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  • Peasantry of Belgorod region in 2000 – 2013: complex analysis of economic activities and social organization of rural life

Peasantry of Belgorod region in 2000 – 2013: complex analysis of economic activities and social organization of rural life

Priority areas of development: sociology
Department: Center for Study of Social Organization of a Firm
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Object of the research: rural population of the Belgorod region.

Objective: a complex study of the key features of social organization and economic activity of the Belgorod regions’ rural population, revealing the dynamics of its development and socio- historical maturity.

Empirical base of the study:
In order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the economic activity and social organization of the contemporary rural population in the Belgorod region, as well as to ensure comparability with the results of the research in 2000, we conducted several studies :
First, a preliminary study (55 in-depth interviews with residents of three villages of the Belgorod region: Kamyzino (Krasnensky district), Muhouderovka (Alexeevski district), Matreno-Gezovo (Alexeevski district).
Based on the results of this preliminary study we identified the key problem aspects of contemporary rural settlements in the Belgorod region. These aspects were studied carefully using specially designed tools in subsequent phases of the project.
Secondly, the study of the socio-economic characteristics of modern households in five settlements was conducted (Kamyshevatoye, Chesnochnoye, Maslovka, Bolshoye, Arnautovo). The main observation units were households. This phase included about 500 households in five villages, covering the entire population of these settlements.
Thirdly, a study of attitudes, values, norms ​​and standards of behavior of the rural population was conducted in ten localities: Matreno-Gezovo, Muhouderovka, Bublikovo, Zhukovo Bozhkovo (Alexeevski district); Valuychik, Nikitovka, Livenka (Krasnogvardeisky District); Belui Kolodez (Veydelevsky district); Kamyzino (Krasnensky district) . In these villages, a representative survey of the adult population was conducted. About 950 respondents were interviewed.
Fourth, an in-depth psychological study of the “inner world” of the rural dwellers, their attitudes and perceptions was conducted. 30 in-depth interviews were carried out and also a quantitative survey (based on the semantic differential) in four villages: Kamyshevatoye, Chesnochnoye (Alekseevski district), Maslovka (Rovenkovski district), Arnautovo (Krasnogvardeisky district).

Results of the project:
1) It has been found that in the years 2000-2013, rural settlements haves undergone a radical transformation of the social structure as a result of the abolition of Soviet-type collective farming and the creation of modern agricultural holdings. The proportion of rural residents engaged in mass industrial agricultural production has declined sharply (from 69 % of the population in the year 2000 to 28% in 2013). Thus there was an increase in the proportion of persons employed in urban enterprises in up to 16 % of the working population. Also, a stratum of the population has formed, which previously was virtually absent - individual entrepreneurs: both registered and unregistered (today, this accounts for about 6 % of the population ) .
2) It has been shown that in the villages under study, the level of material well-being has radically increased. Families with the necessary sanitary conditions, centralized heating and private cars have become a mass phenomenon.
3) It has been demonstrated that the main (basic) determinant of the material well-being of the contemporary rural population has become wages (in 2000, it was income from subsistence farming).
4) We found that maintaining subsistence farming turned from mass, widespread phenomenon (in 2000) to a specialized activity. Today, subsistence farming is performed mainly by the employees of agroholdings.
5) We have revealed significant, but rather controversial, changes in the field of moral foundations, values, attitudes and norms of behavior of rural residents. As a result of major institutional changes (especially the formation of modern Agroholdings), there have been significant changes in the practices of behavior relating to mass agricultural production:
- A sharp decline in theft of public property and assets of the enterprise;
- A sharp decline in drinking on the job.
Most importantly, not only has there been a radical reduction in the widespread of these phenomena in practice, but also a fundamental change in their legitimacy. According to a study in 2013, 74 % of respondents believe “drinking at work” to be "absolutely unacceptable " (and only 59 % in the study of 2000) .
6) Substantial shifts have taken place in the rural dwellers’ life priorities and principles of behavior. There is significant growth in orientations towards independence and personal responsibility for one’s own destiny and well-being. "Social parasitism" and paternalistic expectations have decreased.  The role of individual responsibility for well-being has grown.
At the same time it has been shown that the growth of orientations towards individual responsibility is accompanied, unfortunately, by an increase in morally questionable standards of behavior relating to extreme individualism.
These and other processes in the social attitudes, values and moral sphere allow us to say that we are dealing with the transitional nature of the spiritual world of the individuals in the studied rural settlements.
7) It has been shown that a bright phenomenon in the new social reality, social structure and economic well-being is individual entrepreneurship (which in the year 2000 was practically non-existent). Unfortunately, its development (as well as development of small businesses in Russia in general) is extremely difficult.
The number of practicing private farmers, and those wishing to become farmers – is very low . Only 5% of working age households have a person engaged in private farming. Only 3.5 % of all the respondents wishing to change jobs or find a new one expressed a desire to become farmers.
We can conclude that there is a strong need for fundamental changes in the organization of farming in the fields of marketing, storage, processing and selling products. We suggest that creating cooperative farming (effectively developing in many countries) would enhance farming activities in the region.
8) There is a relatively high level of anxiety and pessimism among rural residents (30% of respondents). Moreover, the level of anxiety among villagers in 2013, in general, is approximately equal to the level of anxiety among respondents interviewed in 2000 a period of devastation, mass poverty, etc. The study showed that this is partly due to a number of important issues in the development of the welfare of the villagers. However, what is especially important is that unfavorable trends in the development of the social organization of rural life also lead to pessimism and anxiety.
It can be concluded that after the basic material needs are fulfilled, a person may become more demanding regarding the social conditions of his or her existence, and the “rules of the game” established in society.

Recommendations for the implementation of the research results
We suggest that, given the low rates of development of private farming in the studied villages, it is reasonable to develop other forms of employment in rural and agriculturally-related fields. Among them, we feel cooperative farming is especially promising, because it allows a substantially reduction in the risks that are inherent in independent private farming (including those related to procurement prices).

Scope of the implementation of the results
The results can be applied in the elaboration of practical policies aimed at acceleration of socio-economic development of the Belgorod region (as well as other agricultural regions in Russia and, possibly, other developing countries) and finding a balance between the welfare of the local population and economic efficiency. In particular, the analysis of the difficulties associated with the development of private farming in the studied villages has a special importance.