Soviet and Post-Soviet Sociology

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In prerevolutionary Russia, sociology occupied a marginal position. The state universities offered no instruction in the field, but there was a solid intellectual tradition of historical and theoretical sociology (Maxim Kovalevsky, Nikolai Mikhailovsky, Evgeny de Roberty), the sociology of law (Leon Petrajizky, Pitirim Sorokin), and the sociology of social problems (living conditions of industrial workers and peasants, public health, crime and prostitution in the cities). Beginning in the 1860s, the provincial intelligentsia initiated a kind of social movement, Zemskaja statistika (Statistics for Local Administration). Since official governmental statistics were unreliable, local statisticians made systematic surveys of households, daily life and public health conditions, and the reading preferences of the population (N. A. Rubakin). A modern system of sampling was elaborated by the statistician A. A. Chuprov for those surveys; K. M. Takhtarev introduced the concept of statistical sociological methods in social research.

In 1916, the Russian Sociological Society was founded, along with the "Sociological Institute," where M. M. Kovalevsky, K. M. Takhtarev, N. I. Kareev, and P. A. Sorokin gave lectures. Western sociological classics by Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Gabriel Tarde, Gustave Le Bon, Georg Simmel, Lester Ward, and others were available in Russian translations. Most important European sociological papers were immediately translated in the series New Ideas in Sociology. There was also a well-developed ethnography and a literary genre of sociological journalism.

The Bolshevik Revolution provided strong stimulus to sociological reflection and empirical social research. In the Soviet government decree "About the Socialist Academy of the Social Sciences," drafted in May 1918, Lenin (1962, p. 372) stressed the need "to organize a series of social researches" and called it "one of the most urgent tasks of the day." However, the Bolsheviks tolerated research only from Marxist and procommunist positions. In the early postrevolutionary years, censorship was relatively weak or inefficient. For example, Sorokin not only established the first sociological laboratory in Pertograd University but also succeeded in publishing (illegally) his two-volume System of Sociology (Sorokin 1920), for which he was awarded a doctorate in April 1922. He also conducted important empirical investigations on mass starvation in the districts of Samara and Saratov and examined its influence on various aspects of social life and human behavior.

However, this liberalism or negligence on the part of the authorities was short-lived. In autumn 1922, a group of leading Russian intellectuals, including Sorokin and other prominent social philosophers, was expelled from the county, ending non-Marxist sociology in Soviet Russia.

The tightening ideological control proved detrimental to socialist and Marxist social research as well. Nevertheless, the 1920s was a fruitful period both in empirical research and in theoretical-methodological work. The most important theoretical contributions were in the field of economic sociology (A. V. Chajanov, N. D. Kondratjev). There were also interesting studies on the social organization of labor, the budgeting of time in work and leisure activities (S. G. Strumilin), population dynamics, rural and urban ways of life (A. I. Todorsky, V. E. Kabo), marriage and sexual behavior, social psychology (V. M. Bekhterev), social medicine, and other topics. All this research was finished by the early 1930s.

The Stalinist totalitarian system was incompatible with any kind of social criticism, problem-oriented thinking, or empirical research. Most creative original thinkers were liquidated, and their books were prohibited. Sociology was declared "bourgeois pseudo-science." Official social statistics were kept secret or falsified. Empirical research that relied on questionnaires, participant observation, and similar methods was forbidden. All social theory was reduced to the official dogmatic version of historical materialism, which had very little in common with genuine Marxist dialectics. Practically no firsthand information about Western sociology was available.

The revival of sociology in the Soviet Union began during the Khrushchev's era in the late 1950s. It was initiated by a group of young philosophers and economists with a liberal political orientation. This intellectual initiative received support from reformist and technocratically oriented people in the party and state leadership. The first organizational step in this direction was the establishment in 1958 of the Soviet Sociological Association (SSA). The primary aim of this move was to facilitate participation in international sociological congresses by Soviet ideological bureaucrats in administrative academic positions. Gradually, thanks to personal efforts of Gennady Ossipov, among others, the SSA became a sort of organizational center for the emerging discipline.

To avoid conflicts with the dominant ideology, it was unanimously agreed that the only acceptable "scientific" general sociological theory was Marxist historical materialism but that it should be supplemented by "concrete social research" and eventually some middle-range theories. In 1960 Ossipov organized in the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow a small unit for research on the new forms of work and daily life. This unit later was transformed into the Department of Concrete Social Research. At about the same time, Vladimir Iadov organized, within the philosophical faculty of Leningrad State University, the Laboratory of Concrete Social Research, which was dedicated to the study of job orientation and workers' personalities. At the Novosibirsk Institute of Industrial Economics and Organization, Vladimir Shubkin developed a unit for studies of youth issues, including high school children's professional orientations and social mobility, and Tatiana Zaslavskaia initiated the fields of economic and rural sociology. Sociology research units appeared under various names at the universities of Sverdlovsk and Tartu (Estonia). In 1968, the independent Institute of Concrete Social Research of the USSR Academy of Sciences was established in Moscow, headed by the eminent economist and vice-president of the USSR Academy of Sciences A. M. Rumiantsev.

