December 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 9

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International Perspectives

Contemporary Ukrainian Sociology:
Difficulties of Self-presentation

by Andrey Yakovenko and Andrey Melnikov, East-Ukrainian National University,

We seek to provide a brief insight on the condition of sociology in Ukraine. To be sure, we have no illusions that the general sociological community is familiarized with Ukrainian sociology. Therefore, we consider this to be but a small illustration, providing certain understanding of Ukrainian sociologists’ problems and interests. This is neither complete nor is it hyper-objective.

The current stage of Ukrainian sociology’s development originates from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Until then, the Ukrainian sociological school was an integral part of the Soviet sociological space. So, the Sociological Association of Ukraine (SAU) as an All-Ukrainian public organization functioned from 1968 to 1990 as a branch of the Soviet Sociological Association. It obtained its independence at the Congress of 1990. Since 1993, SAU is a collective member of the International Sociological Association. Modern Ukrainian sociology’s formation came from the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the departments of sociology at universities in major cities of Ukraine, which initiated the emergence of the Sociological Association of Ukraine in its current status. So far, it remains the main organizational structure linking the Ukrainian sociological community.

Disintegration of Ukrainian Community

From the outside, Ukrainian society is perceived as a split body. Theories concerning the belonging of various parts of Ukraine to different civilization systems, as well as the practical results of election campaigns provide a rich soil for analysis and debate. Indeed, on the one hand, there is regional and even macro-regional specificity, expressed in language, religious customs, political preferences, etc. But on the other hand, there are a number of socioeconomic issues that are common for the whole Ukrainian society (low standard of living for the majority of population, unemployment and significant social stratification, labor migration, housing and communal services problems, poor quality of health care system).

In this context, we stress that language, religion, nationality, and political allegiance have not become an obstacle for maintaining respectful relations among scholars; debating points are appearing only on a professional basis. One reason for this might be that despite the well-known political polarization within the Ukrainian society, Ukrainian sociologists maintain good personal contacts and creative interaction at regional levels. In this sense, the productive working relationship between the two most geographically distant sociological centers in Lviv (Western Ukraine) and Luhansk (Eastern Ukraine) is demonstrative.

At the same time, it should be noted that the boisterous presidential campaign of 2004 almost resulted in tragedy for Ukrainian sociology: The degree of conflict in all social structures was too high, which in turn, affected the mood of the Ukrainian sociological community. Among sociologists there were mutual accusations in the excessive support of different presidential candidates (Yushchenko and Yanukovych). The very existence of the Sociological Association of Ukraine was under the threat.

However, the subsequent political events and the disappointment of those who believed in "orange" politicians decreased the tension. Moreover, interpersonal conflicts appeared mostly among Kyiv sociologists, while regional centers tried to act from conciliatory positions. As a result, SAU as an organizational structure and a platform for professional discussions was preserved, but its administrative center was shifted to Kharkiv in April 2007, where V.Bakirov was elected the president of SAU. Such a formal transfer of "sociological capital" from Kyiv to Kharkiv gave an opportunity to avoid unnecessary confrontation in the sociological environment and to focus researchers not on political but on sociological problems.

The First Congress of the Sociological Association of Ukraine took place October, 15-17, 2009, in Kharkov, showing the Ukrainian sociological community’s ability to preserve organizational unity. Famous Russian sociologist V.Yadov, who attended the Congress, particularly stressed the fact that, unlike Russian sociologists, Ukrainian sociology demonstrates a greater level of professional consolidation.

Regarding the centers where Ukrainian sociology is primarily developing and the directions of various sociological schools’ activities, the following observations should be marked:

First, the greatest sociological traditions and prestige among colleagues are possessed by the two centers — Kyiv and Kharkiv. In Kyiv, there is the abovementioned Institute of Sociology of The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Many research directions have been formed and continue growing on its basis, such as: sociology of politics, economic sociology, problems of social structure and youth professional orientation, sociology of public opinion, application of mathematical methods in sociological research, ethnosociology, and history of sociology. In addition, sociological schools have developed in the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. A great deal of scientific work is also conducted by Yaremenko Ukrainian Institute for Social Research.

Earning a special place in the history of Ukrainian sociology is the Department of Sociology of Karazin Kharkiv National University. The practice of applied research by Kharkiv sociologists has its roots in the days of the Russian (pre-Soviet) Empire. In the Soviet and post-Soviet period, a theoretical and application-oriented school has been formed at the university, which has great traditions, particularly in the areas of sociology of education and sociology of management. Housed by the the sociology department, an authoritative scientific conference of Ukrainian sociologists, Kharkov Sociological Readings, is annually held.

Odesa sociologists also have long-standing traditions. A special role in the development of sociological theory is played by I.Popova. On the whole, the sphere of Odesa sociologists’ interests is wide, including sociology of culture, sociology of personality, etc.

Recently, sociological centers have also formed in several Ukrainian cities: Dnipropetrivsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhya, Luhansk, and Lviv. In particular, considerable attention is devoted by Dnipropetrivsk sociologists to the history of sociology and sociology of public opinion, while many Donetsk scientists study the sociology of management. Sociological science is actively developing in Zaporizhya. In Lviv and Luhansk there are centers for theoretical and applied sociology in the leading regional universities: Franko Lviv National University specializes in economic sociology and ethnosociology and East-Ukrainian National University specializes in the sociology of innovation processes and sociology of globalization.

Youth of Ukrainian sociology

The relative historical youth of Ukrainian sociology may be considered a positive, because it is less encumbered by the constraints of the past.

In addition, Ukrainian sociology has so far managed to avoid a difficult dilemma, which is now resolved by Russian and Belarusian sociologists—political loyalty of power or political rebelliousness? The Ukrainian government (regardless of political and ideological identity) treats sociologists with circumspection, distrust, and simultaneously tries to win their sympathy. This situation gives professional Ukrainian sociologists a certain degree of freedom. At the same time, the Ukrainian political elite do not yet understand how to use the potential of social science to address important social and economic problems. They are primarily interested in the possibility of sociology in clarifying purely political issues. Thus, a combination of serious research sociology is found alongside polling data. The fact that so far there is no fixation of Ukrainian sociology on ethno-national issues may also be considered positive.

In a substantial sense, contemporary Ukrainian sociological science, in our opinion, should beware of at least three dangers. The first danger is to remain only a fragment of vanishing Soviet sociology. The second danger is to form exclusively as an apologetic part of Western sociology. The third risk is to become stuck in attempts to demonstrate its own exclusivity. The ideal solution surely lies in an attempt to find its own uniqueness through the universal approach. And this universal approach should combine regional particularities and globalization trends. logosmall

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Footnotes invites contributions from knowledgeable non-North American sociologists on the state of the discipline and profession of sociology in countries outside North America for publication in the new occasional column, “International Perspectives.” Sociological analyses of significant national events in these countries that would be of interest to North American sociologists are welcome for publication. Original contributions must be in English and no more than 1,100 words. To discuss possible contributions or send material, contact Johanna Olexy (

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