To learn means to compare
A project entitled "Morality and Trust in Old and New Market Economies" has been running since 2007 as a joint research teaching activity included in the MA Program of Applied Social Research of Markets (head - Prof. V. Radaev) at the Higher School of Economics and the Research Institute for Sociology, University of Cologne, Germany.
This project uses the joint sociological dataset "European Social Survey". The Russian side is led by Alexander Chepurenko, Dean of the Sociological Faculty, and Leonid Kosals, Professor of the Department of Economic Sociology. The German side is headed by Professor Heiner Meulemann and Dr. Tilo Beckers, both from the Research Institute for Sociology, University of Cologne. But the distinguishing feature of this Project is that the principal participants were German and Russian students.
The results of this project were presented at the 10th International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development in Russia, held April 7-9, 2009 in Moscow.
We interviewed Leonid Kosals, coordinator of the Russian side of the project.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of this project?
This Project came about because of last year's move towards the internationalization of the curriculum and our desire to be included in the international research-learning community. It's still quite unusual for us when students from two countries study research topics by means of a shared dataset. On the Russian side, Professor A.Chepurenko initiated this project and conducted preliminary talks in 2006. Initially, a small group of faculty members met at Cologne University. Then we recruited some students. Together with our German colleagues we launched research seminars on morals and trust in old and new market economies. Within this broad area of research we offered a list of a specific topic that students could choose from. HSE MA students are now taking part in this project as part of their first year exams and MA thesis.
Q: And what about the dataset you mentioned?
European Social Survey (ESS) contains adult population data covering twenty five European countries including Russia, Ukraine and other post-Communist states. There are questions on political and economic values, happiness in various areas of life, trust, family structure, etc. ESS is one of the best comparative surveys, conducted bi-annually since 2002 and winner of the 2005 Descartes Research Prize usually awarded by the European Commission to physicists and other representatives of sciences with rigorous methodologies. Accordingly, data collection within ESS is arranged though shared and rigorous rules in every country under the control of an international team of experts. As a result, we have a comparable dataset that is a hugely significant contribution for this kind of studies. Prior to this, because of great cultural differences in various countries, these studies were impossible to conduct without the dataset.
Q: When and where were the outcomes of the project presented?
There was an initial seminar in Cologne in September 2008 for the exchange of preliminary results. The focus was on the general design of these particular studies, setting the research questions and methodology specifications, as well as preliminary data analysis. The second (and final) part was presented recently as part of the HSE's Tenth International Academic Conference on economic and social development. Our German partners visited Moscow in early April. The first seminar was, in fact, a workshop only for the participants of this project while the second event included discussion among the wider international research community. Three sections were held within the framework of the meeting, one for professors and two for students. Students prepared and presented research papers which were the core of their graduate thesis for the Russian part.
We held a day of special events for Cologne University in our Sociological Faculty including a public lecture by Professor Heiner Meulemann "Perspectives on Social Capital Definition, questions and some results from the European Social Survey" (see videotape, text and PowerPoint presentation at http://www.hse.ru/news/recent/7019414.html#mo); a presentation by Dr. Tilo Beckers on "Studying Sociology and Social Sciences at the University of Cologne: Bachelor, Master and PhD-Research Programmes", as well as informal exchanges between students and professors from both countries.
Q: Am I right that the working language of the project was English?
In fact our students had a lot of extra work writing their final papers in both languages. As for the German part, they gave seminars in English with an international team including not only German students but also Polish, British and Japanese students. I believe this experience was extremely useful both for our students and our professors. Firstly, this project provided an opportunity for students to study using an internationally recognized dataset. And, in addition, it gave us the opportunity to adopt international academic guidelines and to practice academic English. However, it must be noted that there were a few methodological and organizational obstacles that we need to overcome.
Q: And what are these obstacles?
The main ones are that our organization of the studying process doesn`t correspond to international projects, there is too much red tape and a lack of flexibility. There is no way to avoid extra work, you have to do the regular work and simultaneously do the same work in English. Students and professors receive no compensation for this extra work. It is necessary to try to change our organization to facilitate inclusion of such international initiatives to improve our methodological and financial situation. We have to take into account that these projects differ from our regular curricula.
The second issue relates to the quality of teaching and our willingness to adopt international academic guidelines. It also relates to our linguistic training, Although the HSE is strong enough in this field, there may be a few teething problems for students when they start to communicate in Academic English. However, it's possible to solve this problem through additional practice. Another problem is in different approaches to data analysis, for example, our German colleagues use multi-level regression analysis, a technique almost unknown in our country.
There are some problems with the theory and understanding of comparative international studies that require a deep understanding of Russia's place in the world. This was familiar topic for thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but today we face other challenges and have to examine Russia's differences through empirical studies. To do this needs a broad brush approach, together with understanding of the details of different economic and political systems, as well as of the cultural idiosyncrasies of various countries or, more precisely, groups of countries. We need to be able to answer questions like "What are the main factors involved in trust differences in Scandinavia, Russia and Bulgaria?" Incidentally, for students, these theoretical problems are especially important, because these students are only starting to study science and in this area, the foundations are only just emerging in Russia. And for students to take part in the actual advanced research projects is obviously useful.
Q: What is the potential for such international projects?
Though this project is officially over and the final presentations have been made, studies are continuing, because our students have to present results as part of their viva process in June. We have no concrete plans with our partners, however I think, we have a certain mutual interest; and the next (2008) wave of ESS is under way that will give us the opportunity to measure changes.
To be included into comparative international studies and taken seriously it is necessary to accumulate a "critical mass" of people participating in such projects in Russia. Now the Russian part of ESS is funded by the Institute for Comparative Social Research making fieldwork by its own means (data is available free of charge at the ESS website) that shows state and public attitudes to this topic.
Student participation in such projects is quite rare, although a second project of comparative studies is currently underway at the HSE Sociological Faculty (this project concerns the Russian and German labour markets, under the guidance of Associate Professor Yana Roshina and Assistant Professor Tatiana Karabchuk). Undergraduate Students have to have the opportunity to take part in such projects, developing their skills and ensuring that by the time they graduate they are professionals familiar with international guidelines and ready to participate in the global research and learning community.
Detailed information on the "European Social Survey".
Russian part of ESS is making by the Institute for Comparative Social Research, coordinator is Anna Andreenkova
First seminar within the research-learning Project: "Morality and Trust in Old and New Market Economies", Cologne, Germany, September 26-28, 2008
Presentations within the Project: "Morality and Trust in Old and New Market Economies" at the Tenth International Academic Conference on economic and social development in Russia, Moscow, Russia, April 7-9, 2009, sessions R09, R11, R12.
Professor Heiner Meulemann
Dr. Tilo Beckers