July/August 2014 Issue • Volume 42 • Issue 6

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International Perspectives

Russian Academia: Building an Information Society and Global Ties

Olga V. Mayorova, Higher School of Economics (Perm)

About two years ago, I left my wonderful job at the ASA and moved to Russia to become an Associate Professor at the Higher School of Economics (HSE). The school is based in Moscow, with three other campuses including one in Perm—the city where I was born. Even though the Perm campus did not have a sociology program I knew immediately where I wanted a teaching position and where I could make the most contribution. Since the move, my life has been an amazing adventure and a challenge at the same time. I had to relearn Russian in some ways, teach research methods and statistics to students majoring in management, jump through bureaucratic hoops in the process of licensing a sociology program in Perm, co-edit a working paper series for Russian sociologists writing in English. In addition, I head the Social Sciences and Humanities Department, consult and mentor junior faculty on their research projects, and participate in the university’s domestic and international recruitment efforts. All while keeping up with my ongoing research projects and becoming involved in new ones in partnership with leading Russian and Western scholars.

Having only completed industrialization in the 20th century, Russia is currently making an exceptional effort to build a post-industrial economy based on knowledge production. The key to such economy is the system of education, which is now undergoing dramatic restructuring. My university is at the front of educational reforms, and I am proud to be a part of this process and to have the opportunity to contribute my knowledge, experience, and efforts to it. There are many other scholars who have joined HSE in recent years and I will let them tell in their own words what research, teaching, and life in general are like in Russia.

Sarah B. Spencer, Assistant Professor, HSE (Moscow)

While earning my doctoral degree the University of Chicago, I conducted my dissertation research in Russia. I have also worked at other universities in Russia, so when the opportunity to teach at HSE opened up, I was excited at the prospect of returning to the country. HSE draws on strong Russian traditions of teaching and research, introducing innovations in both areas. While supporting their strong local and national reputation, HSE is expanding its international reputation through increased academic mobility and increased publications in English-language journals. Academic mobility includes student exchange programs, a new international sociology MA program, placing alumni into graduate programs in the United States and Europe, and finally, hiring an increasing number of sociology PhDs from the United States and Europe.

Scholarly research is of central significance at HSE, and many faculty members are affiliated with a research center (or “laboratory”) where they attend workshops and collaborate with others with similar research interests. Publishing in English-language journals is emphasized more strongly than at many other Russian universities, but local HSE faculty continue to publish in Russian-language journals and monographs. HSE welcomes collaboration between local and international faculty, which can lead to top-quality English-language publications.

HSE is known for its specialization in economic sociology, but other areas of sociology are also well developed. Undergraduate and masters’ students receive excellent training in research methods. Unlike in the United States, all sociology undergraduate students write senior theses with some original research. Most undergraduate and masters’ students pay no tuition, which means they can focus more on their studies. Students here are hardworking and take their studies seriously, but also find time to make friends and have fun. From a strong domestic university, HSE is becoming an increasingly international place to study, teach, and conduct research.

Eduard Ponarin, Professor, HSE (St. Petersburg)

At HSE, I lead the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), which was established at HSE in November 2010 when Professor Ronald Inglehart and I were awarded a “Mega-grant” by the government of the Russian Federation. The purpose of the government’s “Mega-grant” program is to attract leading Western scientists to Russian universities. LCSR aims to develop rigorous quantitative and comparative research in Russian social science. The joint effort of international and Russian scholars within the Laboratory is bringing comparative sociology in HSE to the forefront of international research. The focus of research is on comparative studies of social change—the analysis of cross-sectional and longitudinal data.

LCSR is based in the Moscow and St. Petersburg campuses. It employs about 30 people, including Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel. Additionally, LCSR has developed a network of about 50 associated scholars, mostly from post-socialist countries and Europe, who meet three times a year to discuss their projects with the purpose of publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. LCSR has a stake in bringing up a new generation of Russian scholars. Our junior colleagues have published in top journals such as the Journal of Conflict Management and Resolution and World Politics and some of them have entered graduate programs of Columbia, Princeton, and Michigan.

Benjamin Lind, Assistant Professor, HSE (Moscow)

Moscow offers an incredible living laboratory ripe for social research. In terms of basic demographics, it counts approximately 12 million inhabitants within the federal city limits. The diverse ethnic composition of the city includes not only Russians, but also Tatars, Ukrainians, along with the many immigrant groups from the Caucasus region and Central Asian states. The political climate in Moscow has been incredibly dynamic, especially given Russia’s heightened role in international relations in addition to notoriously contentious domestic legislation. This political climate emerges from a state founded 22 years ago and one that in many ways carries the institutional legacy of perhaps the greatest social experiment of the 20th century. Scholars interested in immigration, urban sociology, political sociology, and historical institutionalists would certainly find the setting stimulating.

Beyond research, the city’s dynamism can be felt in everyday life. Each day the city’s metro system carries millions of passengers. Those few areas which the metro cannot reach can be easily accessed by other forms of public transportation, including buses and electric railways. The city is in no shortage of local culture, either. The city’s residents have a great appreciation for the fine arts and the cuisine reflects the area’s ethnic composition, which are juxtaposed against internationally recognizable entertainment and franchise establishments. While knowledge of the Russian language is quite useful, it is not required for most day-to-day activities.


New opportunities in the growing Russian economy have attracted international faculty with a wide range of expertise, skills, and experience. Each one of them contributes to the integration of Russian academia into the global research community. HSE is a young university, however, it recognizes the importance and potential impact of the internationalization process and makes an effort to attract internationally trained scholars and help them to make cross-cultural adjustments. These efforts ensure not only HSE’s own growth and higher placement in the international university ratings; they contribute to the development of social sciences in all of Russia. My job as HSE faculty now is to help bringing sociology teaching and research standards in Russian province up to international standards. Wish me luck.


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