According to Shlapentokh (1987), 1965–1972 were the golden years of Soviet sociology. Important original research was done on workers' attitudes toward their jobs and on the interrelationship of work and personality (Iadov et al. 1970), professional orientations of youth, rural sociology and population migrations (Zaslavskaia 1970 Zaslavskaia and Ryvkina 1980; Arutiunian 1971), public opinion and mass media (Grushin 1967; Shlapentokh 1970), industrial sociology (Shkaratan 1978), marriage and the family (Kharchev 1964), personality (Kon 1967), leisure (Gordon and Klopov 1972), political institutions (F. M. Burlatsky, A. A. Galkin), and other topics. At the same time, research on the history of sociology had begun, and a dialogue with Western theoretical ideas instead of a blunt ideological denunciation of everything "non-Marxist" was initiated (Andreeva 1965; Kon Zamoshkin 1966). In theoretical terms, structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and C. Wright Mills's "new sociology were of particular interest to Soviet sociologists. The American Sociological Association aided these developments by arranging to send professional books and journals to the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, a few Western sociological books and textbooks, beginning with Modern Sociological Theory in Continuity and Change edited by H. Becker and A. Boskoff, were translated and published in Russian.

The social and intellectual situation of Soviet sociology was very uncertain. It was completely dependent on the official ideology and the goodwill of party authorities. Even a hint of social criticism was deemed dangerous, and such work could be published only if it was formulated in the ESOPs language. The Institute of Concrete Social Research was under constant attack. Especially devastating and venomous was an attack on Levada's Lectures on Sociology (1969); soon after the attack, Levada was dismissed from Moscow University and deprived of a professorial title. In 1972, the liberal head of the Institute, A. M. Rumiantsev, was replaced by the reactionary Mikhail Rutkevich, who had initiated an ideological campaign against "Western influences." As a result of his policies, the most prominent and qualified scholars were forced to leave the institute.

Until 1986, Soviet sociology was in bad shape, but the process of its institutionalization continued. It was a period of extensive growth of sociological units. Many new laboratories and departments of applied social research in the universities and sociological and social psychological laboratories in the big industrial plants had been established. Industrial sociologists (the most numerous and active group in the SSA) studied motivation to work, trends in the workforce, the efficiency of different forms of labor organization, in-group relations between workers and employers, and systems of management. The managers, who pretended to be "progressive," elaborated and reported to the party authorities "the plans of social developments" based on sociological studies (later, some of these industrial sociologists were able to consult the new post-soviet businessmen).

In 1972, the Institute of Concrete Social Research was renamed the Institute for Sociological Research. In 1974, the first professional journal, Sotsiologicheskie Issledovania (Sociological Research), was inaugurated (the first editor in chief was Anatoly Kharchev). SSA membership grew continuously. In the late 1980s, the SSA had about 8,500 individual and 300 collective members and twenty-one regional branches. The technical and statistical level of sociological research in the 1970s and 1980s improved considerably. Some new sociological subdisciplines emerged. At its apogee, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the SSA had thirty-eight specialized sections, including twelve research committees, directly connected with the respective International Sociological Association (ISA) committees. The geography of sociological research centers has also expanded.

The general intellectual and theoretical level of Soviet sociology was, with few exceptions, inadequate. Relatively free theoretical reflection was limited to the marginal fields of social psychology, anthropology, and history. Most sociological research was done on the micro level and involved separate industrial plants, without any attempt at broad theoretical generalization. Publications of a more general character were mostly apologies for the so-called real socialism. Sociological theories were divided between historical materialism and dogmatic ideological scholasticism, "the theory of scientific communism." Attempts to narrow the gap between sociological statements and social realities were ruthlessly punished by the authorities. The Leningrad sociological school, perhaps the best in the country, was decimated by the local party leadership in the mid-1980s. Zaslavskaia was in serious trouble when her report, which was highly critical of the prospects for economic reforms without parallel political changes, was published in the West. The public image of sociology had changed dramatically: In the 1960s, the new discipline was associated in the public's mind with social criticism and progressive economic reforms, and in the late 1970s, industrial sociologists sometimes were represented in the mass media as sly manipulators helping plant managers play down workers' discontent.

