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 majored in Political Science with an emphasis on Economics and minored in Sociology and Philosophy at Goethe University Frankfurt. In 2007, he earned his doctorate in Sociology at the University of Hannover with a piece on the topic “In a Network of Hierarchies. Social Structure, Informal Relationships, and the Middle Class in Developed Soviet Socialism”. From 2002 to 2005, he was supported by a doctoral scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski was additionally a project assistant at the Research Centre for Eastern Europe Studies at the University of Bremen as well as at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Hannover. From 2010 to 2015, Dr. Mrowczynski was DAAD Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” in Moscow, Russia. He conducted intensive field research on Russian legal professions during this time. A visiting research stay at the University of Warsaw’s Institute for Sociology in Fall 2013 allowed him to extend this field research into Polish legal professions as well. The results of his data now serve as the basis for his current postdoctoral project at Leipzig University. Furthermore, Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski has worked as a guest researcher at Leipzig University’s Institute of Cultural Studies (2015 to 2016) as well as a research associate at the Free University of Berlin’s Otto Suhr Institute (2016 to 2017).

Since April 2018 Dr. Rafael Mrowczynski is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.