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Regular version of the site

HSE to Launch Institute for Cultural Studies

HSE to Launch Institute for Cultural Studies

© HSE University

At the last meeting of the HSE Academic Council, it was decided to create a new subdivision of the Faculty of Urban and Regional Development (FURD). The Faculty will now be home to the Institute of Cultural Studies. Vitaly Kurennoy, Director of the Institute and Professor of the School of Philosophy and Cultural Studies of the Faculty of Humanities, discussed the Institute’s main areas of focus and the importance of cultural studies.

What are the goals and objectives of the new Institute?

The main goal is to create a centre of high-quality research and expertise in contemporary culture as well as cultural and leisure practices at HSE. An additional aim is to strengthen HSE University’s position as a centre of research, expert analysis, and applied research in culture. ‘Culture’ is understood here in a broad sense—and this is exactly how it is used in the modern social sciences.

Vitaly Kurennoy
© Wikimedia Commons

The Institute will have the following primary areas of focus.

 The first area of focus is fundamental and applied cultural research. Institute activities will include the development of an empirical database, the monitoring of cultural and leisure practices and cultural and creative industries, and the development of theoretical and methodological tools for this kind of research.

 The second area concerns the expansion of regional research and regional partnerships of the University, as well as the implementation of interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with other HSE departments. We already have many interesting projects planned in this area.

 Thirdly, the Institute will focus on producing high-quality expert analysis, providing consulting services, and creating methodological research and informational developments for both public entities (including state and municipal organs) and the corporate sector with regard to culture, cultural projects, and cultural industries.

Why, in your opinion, is it necessary create this kind of research subdivision at FURD and at HSE as a whole? Why is it important at this particular time?

There are several fundamental factors for this. Let’s start with the fact that in recent years the state’s attention to cultural policy has increased significantly. In our country, the adoption of the Fundamentals of State Cultural Policy in 2014 exemplifies this this trend, and in 2019 the state cultural policy sector was listed as a state priority as part of the national Culture project. In addition, with the recent amendments to Articles 68 and 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation in 2020, culture has taken on significantly greater constitutional significance. Both in Russia and in other countries, there is increasing attention given to cultural heritage and cultural identity at the level of state policy and in public discourse.

The second important set of factors is related to the economy. The economic aspect of culture today is a central issue of the so-called creative or creative industries. While the creative economy is not new, today we are seeing that it is finally becoming an area of focus in Russia as well. Both at the government level and at the level of individual regions, the creative economy has been declared as a priority sector for development. Our colleagues from the ISSEK Russian Cluster Observatory at HSE have just completed a large and complex study, in which they  determined the contribution of the creative industries sector to the Moscow economy. It is very high and promising. As various speeches by Mayor Sobyanin have made clear, there is deliberate emphasis being placed on this sector in Moscow, where measures are being developed to stimulate and develop it. I am confident that in the near future, attention to the creative economy will increase. However, the more traditional sector of culture and cultural and leisure practices is also obviously of great economic importance. Suffice it to point out that households in our country spend substantially more resources on culture, leisure, and entertainment than, for example, on medicine and education. This is a huge segment of the economy, and an unusually dynamic one. Therefore, one of the research areas of the Institute will involve cultural and leisure practices and new trends in this sphere. It is also worth mentioning areas of the modern economy such as tourism and travel. Culture plays an increasingly important role here in attracting tourists.

Thirdly, culture continues to play an increasing role in understanding modern societies as well as in the social sciences. Social theorists have identified a process of ‘culturalization’ of modern societies. Action strategies and motives of behavior are increasingly moving into the sphere of culture; the role of aesthetics and emotions is growing, crowding out the traditional subject of rational choice and calculation in all areas of life—politics, economics, and social practices. If we want to understand modern society and modern human behavior, it is critically important for us to rethink the role of these cultural factors and to find new conceptual and theoretical tools for understanding the processes associated with them.

These are the external prerequisites for the creation of a new research centre at our university. But there are also a number of internal reasons. University staff have already accumulated a large amount of experience as researchers and experts in the field of culture. I can say that the Laboratory for Cultural Studies, which is also part of the new Institute, was not only engaged in fundamental cultural research, but also participated in the development of all the main Russian cultural policy decisions and implemented significant regional socio-cultural policy projects. Staff have extensive experience conducting field work and expeditions that are interdisciplinary in nature and yet include a strong cultural anthropological component. We have excellent economists working in both the public sector of culture and in the cultural industries.

The aim of the new institute is to consolidate these competencies, to bring them to a new level in terms of research and projects. The new institute was created within the structure of the Faculty of Urban and Regional Development, which clearly points to our practical, project-based priorities.

However, as I said before, very interesting projects and areas of research have already been outlined not only with colleagues from FURD, but also with the HSE Art and Design School, the Institute of Education, the Institute for Social Policy, the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK), the Faculty of Humanities, and other departments of HSE.

Who will join the staff of the Institute? Are you planning to involve students from both the Faculty of Urban and Regional Development and other faculties of HSE?

At the structural level, the Institute is integrating the already mentioned Laboratory for Cultural Research of the Centre for Basic Research, which will be headed by Professor Rouslan Khestanov. The entire team of Tatyana Abankina will also be joining the Institute, and, correspondingly, the Institute of Public Resource Management, which was transformed into the Centre of Creative Economy. We are building a very strong team of regional and field research specialists. HSE professors, lecturers, and staff who will be joining us include Svetlana Barsukova, Olga Molyarenko, Artemy Pozanenko, Alexander Suvalko, and Sergey Seleev. We have also invited new specialists who have extensive experience in project-based work in the new area of the Institute. Without listing them all, I will mention Vladimir Kartavtsev, who will head the Centre for Applied and Field Research, Artyom Kosmarsky, and Ivan Napreenko. One of our main areas of research is modern cultural and leisure practices. Therefore, we have invited specialists in this field, in particular, Artyom Rondarev, whom I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate on the release of his big new book on the transformation of modern music. In my opinion, we have a unique new team.

Of course, one of the tasks of the Institute in the context of new transformations at our university is the development of project-based work and facilitating student involvement in it. We are already accustomed to recruiting students for our expeditions and projects from a variety of educational programmes, and we will continue to do so on a larger scale. The opportunities students receive at HSE to participate in interdisciplinary project work is a huge advantage of studying at HSE.

Has the Institute already commenced work?

Despite the difficult conditions in which the University begins this academic year, the Academic Council of HSE University at its first meeting voted to establish the Institute, so we can say that we are already working. Here I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues and the university leadership for their support of this undertaking. True, since the beginning of the academic year, I have practically already reached my annual teaching load, so I didn't have to get bored while waiting for us to be able to start up work at the Institute. Now we are actively embarking on the areas of focus outlined for the Institute, as well as drawing up a new pool of projects. In the near future, we also plan to work with the regions, both with our permanent partners, such as Satka, and new ones. We have already planned pilot projects in Tatarstan, and we have just returned from a trip to Primorye, where we are going to implement a project next year in partnership with the Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve (unfortunately, at the last moment, due to quarantine measures, the University suspended the expeditionary travel programme). We will be happy to share the results of our work with the HSE News Service! I would also like to remind you that Tatyana Abankina and I are leading a regular open university-wide seminar, ‘Topical Issues of Cultural Policy’, and, in the near future, we will also launch an open research seminar of the new Institute for Cultural Studies.

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