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Verification of a Theoretical Model of Value Heterogeneity Influence on Social Dynamics

2011
Department: Laboratory For Political Studies
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Political science is commonly focused on institutional analysis. A causal link between institutions and political regime (or political development) has become one of the most studied and tested links in the social sciences. The analysis of the non-institutional factors in social and political development still remains isolated from the scientific mainstream. During the past 30 years, no single contribution on this topic was made to scholarly literature. The very impact of non-institutional factors (eg emotional climate, natural disasters, and political values) on social dynamics was neglected due to the privileged status of institutional analysis. However, recent social and political fluctuations highlighted the impact of non-institutional factors on the political process.

Value heterogeneity as a potential driver of social development lacks a proper theoretical framework. Methodological assumptions in the sphere of political non-institutional analysis are relatively weak. The majority of theoretical models is commonly based on a limited set of case studies and suffers from poor theoretical foundations; therefore, their explanatory potential fails to explain social unrest, is not sensitive to the unstable political trends, and ultimately might lead policy makers to erroneous policy decisions.

Our research intends to fill the theoretical gap and bring non-institutional factor analysis back in the methodological wealth of political science. We would like to present our theoretical assumptions devoted to the value heterogeneity as a predictor of social change and to demonstrate its potential on the basis of quantitative and qualitative analysis.

During the first stage of the research, we conceptualize the causal inference between value heterogeneity and social dynamics and present a model based on the value gap between labour and middle classes in developed and developing countries. Model prerequisites were formulated with the help of a wide range of theoretical developments in political science and political psychology: the higher the value gap between an epigone and referent group in a particular society at t0, the greater the drift of values at t1. The hypothesis is tested with ISSP data from 16 countries in 1996 and 2006 and examined by discourse analysis of social groups with opposite achieved status in Russia.

During the second stage, we analyse the influence of cultural factors on social change in four transition countries (Russia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya), using the case-study method.

During the third stage, we explore the impact of natural disasters, in particular the enormous wildfires that occurred in rural Russia in the summer of 2010, on political attitudes of the local population. We exploit a natural experiment methodology. Since the wildfire spreads due to a direction of the wind, ie by Nature, its targets are totally random – a village may be burned while a neighboring one has no damage at all. We test the effects of this exogenous variation through a survey of almost 800 respondents in four of the most ravaged regions of Russia, in randomly selected burned and unburned villages numbering 34 and 36, respectively.

During the fourth and fifth stages we examine the influence of the political attitudes of different social groups in Russia on social changes and test country effects on the political values of the same social groups in developed and transition countries (on the basis of a set of interviews with Russian and French students).

Our findings contribute to the scholarly literature on value and cultural heterogeneity, political transition, and social modernization.

First, using a hypothetical model of the impact of non-institutional factors on social dynamics, we investigate a non-linear (∩-shaped) nature of the function of social changes. Moreover, we explore the variation of the specific characteristics of this function in different types of economic development and different cultural attitudes. In particular, it was proved that in 1996-2006, the impact of value heterogeneity on social dynamics was positive in the societies with industrial (post-industrial) culture and negative in developing societies.

Second, the presented theoretical model, especially the concepts of achievement behavior and political implications of the Tocquille process, has demonstrated its usefulness for the analysing Muslim countries with a different (from the European one) cultural background (Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya). Particular attention was paid to the negative influence of the authoritarian syndrome on the democratization process, and to conditions that trigger the authoritarian syndrome and ways to overcome it. The second phase of research was devoted to a detailed analysis of the authoritarian syndrome’s impact on political attitudes toward the Russian wildfires in summer 2010. We also showed the strong, significant effect of natural disasters on the political values and attitudes of people towards different levels of government.

Third, we have continued our recent investigations on the qualitative analysis. We identified differences in value attitudes of Russian students, retirees, military personnel, homeless people, and the State Duma’s deputies and showed that the value orientations of these groups are similar, and the similarity could be explained by the domination of society’s "authoritarian syndrome". The findings were based on a qualitative analysis of almost 1,000 in-depth interviews.

We also conducted more than 200 interviews of French and Russian college students to investigate the influence of country effects on political values and attitudes among social groups with similar social status. With the help of qualitative discourse analysis, we deconstructed the image of an ideal president for the Russian and French students. The ideal images of the French and Russian leader are similar at first glance, but in fact they reflect different national views on the personal qualities that a political leader must possess.

The research provides both theoretical and empirical value to the academic community interested in Post-Soviet studies, transitional studies, political psychology, and intercultural communication. The scientific importance of the project is defined by the innovative empirical verification of the society’s value heterogeneity as a factor of social dynamics. Using original empirical data (800 respondents and more than 1,200 in-depth interviews), we give a confirmation to our hypothesis and prove the impact of value heterogeneity on the social dynamics in developed and developing countries.