Learning about Sociology from a Global Perspective
Master’s programme in Comparative Social Research was launched in 2014 and has been rapidly developing since. Its Academic Supervisor Christian Fröhlich talks about what the programme offers the applicants and what makes it unique.
The programme is about sociology from a global perspective. It’s about global sociology in the sense that we focus on comparative sociology, although one can say that sociology in itself is already comparative. As Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology said, sociology in itself is comparative. What we do in our programme is compare cultures, nations, societies, and other groups of people. We look at social issues in the world from a perspective of interconnectedness between social action of individuals on different macro-levels of collectivity, such as, for example, societies and cultures.
Our programme is taught in an international environment firstly because it is delivered entirely in English. There is no need to know any Russian to participate in seminars or attend lectures. Secondly, our whole faculty is international. Most of our lecturers are from abroad, from various countries, which brings an additional dimension to the programme. In general, the programme is geared towards Anglo-American sociology although there are quite a few researchers from Europe as well. There are those who permanently work at HSE, for example Kyungmin Baek from South Korea, Lili Di Puppo from Belgium, Chares Demetriou from Cyprus, and others. We also invite guest lecturers thanks to our close institutional relations with the International Laboratory for Comparative Social Research headed by Eduard Ponarin. Many distinguished scholars are guest fellows or permanent fellows at the laboratory, and the academic supervisor of the lab is Ronald Inglehart, a prominent sociologist and founder of World Values Survey. Our students benefit from direct interaction and many fruitful discussions with lab scholars who often act as supervisors for students’ research projects and master theses. Additionally, the students can participate in all LCSR events – summer schools, research workshops and seminars in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. They also have an opportunity to present their master theses or course works at LCSR annual conferences.
As our faculty is international, the teaching process is organized in a way you find at Anglo-American and West-European elite universities. The demands are quite high. Our seminars are very participatory and challenging. We encourage students to work on their own initiative and to develop independent thinking and research. So, the programme in this respect is in line with similar western programmes. It should be mentioned that here at HSE, student autonomy is greatly promoted and encouraged.
Studies and prospects
Ours is a young programme, it was launched only two years ago and the first cohort will graduate this summer. The programme is heavily research-orientated. Big part of education is dedicated to methods and methodology. We are preparing people to actually handle data from different contexts, institutional backgrounds, and countries. We are often working with big comparative data sets like World Values Survey or European Values Survey. Students graduating from our programme will be able to do applied research focusing on various issues. So, they will be able to work in big international organizations and companies where they will handle data to solve problems and understand issues and problems. We motivate them also to pursue research at PhD level – our students are well-prepared to enter international doctoral programmes.
We not only teach quantitative methods, but also introduce students to qualitative methods. However, due to our close relations to the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research our primary focus is quantitative research. Starting with the first semester, students get a lot of practice working with programmes for statistical analysis, in particular the R, which is a very sophisticated programme unlike SPSS undergraduates typically work with. So, from the very beginning of the programme students are in touch with empirical research.
For our future intakes we plan to add a wider range of elective courses so that students can have a bigger scope of topics apart from methodology to choose from. We are also working on strengthening our contacts with the international research community. We are inviting guest speakers for our seminars and master classes. This will also help expand the range of internship options for our students.
The third semester of our programme is devoted exclusively to research practice, when students conduct their research internship. They do not attend any classes during this semester. Students can do their internship in research institutions, choosing from a wide network of the laboratory´s and the programme´s partners. For instance, students go to our partner the University of Tilburg. Others went to Germany, Poland, Finland, or to some strong research institutions in Moscow or St. Petersburg. There are also opportunities to go to international organizations. Last year our student Miguel Mayol did an internship at UN office in Chile. There he studied the issue of homophobia in Latin America.
Students are urged to come up with their own topic of research for their thesis. Then they discuss it with their academic supervisor and in the research seminar. Already in the first semester they write a research proposal as a ground stone for further work. The internship provides an excellent opportunity to gather material for the thesis. Topics that interest students are quite diverse. The only obligatory element is a comparative approach. It does not necessarily mean that they need to compare many countries – they can compare social groups, or just take two countries. We have students interested in the relation and attitude of the public towards science. There is a student working on how female researchers cope with gender discrimination in Germany and Russia. Another research topic is related to how the concept of culture is used and transformed in the work of consulting agencies in Finland. Questions of nationalism and racism in different countries and how this depends on social characteristics of these countries are also studied.
Who is the programme for?
In general, we are open to political scientists, historians, sociologists. In other words, our programme is for all social scientists. Applicants need a solid knowledge of methodology, qualitative as well as quantitative methods, and a general interest and educational background in how societies work. However, our programme is designed in such a way that students who lack certain methodological knowledge can rapidly catch up and study successfully.
The programme is of particular interest to international applicants because it gives them an opportunity to earn a high-quality Master diploma complying with modern standards of education while living in Russia. This country is an interesting place to experience. Students study in Moscow but can go to Saint Petersburg, where the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research holds many of its events and where students can complete their research internships. This way, students can enjoy a different cultural environment, which is an additional significant benefit.
Abhinav Banerjee, India, 1st year student
I chose the MA CSR program because of its promising blend of Social Science theory. I have certainly not been disappointed! The programme is quite as I hoped it would be, and I look forward to every class as there are so many wonderful insights to gain. In my research project I am modelling the growth and acceptance of the Liberal Arts along with other emerging cross-disciplinary fields vis-a-vis traditional educational disciplines.
Jacqueline Phillips, USA, 2nd year student
I learned about HSE and the Master’s in Comparative Social Research when I read an interview with one of the professors that was posted on the HSE website. This programme has incorporated the best of both worlds. While intense theoretical discussion is popular in US sociology, Russian academia prides itself on research. At HSE, I have already written many theoretical papers, but also worked in the SPSS, Atlas.ti, and R software packages. Right now I am exploring how the concept of culture in social science is translated into practical management applications by business consultants and the implications of this concept transformation.
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