Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Laurence C. Thorsen


During the 1980's the Soviet Union underwent a decade of dramatic change. The study of these changes initiated by the Gorbachev government has focused primarily on the reforms initiated by the state- perestroika from above. However, by the mid 1980's it was apparent that the state was not so much reforming society as society was drastically altering the state. Some analysts at this time began to shift to examining reforms at the grassroots level- perestroika from below.

This thesis is an examination of these perestroika from below reforms. The thesis seeks to asses the usefulness of the civil society model in describing and explaining the dramatic nature of this change. Informal associations, a key element of a functional civil society, are examined to analyze the extent of their importance to the Gorbachev era reforms.

The analysis of the usefulness of both the civil society model and its informal associations is historically grounded. The thesis analyzes the historic growth and evolution of the civil society idea from late Imperial Russia to the late Soviet period in 1989. The analysis of the Gorbachev era focuses on the changing Soviet society and its contribution to the reform process.

The thesis concludes that the civil society model, while having some deficiencies, overall helps to explain the dramatic nature of change occurring in the Soviet Union in the 1980's. The analysis also supports the critical importance of informal associations in fostering and assisting democratization efforts. However, the work notes that there are significant obstacles in the path of further development of civil society