Institutional dynamics, economic adaptation and points of intellectual growth in the local academic community: Saint Petersburg sociology after 1985
Despite borrowing from these traditions, this research doesn’t fully belong to any of them. The closest in terms of the concept are the classic texts on American medicine history by P. Starr and studies of the P. Bourdieu school on ethnography of the French academic world. However, for obvious reasons, neither their theoretical outlines, let alone their empirical conclusions, can be carried over to the post-Soviet Russian social studies without additional testing.
In a community that is as fragmented as the post-Soviet sociology, any research based on just one method faces the problem that the research may cover only some of its segments. Any research of part of the discipline that is distinguished using unclear criteria makes projecting its results onto the entire discipline questionable. The idea of this research is to overcome this challenge, studying in detail the local academic community. This community is large enough to represent the main working styles and career types that exist in post-Soviet social studies in general, but at the same time is too numerically insignificant to gather sufficient information about various aspects of academic background of most of its members and the relationship between them. Despite all these methodological limitations, we believe that the analysis of one of these communities that might serve as an iconic metaphor for the discipline as a whole can yield exceptionally important results.
The target of the research is a community of Leningrad-St. Petersburg sociologists between 1985 and 2009. Taking into account the fragmentation of this community and the absence of agreement on membership criteria, we used the widest possible definition of a sociologist. In the first stage of the research, we collected lists of those who during the above-mentioned period (a) were employed in at least one of the 20 organizations or organization units that include the word sociology in its title; (b) defended a dissertation on sociology studies in St. Petersburg; (c) published work in one of the professional periodicals (we used three city magazines – Journal of sociology and social anthropology, StPSU Vestnik and Telescope as well as two national magazines with the largest circulation – Sociology Research(Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniya) or Sociology Journal (Sotsiologicheskiy Zhurnal); (c) were members of one of the local professional associations (Saint Petersburg Association of Sociologists, Kovalevsky Russian Sociological Society); (d) participated in one of the 50 most important public sociology events in St. Petersburg since 1985 (we also used Sociology Congress that took place in Moscow and the European Sociological Association Conference in Helsinki in 2001). Overall, we obtained 1280 names, most of which (658) were mentioned only once. The remaining 622 names were on two or more lists, and thus comprised the target of the research – the local sociology community.
During our research, we obtained the following results:
1. We compiled a background database on 622 St. Petersburg sociologists to be used for statistical analysis of the characteristics of their academic pathways – studying relationships between demographic characteristics, migrations, the place where a university/post-graduate degree was obtained and their characteristics, moves between organizations; academic mobility, publication and presentation activity, sources of grant financing etc.
2. We collected scientometric data on citations in articles of St. Petersburg sociologists (over 1500 articles in the city and major national periodicals), tracking the network of intellectual influence and outlining the field of attention, describing the authority hierarchy over time etc.
3. We surveyed over 200 (251 at present) St. Petersburg sociologists that filled the gaps in existing data on (1) their system of authority; (2) activity as an audience; (3) their academic and cultural-political orientations (we have developed and tested the scales of positivism-anti-positivism, scientific nationalism – cosmopolitism, liberalism - conservatism); (4) their social networks; (5) family background; (6) income sources; (7) research practice (used methods etc); (8) language, mathematical and computer competencies. These data are being supplemented by a biographical database and citation database.
4. We conducted over 30 interviews that provided (1) a fuller reconstruction of life pathways of the informants, their understanding of the community organization, their academic and political ideology; (2) more insight into details of internal institutional mechanisms (budgeting, load distribution); (3) a description in detail of their every-day research practices.
5. We have observed researchers’ behavior in a natural setting, which became the basis of further data about the logicistics of academic practice;
6. Currently, we are continuing to carry out a textological analysis of the articles by selected authors that together with the results of observations will be localized in the institutional and network landscape, described using qualitative methods, to start analyzing the ties between the content of sociological knowledge and conditions of its production.
The research has no direct parallel in world social studies. The logicistics of researching a local community has never been applied before to studying disciplinary communities, and quantitative socio-historical strategies of research have never been used for studying a research group of this size. In these terms, we expect that continuing to analyse the data will lead to valuable conclusions, connecting sociological knowledge with social context of its origin. The sociology community of Saint Petersburg is a natural laboratory, where this branch of knowledge has been developed by people with a wide range of biographical, institutional and intellectual backgrounds. The amount of gathered data permits a thorough control of variables, characterizing the production of a text, thus significantly developing the sociologist program in the analysis of social studies.