Mapping Social Mechanisms in a Civilized Public Sphere
On March 16, Apostolis Papakostas, Professor of Sociology at Södertörn University in Stockholm, Sweden gave a presentation of his book ‘Civilizing the Public Sphere: Distrust, Trust and Corruption’ at the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research. Examining the interplay between distrust, trust and corruption, this book maps out the social mechanisms that make actors and organizations in the public sphere perform their activities in a civilized manner. Professor Papakostas recently agreed to speak with the HSE news service about his research and about what got him interested in the topic.
— What motives did you have in pursuing the research that led to your recent book?
— There is not just ‘one’ motive but several. Some of the motives originate in my personal biography. I moved to Sweden in my early twenties. People in the north often behave more predictably than people in the Mediterranean world do. When I asked people why they behave in this way, the answer was because of the culture they live in.
For many years, I was satisfied with such answers. But as I became a professional sociologist later on in life, I understood that cultures are very ambivalent entities. They cannot determine or prescribe the performances of actors. I felt that I had to find the answers in other places in social life.
— What were the criteria you used in selecting examples?
— Since I use my examples to illustrate complicated theoretical arguments, they are selected in order to give the simplest and best illustration of the theoretical argument. I have chosen many illustrations from everyday life, simple or trivial ones, in order to capture the interest of the reader and then lead the reader into more abstract reasoning.
— How and where were you looking for your examples?
— Everywhere, from everyday routine activities to macro phenomena such as states or political systems.
— Did you have a certain theory before writing the book and was it proven by facts, or did you have to rethink your own ideas?
— I did not have a theory, but, I believe a capacity to theorize, as my former teacher Richard Swedberg puts it. You come up with some questions, and then you try to answer them by playing with theories, metaphors, paradigms, schools of thought, etc. Theorizing is a kind of playing with theories and ideas.
— How did your collaboration with HSE start? What comes next?
— I was invited by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) and Professor Anna Kuleshova to give a talk at the organization’s Grushin Conference. At the moment, I am leading a rather large comparative project on developments in civil society organizations involving several countries. Russia is a part of the study. I hope that my talks with colleagues in Moscow during my visit will give some ideas for future academic cooperation.
The book has been translated in Russian and published by VCIOM.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service
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