicts—as perceived by clients, witnesses, state officials and lawyers themselves—can be won, settled, avoided or at least reduced in accordance with the legal norms that are in force at a given time in a given jurisdiction. The process of arriving at such a decision is, in most cases, a persuasion-based competition between different views that result from diverging interpretations of both: norms and narrated facts. When participating in legal disputes, each legal professional, on the one hand, has to refer to interpretative frames that have a significant degree of commonality with analogous frames found in other members of his or her legal community. Otherwise his or her argumentation would not be accepted by professional peers. But on the other hand, his or her interpretation has to provide for a sufficient originality which is necessary to make a distinct case for his or her client. This conceptualization of lawyers’ activities draws on Bourdieu’s theory of “juridical field.”

Lawyers’ biographically habitualized “frames of social orientation” (Bohnsack; Nohl) are of particular interest for social scientists because lawyers are key actors in processes of normative regulation by law in all functionally differentiated (modern) societies. Lawyers’ understandings of how their society and economy “works” influence their judgements and actions which in turn have consequences for other members of the society relying on adjudication, representation, advice or assistance. According to the key assumption of my study, interpretative patterns used by legal professionals in their practices are habitualized, i.e. engrained in their personalities as a result of their general as well as specifically professional socialization. Bourdieu proposed the concept of “habitus” to grasp this phenomenon.

As a fellow at Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Studies in Humanities “Law as Culture”, I focus on the socio-economic dimension of professional orientations and professional practices. Making a living (and sometimes getting rich) by practicing law is one of the key aspects of legal professionalism. Using mainly autobiographic narrative interviews with Polish and Russian lawyers, I explore how being an economic actor in emerging post-socialist market economies impacts practitioners’ frames of social orientation that guide their professional activities. In general terms, my study aims at a contribution to a better understanding of the link between economic activities and practices of normative regulation by law in the specific settings of post-socialist societies.

Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski studierte Politikwissenschaft mit dem Wahlpflichtfach Volkswirtschaft und Nebenfächern Soziologie und Philosophie an der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. 2007 promovierte er in Soziologie mit einer Arbeit zum Thema „Im Netz der Hierarchien. Sozialstruktur, informelle Beziehungen und Mittelschicht im entwickelten Sowjetsozialismus“ an der Leibniz-Universität Hannover. Von 2002 bis 2005 wurde er durch die Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung mit einem Promotionsstipendium gefördert. Darüber hinaus war Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski Projektmitarbeiter an der Forschungsstelle Osteuropa der Universität Bremen sowie am Institut für Soziologie der Leibniz Universität Hannover. Von 2010 bis 2015 war Dr. Mrowczynski DAAD-Langzeitdozent an der Fakultät für Soziologie der Nationalen Forschungsuniversität „Higher School of Economics“ in Moskau, Russland. In dieser Zeit betrieb er intensive Feldforschung zu russischen Rechtsberufen. Ein Gastforschungsaufenthalt am Institut für Soziologie der Universität Warschau (Polen) im Herbst 2013 ermöglichte es ihm, diese Feldforschung ebenso zu polnischen Rechtsberufen durchzuführen. Die Ergebnisse der Datenerhebung dienen ihm als Grundlage seines derzeitigen Habilitationsprojekts an der Universität Leipzig und für seine Forschungstätigkeit am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“. Ferner war Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski in den letzten Jahren als Gastwissenschaftler am Institut für Kulturwissenschaften der Universität Leipzig (2015-2016) sowie als wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft der Freien Universität Berlin (2016-2017) tätig.

Seit April 2018 ist Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“.