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Regular version of the site

Changing Europe Summer School: the Advantages of Interdisciplinary Approach

The 7th International ‘Changing Europe’ Summer School took place at the start of August in Moscow. The event was organized by the Higher School of Economics and the University of Bremen Research Centre for East European Studies.

The Research Centre for East European Studies has been organizing the Changing Europe summer school, which is dedicated to the transformation problems of post-Socialist countries, since 2006. During this time, the school, which usually brings together young researchers and lecturers from Central and East European countries, has taken place in Berlin, Warsaw, Bremen, Kiev and Prague. In 2011 the Higher School of Economics became the host for the school for the first time. And this experience turned out to be so successful that in 2012, ‘Changing Europe’ came to Moscow once again.

About 20 researchers from universities and research centers in Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, Romania and, of course, Russia, participated in the recent school. ‘The application procedure was competitive’, Leonid Kosals, co-chairman of the school and tenured professor at the HSE, told us, ‘Information about the school was published on the website of the Research Centre for East European Studies and was distributed through social networks. We announced the school’s general topic - 'Central Eastern Europe and the CIS: between post-socialist path-dependence, Europeanization and globalization’ – and candidates submitted applications with summaries of their research works. After this, they submitted a more detailed text, and the selection committee gave some candidates the opportunity to ‘polish’ their papers. The expert committee included such HSE representatives as Alexander Chepurenko and Andrey Yakovlev. After this procedure, the school programme was created, and then discussants and session heads were selected’.

A total number of seven sessions on various topics were held. During the first day, these included ‘Getting rid of planned economies’, ‘Urban spaces’ and ‘Authoritarian tendencies in the CIS’. During the following days, participants discussed the issues of moral transformation and new systems of values in post-socialist communities, Europeanization of the CIS, and problems of memory and identity. But the school programme was not limited only to academic sessions.

‘It was a combination of a traditional academic conference which discusses the results of research, and teaching some new academic skills useful for young researchers’, Leonid Kosals explained, ‘Of course, the key task for the participants was to get feedback on their work both from their young colleagues and more experienced researchers. But we also organized some classes and lectures where we discussed how to prepare articles for an academic journal, how to apply for a grant and how to work with e-resources’.

Despite the school’s interdisciplinary nature, its participants quickly found a common language. ‘In this regard, an excellent team was rapidly formed’, Leonid Kosals mentioned, ‘They actively exchanged questions, comments and various ideas. The focus was on research related to Eastern Europe. This regional focus also became a unifying factor: though the participants represented different countries, a set of problems common for all transforming societies could be determined. And most of the participants had a problem-oriented approach to research. They studied specific problems, not focusing on specifically methodological issues’.

Andrey Yakovlev, Director of the HSE Institute for Industrial and Market Studies, spoke as one of the experts and panel discussion chairs. During the early years of the Changing Europe school he coordinated this project on behalf of the Russian part and promoted it among the Russian research community.

‘Organizing this school is highly useful for the HSE’, he believes, ‘For us this is one more opportunity to establish informal contacts with a young generation of European researchers who are studying the problems of transitional societies and economies. This also can be useful in terms of attracting some of them to work for the HSE, since we recruit researchers with PhD degrees. This is also useful in terms of creating a network of professionals who work on the same subjects and topics as we do. One more serious advantage of the school is its interdisciplinary approach. Today there are many conferences focused on a specific discipline, and it is good when people discuss something as part of their specialization. But I believe that science and research recently have been developing at the junctions of different disciplines. And such interdisciplinary discussions, despite all the possible problems, are useful in the search for new ideas and in terms of getting feedback from representatives of other research areas. They help us all to find a new view of our own subject’.

Some of the school participants also shared their impressions of the event:

Vera Jotanovic, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy:

— When I studied in Paris, my best friend who taught at Sciences Po, forwarded me an invitation letter to this summer school. That was last year: I sent an application, it was selected, and I went to Moscow. I liked it a lot, and today I’m back here for the second time. This year I have brought a research project comparing economic situations in the Balkan and the EU countries. I used 11 macrovariables for the comparison, tracing their changes for about 20 years and comparing with the changes in similar indicators in the EU countries. I am very pleased with the feedback I received here. In fact, this was what I came for here. The professors, who were experts at the school, told us many good things, but also gave a lot of constructive criticism, which is particularly valuable. For me it was important to know what I can do to improve my research.

Leyla Safta-Zecheria, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany:

— I also got to know about the Changing Europe School last year: from my academic supervisor who told me how to apply. But unfortunately I could not come here last year, so I asked my supervisor to tell me when such an opportunity appeared again. As you see, this year, I sent an application and became a school participant. I prepared my research specially for this school, and it was dedicated to analyzing path dependency in the Romanian psychiatric system. I am studying how the ideas of human rights were adopted in post-socialist countries and what impact this process had, in particular, on the state of the Romanian psychiatric system. For example, I am interested in why legal changes in this sphere have not been reflected in practice. I was particularly impressed with how our papers were discussed during the school, it was a very useful time for me.

Vasile Rotaru, National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania:

— For six months I conducted research at the University of Leuven, and from a colleague there I found out about the opportunity to participate in the Changing Europe summer school. I thought it might be useful for my work, applied, and was delighted to be selected. The focus of my research is the Eastern Partnership programme and its impact on the EU-Russia relations. Is this EU initiative a challenge to Russian foreign policy on post-socialist space? How will Russia react to it? Have EU-Russia relations changed since the launch of this programme in 2009? Those are the questions I am trying to find answers to. It was interesting to listen to opinions about my work from colleagues as well as from experienced researchers and HSE professors. The school brought together people specializing in different fields of economics, sociology, political science, and even anthropology. On one hand, this is no bad thing, but on the other hand, it would probably make sense to organize the discussions in sections. Not being an expert in certain fields, I, for example, did not always have an opportunity to ask substantive questions about the presented papers and competently participate in the discussion. But generally, participating in the school was a very interesting experience for me.

Margarita Zobnina, Associate Professor at the HSE Department of Strategic Marketing:

— For me it was interesting to see how international colleagues work on their PhDs: I am now considering  a PhD degree. But this interest was not the only reason for my participation in the school. It is always useful to broaden your outlook, to get to know what problems your colleagues are working on, what approaches to academic work they have, and how representatives of different disciplines solve similar research tasks. In the paper which I presented at the school, I analyzed the difference in consumer expectations in the hospitality sector on the basis of the Kano model. I looked at the differences between age groups as well as between experienced travelers and those who have never traveled abroad before. It turned out that the difference between ‘senior’ travelers and the ‘younger’ ones is more substantial than between experienced and novice travelers. I believe the school’s interdisciplinary approach was one of its undoubted advantages. We had an opportunity to look at the evolution of various processes from different perspectives: for example, to find out which political science approaches can be used in marketing, what Total Quality Management tools can be used in sociology, and so on. This is much more interesting than to be locked in one’s own narrow specialization.

Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service

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