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Between St. Petersburg and Moscow: International Lab Researchers Create a New Theoretical School

Between St. Petersburg and Moscow: International Lab Researchers Create a New Theoretical School

© iStock

In Russia, 2021 was declared the Year of Science and Technology. HSE has always paid special attention to the development of science, and more than 40 international laboratories have played an important role in the development of the university as a world research centre. One of the University’s first such laboratories was the Ronald F. Inglehart Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), named after its academic supervisor at the time, American sociologist and political scientist Ronald Inglehart. HSE News Service spoke with LCSR Laboratory Head and professor of sociology Eduard Ponarin (HSE – St. Petersburg) about the Laboratory’s work over the past decade.

Betting on the Young

A few days after news broke of Resolution No. 220 (the establishment of a mega-grants programme for Russian universities – ed.), Ronald Inglehart got in touch with me to ask about funding possibilities for his next wave of survey research in Russia. I told him about the resolution, and soon we were discussing the idea of creating a laboratory connected with a seminar in memory of Samuel Huntington, organized by Yevgeny Yasin in Moscow. The amount of funding allowed Professor Inglehart not only to carry out another round of research in a number of post-Soviet countries, but also to create his own school in Russia, a country which he considers to be an extremely important member of the world community.

Edward Ponarin
© HSE University

Also participating in the Moscow negotiations was Professor Daniil Alexandrov, then Deputy Director of the HSE St. Petersburg. Prof. Alexandrov played a major role in the creation of the laboratory and provided it with critical support. It is also worth mentioning the organizational contribution made by Tatiana Karabchuk in the Lab’s first years. She joined our staff after being selected among other emerging scholars and became my deputy (she now works at UAE University).

My organizational efforts were focused primarily on personnel policy. I put my cards on young researchers interested in improving their qualifications and getting involved in international research. We recruited researchers on a competitive basis — we selected new colleagues based on the quality of their individual research projects, which they presented to us in the hiring process. Substantial funds were spent to send laboratory staff to refresher courses abroad, and then to organize our own summer schools. As a result, after a while we developed a strong team of emerging researchers.

Comparing Countries and Regions

LCSR represents Russia in two international projects: the World Values ​​Survey and the European Value Study. In these studies, researchers from different countries collect data on the value orientations of the populations in their countries, which are then combined into large databases that are publicly available. This is comparative social research, although there are of course other examples, including the European Social Survey (ESS) and the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). In addition, in recent years, we have begun to conduct more research on materials collected in the regions of Russia.

Russia is very diverse, so comparing Russian regions is somewhat similar to comparing different countries

In terms of content, our projects are related to a version of the theory of modernization developed by Ronald Inglehart and adherents of his approach. According to this theory, the driving force behind changes in society are shifts in the value orientations of the population, that is, changes in culture, which are followed by institutional changes. Usually, it is believed that everything happens the other way around — only institutions matter, and culture is secondary. But the Inglehart school has accumulated a large amount of empirical material over the past forty years to assess the sequence of changes.

In this regard, his point of view has recently become quite popular (although not everyone shares it), and he himself is one of the most widely cited social scientists. Thematically, the Laboratory’s projects were initially focused on studying value orientations and subjective well-being (happiness) in Russia, but we also touch on many other topics, such as the national pride of Russians, Russians’ attitudes towards the United States, and others. A list of our projects and publications are available on the laboratory website .

Big Events

Typically, the Laboratory hosts three large events every year.

One is a workshop that is held in the fall semester. This is an event where our researchers and invited foreign colleagues present work that is not yet published.

Our second large event is a conference held as part of HSE University’s annual April Conference. This is a summative conference where our staff recap the work they have conducted over the past year. It is a kind of exhibition of our achievements.

Finally, we hold an annual summer school where we study a specific data analysis method that is new for us. We invite renowned foreign colleagues as lecturers, though recently our own employees increasingly have been working in this capacity at the school. Moreover, sometimes our young researchers themselves are invited to work as instructors at foreign summer schools.

