Thinking Conceptually, Analyzing Empirically: The New Europe Barometer
On November 17th, 2011, Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and 6th Century Chair in Politics (University of Aberdeen) gave a talk on 'Thinking Conceptually, Analyzing Empirically: The New Europe Barometer' at the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) in Saint Petersburg.
The main point of Richard Rose’s talk was the importance of asking meaningful questions. In his presentation he referred to the “Verstehen” sociology of Max Weber. According to Rose, it is very important to understand which concepts we are trying to study with quantitative data.
Richard Rose began his research in 1991 when many countries were suffering from the collapse of institutions. Most of the states he was studying had not existed 10 years before. People had to survive without any functioning institutions. There was a transformation taking place in politics (parties instead of the Party), economy (from planned to free market exchange), and society (the emergence of informal social capital).
The main focus of his work was to study the mass response to multidimensional institutional transformation. When conducting international comparisons, Rose claims, it should always be taken into account that in various countries, different questions matter. Some people assume that it is possible to ask the same questions in all countries. For example, surveys by the UN, IMF and the WVS sometimes extend questions to countries where there are no comparable institutions.
Richard Rose demonstrated some alternatives for conducting questionnaires. The main idea of his concept is not to ask people who are experiencing transformation questions which are pointless from their point of view but rather to listen to what they say. For example, Rose discussed his questionnaire with Bulgarians in 1991. They found many questions pointless and told stories from their life instead. So he tried to turn an anthropological ethnographic description into quantitative data, and this turned out to be possible to some extent.
Rose showed three examples of turning real life stories into quantitative data. These are micro-economic model, political evaluation and social capital.
Microeconomic model. Richard Rose compared the percentage of those whose income from their main job or pension is enough for living, and those who manage to cope with a multiplicity of resources. Unsurprisingly, the second group is larger in all transition countries. There is a huge difference in income level (from 61% in Slovenia to 15% in Russia), whereas the discrepancy in coping is much smaller (from 65% in Belorussia to 85% in Latvia).
Political evaluation. Instead of asking about democracy, Richard Rose asked about the regime, then about the idea of democracy, about freedoms which are reflected in behavior, etc. In the WVS 85% of Azerbaijan as satisfied with the level of democracy. He asked the audience how this statistical fact can be interpreted.
Furthermore he used Churchill’s hypothesis and asked about the other forms of government (military rule, a return to communist rule, suspension of parliament, elections, dictatorship). According to the results, a significant minority support alternative regimes.
Social capital. Richard Rose brought up the question of whether people trust a corrupt regime. He strongly believes that people have a portfolio of alternatives. The dimensions of social capital include the allocation of public sector by law, the allocation of the market to paying customers, non-monetized production, the begging or cajoling of officials controlling allocation, re-allocation in contravention of the rules etc.
After the presentation Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel discussed the issue of democracy. They demonstrated that the WVS also takes into consideration specific characteristics of different countries. Professor Inglehart noted that the understanding of democracy is very different and the WVS looks into what people think about democracy. For instance, people in Albania and Azerbaijan tend to have a higher opinion of democracy than people in Sweden and Switzerland. Christian Welzel mentioned that according to WVS, the support of democracy is very high even in societies which are not democratic in a European sense.
Further information can be found on Richard Rose’s website in the barometer section.
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