International Not Only in Name
The International Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) was established in 2010 in the first wave of a competition for government mega-grants to attract major academics from abroad to Russian universities. The famous American sociologist and political scientist Ronald Inglehart, Founding President of the World Values Survey and professor at the University of Michigan, became the laboratory’s first Academic Supervisor.
The laboratory chose an unusual form of international research cooperation. The annual international conference in November is just the tip of the iceberg. ‘We have organised a wide network of associated colleagues who work, not for money but for the sake of ideas.’ LCSR Director Eduard Ponarin explains. ‘They come here from all over the world to give us progress reports on their research and ask our advice. Then they publish under our affiliation.’ We invite applications from researchers three times a year. Currently we have almost 100 researchers and experts in the network from the USA, Europe and the CIS and 24 are on the staff at LCSR in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The presence of LCSR on both campuses came about for formal and bureaucratic reasons. ‘Some people were sceptical about how it would work’, says Eduard Ponarin, ‘but they were proved wrong.’ The distance hasn’t made a gap between Petersburg and Muscovite researchers — they use videoconferencing to come together in the laboratory’s seminars every week.
Staking all on the youth
The laboratory in St Petersburg has a largely young team (nearly everyone is under forty), and Moscow doesn’t have any colleagues over 35. ‘We put our stakes on the younger generation from the beginning for good reason,’ says Eduard Ponarin. ‘For us it isn’t just about having more international colleagues but about them knowing new methods of data analysis. Unfortunately, our sociologists who were brought up in the Soviet then Russian tradition find it hard to adapt to innovations. Younger people are more flexible and learn new methods more easily which in turn helps them to communicate and find a common language with western academics which is important for collaborative research and publications.’
Having a young team does lead to rather high mobility. Some staff at the laboratory who became international academics while they were still young often take the opportunity to develop their careers abroad. They go Princeton, Columbia, Michigan and other universities for their PhDs or walk straight into a job in Stockholm, for example. ‘But that’s normal and we should welcome it,’ says Eduard Ponarin. ‘I just hope that some of them will come back to the laboratory later on.’ Some, however do stay on and work for long, fruitful periods at LCSR and gradually rise up the ladder from internships to become research fellows.
LCSR specialises in comparative, inter-country research involving some value component. We use secondary analysis of data from surveys in the public domain. Several research groups have taken shape, working on corruption, gender issues, values systems, lifestyles and other topics.
LCSR’s research on Russian elites by Eduard Ponarin and Ronald Inglehart and their colleagues, for the Valdai Forum 2013, provoked a wide response. It was based on data from several surveys, conducted over 20 years. A key research project for the laboratory was on happiness based on data about the evolution of value systems in several different countries over the last 30 years.
Another noteworthy research project looks at changes in values in the Arab world. ‘We looked at data collected by the Arab Barometer to find out what people of different ages think about democracy and women’s equality,’ says Eduard Ponarin, ‘and we discovered something interesting. Firstly, these indicators don’t correlate although throughout the rest of the world they correlate quite strongly. Secondly, the older generation is more liberal on the issue of women’s equality than the young which is also not typical for the rest of the world.’ The researchers think this situation is a consequence of the Cold War. In Arab countries, conservative monarchies, formerly allied with the USA, have taken hold and their conservative ideology, no longer countered by Soviet opposition has spread across the region. The mass scale reappraisal of values has happened particularly among the younger generation.
How much is a life worth and what have the traffic police got to do with it?
‘Every year,’ says Tatyana Karabchuk, Deputy Director of the LCSR and Head of the Moscow section, ‘we run a big applied project. It all began when we collaborated with the Eurasian Development Bank’s Centre for Integration Studies to research pension mobility in the Eurasian economic union in 2013. Last year, with them and with the UNDP, we researched labour migration issues and developing human capital in Central Asia.’
At the moment Tatyana is working with colleagues at the laboratory on projects which evaluate the effectiveness of road safety programmes and damage caused by accidents. The research was commissioned by the Federal Authority for Road Traffic Safety [GIBDD in Russian]. The main purpose of the research is to develop a methodological cost appraisal for losses caused by death, trauma and invalidity as a result of road accidents. The research will be a survey of international practices and the former FSU and will develop a method to make evaluations.
