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Regular version of the site

International Conference on Economics and Culture

On November 10−15, the IV International Conference ‘Cultural and Economic Changes in a Comparative Perspective’ took place in St. Petersburg. Organized by HSE’s Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, the conference has traditionally brought together Russian and foreign scholars working on issues of values, trust, social capital, corruption and inequality in a changing world, as well as the role of religion in political activity and other social issues in Russia and other countries.

The conference was opened by Ronald Inglehart, Academic Supervisor of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at HSE. His presentation ‘From Class Conflict to Cultural Issues — and Back Again?’ highlighted the issue of growing economic inequality within countries despite the emergence of new economic sectors. On the question of who should be the main force in the fight against economic inequality, Inglehart responded:

‘Governments are controlled by the oligarchs, so they will not do it. In the United States, as in Russia, there are certain wealthy individuals who have huge influence over government decisions. I believe they are quite satisfied with the situation. This is something that must therefore be fixed from the bottom-up, that is, it must be some kind of civil society, like in U.S. politics, where unions once played an important role. I think that we need such organizations not only to protect individual employees, but the working class as a whole. This is in the common interest, because income has stagnated in recent years, not only among specialists with secondary education, but also for people with degrees from institutions of higher education. The income of a small group of citizens at the very top of society has greatly increased, however.’

Christian Welzel, Professor in the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research and at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany), spoke about the causes of economic inequality between countries.

‘The geographic position, political regime, availability of clean water, and even average annual temperature all have an impact on the development of countries,’ he said. ‘First, in the period between the years 1,000 and 1,500, the countries in north-western Europe made a breakthrough in development, countries that are in the so-called “cold waters” with a cool, rainy climate. However, in the age of globalization, when information about advanced countries is distributed freely, expansion of human opportunities is becoming not so much predetermined by destiny as by choice. However, one cannot exclude the influence of the political regime, which can both slow down countries’ development and contribute to it.’

Research presented by Alejandro Moreno, president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, focused on the political beliefs, behaviours, attitudes and perceptions of democracy among different generations in Latin America.

‘The younger generation, in contrast to those born in the time of undemocratic rule, is more critical of the democratic regime,’ said Moreno. ‘Perhaps this is due to the fact that they hold democracy to a higher standard than the older generation did, which was already quite content with people not being shot by death squads.’

Balaz Telegdy (Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania) spoke about the relationship between citizens and the state. He is interested in the factors that have the greatest impact on the emergence of people's trust in public institutions.

‘My hypothesis is that there are two main determining factors,’ Telegdy said. ‘The first is the aid that people receive from the state. If the support they receive is effective, then the level of trust increases, and vice versa. The second factor is the collective morality of citizens. If the state allows, for example, for taxes to be evaded and citizens know this, their level of confidence falls. But if they know that nobody violates the rule of law and the level of morality in society is high, then the degree of trust in the state increases.’

Eric Uslaner (University of Maryland) presented research devoted to corruption: ‘We want to show the extent to which the level of corruption is closely linked to the level of education. The higher the education level, the less corrupt a country is. We began studying the situation in the 1970s, but these things do not change quickly. Most countries still live with about the same level of education they had previously; it is really difficult for them to catch up. Only four countries in the world have really done a great job in terms of education: South Korea, Japan, Finland and Italy. Finland improved the level of education to break away from the influence of the Soviet Union. Japan had no choice - they had to reform their education system after the Second World War. After the Korean War, South Korea was also forced to prove its apartness, including by means of education reform.’

Judicial decision-making in a multinational society was the subject of research presented by Arye Rattner (University of Haifa).

‘The presence of discrimination in the Israeli criminal justice system is assumed by many, but some dispute that,’ he said. ‘We look at the interaction of three entities: the defendant, the victim and the judge. We analyze the outcome of proceedings in circumstances where the judge belongs to one ethnic group, the defendant to another and the victim to a third. Does this have any significance for the outcome of the trial?

‘In this study, we wanted to determine whether there is discrimination against Arabs who are defendants in a court presided over by a Jew when the victim is either a Jew or an Arab. In addition, we consider two possible choices of judges: the judge is a Jew or the judge is an Arab. In the Israeli-Arab system, there are also judges of Arab origin, and we wanted to find out whether such judges favour defendants who are their fellow nationals, as we might expect. According to our research, this is not happening! On the contrary – defendants who are Arabs face more severe sentences by Arab judges if the victim is a Jew.’

Eduard Ponarin, Director of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, presented research showing the relationship between the number of suicides committed and the prevalence of religious sects in the U.S. regions.

‘The data show a link between the percentage of denominations in a region and suicide on the one hand, and the age of denominations in centuries on the other. Older denominations allow their followers to ignore some dogmas that are poorly compatible with common sense, at the same time contributing to a sense of community and reducing the level of anxiety. New religious movements contribute to the emergence of psychological tension among parishioners, forcing them to engage in proselytizing, which often leads to alienation from society and actualizes the contradictions between dogmas and social realities. In particular, those sects whose followers are more inclined to believe in miracles tend to be younger and more prone to suicide.’

Arne Kalleberg (University of North Carolina) presented a study on the impact of precarious occupations and the perception of work and security, as well as economic instability on the transition to adulthood and the formation of families.

‘Before I came to the conference, I studied five countries: Germany, Spain, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. However, based on the comments I received at the conference, I am thinking about adding Sweden or Norway – one of the social-democratic countries – to my research. For me it was very useful to get feedback from colleagues,’ said Kalleberg.

Prepared by Elena Gruzinskaya

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