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Humanities Studies in Russia in the World Context: Mechanisms of Interdependence and Interrelations

2009

Estimating the contribution made by the Russian scholars to the humanities is a part of a large problem of national reception and cross-country translation of scientific knowledge. Answering the question of how national and regional borders in the humanities intersect requires large-scale comparative studies devoted to the formation and functioning of paradigm theories as well as processes of recognition and reinforcement of scientific innovations in the humanities.

This research project aims to analyze the main characteristics of the state of humanities in Russia as well as the prerequisites and obstacles for participation in world scientific discussion by Russian researchers. To achieve this goal, we have focused on the following theoretical and practical tasks:

1) Conceptualization of major notions and terms used in discussing the role of Russia in the humanities (world science and national science, scientific school, universalism and originality in science, scientific mainstream and frontier, scientific contribution etc);

2) Analysis of mechanisms of inter-country translation and reception of scientific knowledge in the humanities (publication policy, forms and strategies of scientific communication, functioning of local and regional research communities, problems of scientific language, the role of educational programs in higher school etc);

3) Analysis of representation forms and recognition methods of research approaches (theories, concepts, new research objectives, methodological innovations) in separate disciplines in Russia, the US and Western Europe.

The manifestation of Russia’s effective contribution to the humanities is seen in the introduction of new scientific results into the corps of knowledge, the creation of works that have universal meaning and have had an apparent impact on the development of world scientific thought. Here the important thing is the answer to the question of what kind of essentially new scientific knowledge was created by our researchers regardless of when it became (or, in some cases, didn’t become) an achievement of world scientific thought.

When researching various disciplines, we focused on the analysis of:

  • Statistical parameters of the humanities in Russia and scientometric indicators of its interaction with world science;
  • Social-institutional context of the disciplines;
  • New forms of scientific communication;
  • Process of formation and functioning of new scientific disciplines and research areas;
  • Forms and strategies of integrating Russian Humanities disciplines and separate schools of thought into the world academic context;
  • Mechanisms of Russian reception of the world experience in the humanities.

Analysis of the formation and development processes of new research areas and disciplines in Russia that are closely integrated with parallel processes in world science revealed acute problems of modern dialogue between Russian and world researchers. On the one hand, new areas of modern historiography and allied subjects as well as supporting institutions (scientific societies, journals) are rapidly developing. Here we may refer to such areas as intellectual history, regional and local history, global history, micro-history, gender history. In philology (on the research platform of the New Literature Review (Novoye Literaturnoe Obozrenie) journal), we see the dynamic reception of Western experience in expanding the subject borders and problem horizon of the field of study: we note such areas as New Historicism and Sociological Literary Studies. However in other cases, Russian reception strategies of the world achievements in philology are developed to fill in the information gaps of Russian science and require no transformation (Issues of Literature (Voprosy Literatury) Journal).

The formation of new areas is often accompanied by polemics that question their very right of existence (polemics about new historicisms in Voprosy Literatury and Novoye Literaturnoe Obozrenie), sharp criticism of sociological interpretation of the works published in the above-mentioned journals). Just as often, conservative research models resist new areas of study, as was the case in the fight for academic recognition of the gender approach or the formation of such areas as cultural studies. In the case of film studies, this resistance is quite effective, which results in the reproduction of outdated Soviet models of the knowledge in the field of humanities in Russia (Russian film studies). There is also an example of competition between open and isolationist development programs of the whole new discipline – the conflict between cultural studies and culturology.

The dialogue between Russian and Western studies in the humanities in new disciplines and research areas has sometimes been contradictory. Often we see non-critical borrowings of Western models and categorical apparatus (for instance, Russian new historicism, gender studies and cultural studies are frequently accused of these borrowings). However modern humanities researchers in Russia are forced to borrow others’ methodology and language, understanding that this approach is far from being perfect – often direct borrowing is the only way to accustom Russian researchers to alien tools.

At the same time, some new disciplines consciously develop their research strategy in isolation from the world experience (Russian culturology) – the isolationism that was characteristic of the Soviet humanities still persists, especially in the education.

Thus, on the way to mutual integration there are major obstacles of a cultural-historical, socio-institutional and communicative nature. Nevertheless these painful contradictions demonstrate that the integration processes have been rather intensive.