Lithuanian historical studies 15 2010 ISSN 1392-2343 pp. 107–134
WHEN FORMAL ORGANISATIONS MEET INFORMAL RELATIONS IN SOVIET LITHUANIA: ACTION NETS, NETWORKS AND BOUNDARY O BJECTS IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE LITHUANIAN SEA MUSEUM Eglė Rindzevičiūtė Abstract This study considers organisation in countries under the Soviet regime. The focus is on the creation of the Sea Museum in Klaipėda from the 1960s to the 1980s, a massive undertaking that required huge capital investments, use of rare foreign materials, cooperation between many different sectors (Soviet military, heritage preservation, seaport management, seagoing fishing vessels and zoos in Eastern bloc countries), and many innovations in designing the local sea aquarium system. The whole project was formally illegal: there was an all-union wide restriction on building so-called ‘spectator venues’. This article analyses the roles of formal and informal relations in the construction of the Sea Museum as a project concerning the public good. It suggests that the presence of informality did not undermine formal organising in the overtly centralised Soviet regime. Belonging to formal organisations was an important resource for actors who constructed action nets that went beyond the boundaries of these organisations. Although it is widely known that the successful functioning of formal organisations often depended on informal relations, this point raises complex questions about the identity and uniqueness of the Soviet system.
Introduction Prevailing theories assume that the coordination and control of
activity are the critical dimensions on which formal organizations have succeeded in the modern world1. This assumption is based on the view that organizations function according to their formal blueprints: coordination is routine, rules and procedures are followed, and actual activities conform to the prescriptions of formal structure. However, much of the empirical research questions this assumption.2 1 I would like to thank the participants in the seminar Being in the Soviet Network, Vilnius, 11–12 November 2010, for enlightening discussion of an early version of this paper. I am also especially grateful to Barbara Czarniawska and Kajsa Lindberg for their useful comments. The views expressed and any errors are the author’s only. 2 J.W. Meyer and B. Rowan, ‘Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony’, American Journal of Sociology, 83 (1977), p. 342.