In addition, during the academic year we hold a biweekly seminar, where participants may present and talk in great detail about a single project. This is a useful format for our own researchers as well as our invited researchers in order to receive feedback and prepare their work for publication.

A Dynamic Team

The team of our laboratory is constantly changing. This is due, firstly, to the international mobility of our young employees. Many of them enter leading foreign universities to continue their education. Our researchers have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees at Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Michigan in the USA and the University of Göttingen in Germany. After earning their PhDs abroad, they enter the international labour market.

There have also been cases when our employees accepted a position abroad immediately, without earning a foreign degree

Secondly, new talented colleagues come to us to replace those who have completed their terms. Thirdly, we engage additional international researchers in collaborative projects who work alongside those who have previously joined us.

In the early years of the Laboratory, we invited affiliated researchers — emerging scholars from other regions of Russia or abroad who were not paid employees of the Laboratory but participated in our events in order to receive feedback on and further develop their work. When these researchers published their studies, they indicated the Lab as their second affiliation. Some of them later moved to Moscow or St. Petersburg and became our full-time employees, such as, for example, my deputy in Moscow, Anna Almakaeva, who came to Moscow from Samara. Some of our foreign colleagues, who have already matured, continue to work with us on new projects.

The research assistant institute still functions as generator of new lab staff. Research assistants receive intensive training through HSE academic programmes, including the Master’s programme in Comparative Social Research, participate in our summer schools, research projects, and ideally develop their own projects over time. If their projects are successful, they become researchers of the Lab.

Christian Welzel became our chief researcher, and now he is the academic supervisor of the Laboratory. He collaborated with Ronald Inglehart for a long time and continues to develop his theory of modernization. Dr. Welzel’s books have received prestigious international prizes in the fields of political science and social psychology, and in 2017, one of his articles was awarded the HSE Golden Citation prize. By the way, two years later, another employee of our laboratory, Aigul M. Klimova, received this award.

Between Two Campuses

Since its inception, the Laboratory has existed on two campuses, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Each campus has roughly the same number of lab employees. This, incidentally, contributed to our development of remote work methods long before the coronavirus pandemic. Our regular seminar, which we have been holding since 2011, takes place on one campus and is broadcast on another, so that employees from both campuses can participate in the discussion.

The pandemic, of course, made some adjustments to our lives, but it was not difficult for us to adapt to telecommuting

The Master’s programme in Comparative Social Research, organized by our laboratory, initially operated on two campuses but was subsequently transferred entirely to Moscow for organizational reasons. However, staff from St. Petersburg continue to teach in the programme. It has now developed into a double degree programme in collaboration with the Free University of Berlin and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris.

Of course, over the years of the Laboratory’s existence, both students and young employees who have grown into promising researchers have worked for us. For example, Boris Sokolov began his work as a research assistant in 2012 as a graduate student at St. Petersburg State University. In 2018, he authored and published an article in a leading political science journal (APSR), and is now a senior fellow at LCSR and an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg campus.

We recently completed a large project, funded by the Russian Science Foundation, in which we collected representative samples in the regions of Russia. The data will allow us to begin a number of new projects on topics such as subjective well-being, social capital, and other issues based on the material of Russian regions.

The past ten years have been very productive for our laboratory, which now bears the name of Ronald Inglehart in recognition of his organizational and scholarly achievements. Thanks to the enthusiasm of our colleagues and their research, we have managed to create a new theoretical school in Russia within a short time. I would like to thank all our current and former employees and wish them continued success, wherever they are.

From 2010–2020, LCSR researchers published 85 articles in journals indexed in WoS, 87% of which are Q1 or Q2 journals. 11 dissertation defenses were conducted. In 2017, the academic supervisor of the laboratory, Christian Welzel, was awarded HSE’s Golden Citation prize.

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