Perestroika and glasnost drastically changed the place of sociology in Soviet society. Mikhail Gorbachev and his team claimed that they needed an objective social science for information and advice, and the majority of Soviet sociologists were, from the beginning, strong supporters of reforms. In 1986, Zaslavskaia was elected president of the SSA. In 1987, a special resolution of the Communist Party Central Committee acknowledged that sociology was an important scientific discipline. In 1988, the Institute of Sociological Research was transformed into the Institute of Sociology, and V. Iadov was appointed its director. Sociologists (for example, Galina Starovoitova) took an active part in political life not only as advisers to the government but as deputies of central and local soviets and, after 1991, the post-Soviet parliaments of independent states. There were no longer official restrictions on the topics suitable for sociological research, and the publication of results became much easier. Some newspapers introduced regular sociological columns.

However, the relationship between sociology and political power is always problematic. On the one hand, neither Gorbachev nor Boris Yeltsin really needed or followed sociological advice. Very often, they did the opposite of what they have been advised to do. For example, Gorbachev's catastrophic antialcohol campaign, which was the first irreparable blow to the state budget and created the first wave of organized crime, was initiated despite strong and unanimous objections from social scientists. While making his fatal decisions about the Chechen war, Yeltsin completely ignored professional opinions. These experiences made sociologists more critical of the regime.

On the other hand, sociologists have been neither intellectually nor morally ready for new social responsibilities. The lack of a sociological imagination and their predominantly functionalist or empiricist mentality made them more comfortable with post hoc explanations of events than with responsible and reliable predictions. Social scientists are always more sure about what should not be done than about what to do, and Soviet sociology had never had a unified professional body.

By 1991 but especially after 1993, there was a deep political and intellectual schism in the former Soviet sociology. The majority of its founders remained faithful to liberal, democratic, and pro-Western ideas. However, liberal politicians, they often did not know how to apply those general principles to particular Russian, Ukrainian, or other situations. On the contrary, the former "scientific communists," who declared themselves sociologists or politologists after 1991 and who hold now many if not most university chairs, proclaim their fidelity to Marxism-Leninism, often with a strong flavor of Russian nationalism, traditionalism, and religious orthodoxy. The gap between these two wings is irreconcilable, and that gap has many organizational, ideological, and educational implications.

In the 1990s, there were essential changes in the institutional structure of sociological communities in all the post-Soviet states as well as in areas of research. To replace the SSA, several national, republican sociological associations have been formed. Sometimes there are more than one sociological association in the same country. Alongside the national Sociological Association of Russia (Russian Sociological Society), which is a collective member of the ISA, Ossipov organized an alternative Association of Sociologists and Demographers; he also initiated the split in the Institute of Sociology (IS) of RAS and created in the framework of RAS a new Institute of Social and Political Problems (ISPP), that became one of the main intellectual centers of communist and nationalist opposition to reforms. The coexistence of the two centers is by no means peaceful.

The main research projects of the IS include the theory and history of the discipline, quantitative and qualitative methodology, social stratification, sociocultural processes in Russia in the context of global social and economic changes, changes in personality, social identities and new forms of solidarities, economic and political elites, environmental studies, family and gender, social organizations, and social conflicts. The IS has an affiliation in St. Petersburg (director Serguei Golod). The IS is also combining research with teaching undergraduates and postgraduate students. The European University in St. Petersburg (rector Boris Firsov), has departments of history, political sciences, and sociology.

Fundamental sociological research is also being done in other academic institutions and universities, such as those in Novosibirsk (rural and regional sociology), Samara (sociology of labor), and Niznii Novgorod (stratification and regional studies). Research on interethnic relationships and conflicts is concentrated in the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the RAS; population and gender studies are conducted in the Institute for Social-Economic Studies of Population, and so on. Many sociological groups and centers are moving from one academic institute to another or becoming fully independent, especially if they can make money by doing applied research.

Public opinion and market surveys centers became independent enterprises, some of which were united in the Russian Guild of Pollsters and Marketing Researchers. The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (directed by Yuri Levada) is a leading national center for public opinion polls; among many others, the Independent Public Opinion Research Service Vox Populi (VP), founded by Boris Grushin, and Obshechesvennoe mnenie (the Foundation of Public Opinion polls) are the most visible. Many sociologists are working as political image makers, speechwriters, economic consultants, and so on.

Sociology is now an institutionalized discipline in Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Ukraine. Especially visible progress in research and teaching sociology has occurred in Estonia and Ukraine. In the Soviet Union, Estonia was one of the few places where Western traditions of sociology were known and maintained. Since 1991, the main focus of sociological research in Estonia has been the empirical description and theoretical interpretation of the rapid social changes taking place in all spheres of society. The main traditional branches of Estonian sociology were social structure and stratification (M. Titma, E. Saar); family and living conditions (Narusk 1995); the environment (M. Heidmets, Y. Kruusvall); urban sociology (M. Pavelson, K. Paadam), the mass media; youth; and education (P. Kenkmann). New situations have stimulated theoretical analyses of transitional processes (Lauristin and Vihalemm 1997) and explorations of new areas of research, such as the integration of the Russophone minority in Estonian society, poverty and social deprivation, political sociology, and public opinion research. In the second half of the 1990s, the dominant theoretical paradigm of social research in Estonia shifted from traditional structural functionalism to social constructivism. The main centers of sociological research in Estonia are the University of Tartu, the Pedagogical University of Tallinn, and the Institute for International and Social Studies in Tallinn.

