Dr Gábor Scheiring

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18

Dr Gábor Scheiring

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18

ISRf Gábor Scheiring

Gabor Scheiring is currently a Marie Curie Fellow at the Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University. Gabor is a multidisciplinary political economist combining theoretical innovation with empirical rigour to reduce social hardships and to advance human development, health and democracy. Gabor regards social research as a tool that can help people make better sense of social dilemmas, understand the dynamics of social change and design solutions to real world problems.

As an economic sociologist he has published extensively on the political economy of health, the political economy of democratisation, and on the role of social movements in the policy process. In his doctoral research at the University of Cambridge he investigated the impact of deindustrialisation and privatisation on mortality and the collusion of class and identity in the everyday experience of the transition. In his doctoral dissertation Gabor carried out a multi-level empirical analysis of the socioeconomic factors behind the post-socialist mortality crisis of the early transition years in Hungary, the growing inequalities in mortality during the 2000s and the individual strategies of survival amongst increased stress in industrial towns.

Parallel to his studies Gabor was a nationally and internationally active member of NGOs during 2000s campaigning for sustainability and social rights. As co-founder of a local progressive green party he was elected to the Hungarian Parliament in 2010 and served as the shadow minister of finance for his party. During his years of active involvement in oppositional politics in Hungary Gabor has witnessed the gradual erosion of democracy, as the ruling Fidesz party took control of an increasing number of social spheres. This led him to re-evaluate the transition policies followed prior to 2010 and question some of the assumptions of the theories of democratisation. Institutional guarantees of freedom, even in a member state of the European Union, can be attacked and eroded quickly if they are built on a shaky socio-economic foundation. His research proposal submitted to the ISRF is built on this experience.

Gabor proposes a new political economic framework for understanding illiberalism. Reorienting the scholarship on democratisation Gabor’s research uses Central and Eastern Europe as a strategic research site to analyse how the model of post-socialist dependent capitalism affected the chance of reaching democratic consolidation. His hypothesis is that the varieties of populism in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are related to the differences in the demobilisation and rightward turn of the working middle classes and by the differences in the polarisation of the economic elite. 

The Political Economy of the Rise of Illiberalism in East-Central Europe

The increasing prominence of anti-democratic politics in Europe strikes even the most optimistic observers. The recent illiberal turn of Hungary and Poland has puzzled researchers and pundits alike. Yet, the strength of illiberalism varies across the region with some countries like the Czech Republic retaining high democratic quality. What explains this divergence? What are the unique factors behind the rise of illiberalism in Hungary and Poland and the lack thereof in the Czech Republic? Existing research agendas, the actor-oriented transition theory, the institutionalist scholarship and the varieties of capitalism approach failed to foresee and explain this phenomenon. 

I propose a new political economic framework for understanding the rise of illiberalism in East-Central Europe as a consequence of the exhaustion of the developmental model followed prior to the global financial crisis. My hypothesis is that the varieties of populism that emerged in the region might be explained by the differences in the demobilization and rightward turn of the working middle classes and by the differences in the polarization of the economic elite. I propose a multidisciplinary methodological approach by a) developing a municipality level dataset to analyse how the vulnerability of the middle class lead to the collapse of the Left; b) creating a relational database to carry out a network analysis of the change in the connections among the members of the political and economic elite; and c) by providing qualitative case studies to underpin the causal narrative.

Understanding de-democratization in the CEE region will help researchers in reformulating the dominant theories of transition in semi-periphery countries as well as provide lessons about socially and democratically sustainable transformations throughout the world. The project directly contributes to the goals of the ISRF by promoting a new political economic framework and by developing interdisciplinary expertise to solve the real-world social problem of rising illiberalism.

Research Outcomes

  • Scheiring, G. (2020). The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary. (Also published in Hungarian: Egy demokrácia halála: Az autoriter kapitalizmus és a felhalmozóállam felemelkedése Magyarországon. Budapest: Napvilág Kiadó.)
  • Scheiring, G., & Szombati, K. (2020). From neoliberal disembedding to authoritarian re-embedding: The making of illiberal hegemony in Hungary. International Sociology. First Published August 18, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1177/0268580920930591.
  • Scheiring, G. (2020). Left Behind in the Hungarian Rust Belt: The Political Economy of Working-Class Neo-Nationalism. Sociology Forthcoming (Special Issue: Nationalism’s Futures).
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). “Varieties of Dependency, Varieties of Illiberalism: The Crisis of Democracy in East-Central Europe”, 115th American Sociological Association (ASA) Annual Meeting, San Francisco, 8-11 August, 2020 (online).
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). Dependent development and authoritarian state capitalism: Democratic backsliding and the rise of the accumulative state in hungary. Geoforum, Available online 5 September 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.08.011.
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). Academic Freedom in Hungary’s Authoritarian State Capitalism, Foreign Policy Centre, London, 18 February 2019, URL: https://fpc.org.uk/academic-freedom-in-hungarys-authoritarian-state-capitalism/.
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). Lessons from the Political Economy of Authoritarian Capitalism in Hungary, Transnational Institute, Challenging Authoritarianism Series, No 1, April 2018, Amsterdam.
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). “Capitalism’s Failed Promise and the Moral Economy of Neo-Nationalism: Premature Deindustrialization and the Remaking of Working Class Solidarities in Hungary”, BASEES Annual Conference, 12 – 14 April 2019, Robinson College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge.
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). “Uneven Development and Authoritarian Capitalism: From the Competition State to the Accumulative State in Hungary”, 4th The Role of State in Varieties of Capitalism (SVOC) Uneven Development, Inequalities and the State, 29-30 November 2018, Budapest.
  • Scheiring, G. (2019). “The Political Economy of Authoritarian Capitalism in East Central Europe”, ISRF Workshop: Relating Pasts & Presents – History of Science & Social Science, Independent Social Research Foundation & Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 26-28 September 2018 – Harnack-Haus, Berlin.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].