From research to education
In 2014 LCSR opened an English language Master’s programme in Comparative Social Research. Like the laboratory, the master’s is inter-campus. The first semester is in Moscow and the second in St Petersburg. That is followed by a semester abroad or at a Russian research organisation. In the final semester students finish their dissertation at either campus.
The Fifth Conference
You can find out more about all aspects of the LCRS and go to presentations of research projects by the laboratory and its partners abroad at the annual international conference on Cultural and Economic Changes under a Cross-National Perspective in November. The conference is happening for the fifth time, but this year will be the first time the leaders of the World Values Survey are coming. Before the conference opens they will hold a session of the committee in Moscow which will determine details of the next wave of WVS research (which happens every five years).
On the 12th November, Harvard Professor and Johan Skytte laureate Pippa Norris will present an honorary lecture. The LCSR, with the Yegor Gaidar Foundation has organised a public lecture by Ronald Inglehart (also a winner of the Johan Skytte prize) at the Mansion on Volkhonskaya Street on 17th November.
‘The line up of lecturers makes this our strongest conference yet,’ says Tatyana Karabchuk. ‘For the first time we will be joined by a group of researchers from Arab countries. There are so many speakers that we have organised parallel working sections and we will have six special sessions as part of the conference.’
Registration to attend the conference closes on 30th October.
‘Mirror Symmetry Was Discovered by Physicists, But Very Quickly Got the Attention of Mathematicians…’
The HSE International Laboratory for Mirror Symmetry and Automorphic Forms, which is among several international laboratories to recently open within the Higher School of Economics, was created in December 2016 as part of the Russian government’s mega-grants program. Below, the lab’s academic supervisor, Ludmil Katzarkov, along with deputy heads Valery Gritsenko and Viktor Przyjalkowski, explain why the laboratory is fully capable of becoming a unique multidisciplinary unit dedicated to the study of mirror symmetry, automorphic forms, and number theory.
On December 23, 2016, the HSE Academic Council approved the creation of four new laboratories: the International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue, the International Laboratory for Population and Health Studies, the International Laboratory of Deep Learning and Bayesian Methods, and the International Laboratory for Supercomputer Atomistic Modelling and Multi-scale Analysis.
The new International Laboratory for Mirror Symmetry and Automorphic Forms will open at HSE’s Faculty of Mathematics in 2017. This project, overseen by Ludmil Katzarkov (Professor at the University of Miami), won the Fifth Mega-Grants Competition of the Government of the Russian Federation.
In Central Asia, subjective wellbeing and life satisfaction tend to be higher than objective wellbeing, and people in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan appear to be more content than Russians about their material circumstances and life in general. According to Tatiana Karabchuk, Deputy Head of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), and Daria Salnikova, Research Assistant of the same laboratory, relatively low levels of economic inequality in Central Asian countries may be one of the reasons for this paradox.
In many countries, including but not limited to Russia, frontier regions, populated more recently than the country's core territory, tend to lag behind in terms of socio-economic development. This phenomenon can be explained by legacies such as state formation in remote regions and the autonomy traditionally enjoyed by new settlers, according to Roberto Foa (Harvard University) and Anna Nemirovskaya, Senior Research Fellow of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR).
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.
An elderly person can be described as aging successfully when they maintain good health and engage in fulfilling social activities. According to Larisa Kosova, Director of the HSE Joint Economic and Social Data Archive, poor health and a lack of savings often prevent older people in Russia from enjoying retirement.
The 5th annual LCSR conference was organized from 15th - 21st November at HSE. One of the keynote speakers at the conference on Cultural and Economic Changes under Cross-national Perspective is the Director of the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute at Qatar University, Darwish Al Emadi. Dr. Al Emadi’s talk was on The Challenges of Surveying in Countries with Unorthodox Population Pyramids. He spoke to HSE English News about his long term goal to improve education on a global level and about his cooperation with HSE.
In the near future, the number of migrants from Central Asia coming to work in Russia will increase – particularly from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries where remittances from their citizens working in Russia stand at almost half of their respective GDPs, according to a joint study by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).
Ian Lowrie, visiting PhD-student from Rice University spent last academic year at HSE doing anthropology of Russian Science & Technology.