In 1991, the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the first independent research center, the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, were founded. Together with the universities of Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Odessa, these Institutes have become centers of the development of sociological science in Ukraine. The basic topics of studies are social transformations and change (E. Golorakha, V. Khmelko, O. Kutsenko, E. Yakuba), economic and political sociology (I. Bekestina, N. Panina), ethnosociology, (N. Chernysh, M. Shulga, and B. Yertukh) sociology of mass consciousness (N. Kostenko, V. Ossorskiy, I. Popora), social psychology, relationships between social structures and personality under conditions of radical social change, the sociology of the Chernobyl catastrophe, and gender studies. In 1992, the Sociological Association of Ukraine was reorganized as an independent national association. Since 1993, the preparation of sociologists, using the programs and textbooks of Western universities, began at the oldest university in eastern Europe, Kiev-Mohyla Academy (founded in 1632). The academic journal Sociology: Theory, Methods, Marketing began to be issued in Ukrainian (1998) and Russian (1999).

The main problem confronting Russian sociology is the shortage of money and professional personnel. Until 1989 in the Soviet Union, there was practically no undergraduate sociological education; only a few courses in applied (mainly industrial) sociology were offered. Now sociological departments and schools have established in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, and some other state universities, and there are about two hundred departments of sociology and political science in other colleges. The Russian Ministry of Higher Education issued the "State Standard" in sociology, which prescribed teaching the discipline as a multitheoretical one, not merely Marxist-oriented. Up-to-date methods of teaching sociology are provided by new educational centers: the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, the European University in Saint Petersburg, the Faculty of Sociology of the Academic Institute of Sociology, and the High School of Economics in Moscow. According to the official statistics, in 1998 more than 6,600 university students studied sociology as their main subject. The discipline is taught also in many high schools and lyceums. With the financial support of different foundations (George Soros is the leading donor), sociological classics, world-recognized modern authors (P. Bourdieu, Z. Bauman, A. Giddens, Y. Habermas, and many others) and teaching materials (handbooks and readers) have been published. New professional journals, including The Russian Public Opinion Monitor (edited by T. Zaslavskaia and Y. Levada), Sociological Journal (edited by G. Batygin), Sociology—4M: Methodology, Methods, Mathematical Models (edited by V. Iadov); The World of Russia (edited by O. Shkaratan), have been published. In Russia, the Baltic states, and Ukraine, there are summer schools and advanced courses in theory and subdisciplines of sociology for young teachers and postgraduates where internationally renown scholars lecture. The exchange of graduate students in sociology between post-Soviet, U.S., and west European universities is growing rapidly. Prominent Western sociologists are invited regularly to give lectures and seminars at Russian and other independent state universities and vice versa.

Post-Soviet sociology is now ideologically and organizationally open and interested in international contacts and exchanges on all levels. There are many joint research projects with American, Canadian, German, French, Finnish, Japanese, and other scholars. Most of these projects are related to current political attitudes and value orientations, ethnic relations and regional studies, stratification, personality studies, social minorities, organizational culture, and modernization. The annual international symposia "Where Is Russia going?" are organized by the Independent Moscow School of Economics and Political Sciences (T. Shanin and T. Zaslavskaja).

High-level studies are being conducted on the problems of the economic and political elites (Kryshtanovskaja 1997), environmental sociology (Yanitsky 1993), gender and life stories (Semenova and Foteeva 1996), political sociology (Zdravomyslova 1998), and the sociology of culture (Ionin 1996). Some of these projects are the result of academic international cooperation, while others are financed by charity funds the State foundation for humanities ( John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, and others), and voluntary associations.

The prospects for the development of post-Soviet sociology depend on the fate of economic and democratic transformations. The gigantic social experiment unfolding in the post-Soviet region needs creative support from the social sciences. It is a powerful stimulus for sociological imagination and theory construction. Today sociologists in these countries are overburdened by the need to search for immediate practical solutions to urgent political and economic issues and have no time for quiet theoretical reflection. The most important sociological contributions to reforms are still the public opinion polls and information about current social processes. The next step seems to be the emergence of a sociology of social problems interpreted not only in the specific national contexts but in the context of the global problems of civilization as well. This, may lead to the revival of historical and comparative macrosociology and produce new theoretical insights. All this will be feasible, however, only as the result of intensive international and interdisciplinary intellectual cooperation.


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Igor S. Kon

Vladimir A. Iadov

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Soviet and Post-Soviet Sociology

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