Sociology Universities

Mikhail Sokolov: «The prism through which people now look at Russia is war»

Machine trans­la­tion

Sociologist of Science Mikhail Sokolov projects for the T-invari­ant. What kind of his­tor­i­cal exper­i­ment is being con­duct­ed on sci­en­tists left behind in Russia, and why a scan­dal will erupt when GPT-chat starts re-check­ing text­books in Russian, we dis­cuss in an inter­view from the series “Making Sense” with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the human­i­ties and social sciences.

T-invari­ant: What has the war changed in the field of Russian sci­ence, in the field of Russian-lan­guage sci­ence, and in the field of Russian-lan­guage sci­ence, as seen through the eyes of a sociologist?

If we are talk­ing about sci­ence in Russian, it is clear that it will shrink. Russia inher­it­ed a rich lega­cy from the Soviet Union in the form of Russian-lan­guage aca­d­e­m­ic space. It has been slow­ly melt­ing away over the years, not least under the influ­ence of glob­al aca­d­e­m­ic rank­ings, which the min­istries of edu­ca­tion in post-Soviet coun­tries were guid­ed by. Where a lot was read and writ­ten in Russian, the min­istries pres­sured the uni­ver­si­ties and the uni­ver­si­ties pres­sured their staff to pub­lish in English. But the process of refusal of Russian was slow: those who stud­ied in the Soviet uni­ver­si­ties got used to its use as the lan­guage of sci­ence, Russian remained the lan­guage of every­day com­mu­ni­ca­tion in many places, plus the influ­ence of the Russian mass cul­ture and many oth­er fac­tors. Academic lit­er­a­ture was trans­lat­ed into Russian much more often than into any oth­er post-Soviet lan­guages, sim­ply because the size of the audi­ence and, accord­ing­ly, the mar­ket was larg­er, and so aca­d­e­mics con­tin­ued to read in Russian. And this also slowed down the process of aban­don­ing Russian. Now, how­ev­er, this ice­berg has begun to melt much faster.

In oth­er words, sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles in Russian will now be writ­ten most­ly by sci­en­tists with Russian pass­ports who are in Russia (it is unlike­ly that there will be many sci­en­tists with non-Russian pass­ports in Russia in the next few years, though). Even sci­en­tists with Russian pass­ports who find them­selves out­side the coun­try will have to switch to oth­er lan­guages, espe­cial­ly English. All of these peo­ple need jobs. To get a job, you need arti­cles in well-known jour­nals, and these are usu­al­ly English-lan­guage pub­li­ca­tions. English-lan­guage pub­li­ca­tions are the most con­vert­ible cur­ren­cy in the aca­d­e­m­ic world. Consequently, a lot of peo­ple in the com­ing years will have this goal of pub­lish­ing in English in order to find work abroad, includ­ing in Europe or China.

T-i: How do you think this migra­tion will affect the state of sci­ence in Russia itself?

MS: People who have left have a strong temp­ta­tion to say, “Well, what sci­ence with­out us? Here, we have left - every­thing will die there.” But while psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly it is very com­fort­able to think this way, cau­tion is required.
The fate of sci­ence in Russia will depend not on how attrac­tive this sphere will remain in some absolute cal­cu­la­tion, but on how attrac­tive it will be in the new con­text in com­par­i­son with oth­er spheres of employ­ment. To what did Soviet sci­ence owe its suc­cess­es? To the fact that, for many tal­ent­ed young peo­ple, all oth­er avail­able employ­ment was even less com­fort­able. In mod­ern soci­eties, if you grew up, you had to go to work. And for many Soviet peo­ple, sci­ence was the least dis­gust­ing way to make a liv­ing. Because it had its own hier­ar­chy, some kind of Hamburg account that was large­ly inde­pen­dent of, I don’t know, the abil­i­ty to ingra­ti­ate and pre­tend to be polit­i­cal­ly loy­al. The Communist Party was forced to come to terms with the fact that the polit­i­cal­ly uncon­scious Landau was the chief Soviet physi­cist. To join this hier­ar­chy in an ide­ol­o­gized and closed soci­ety like the USSR was very attrac­tive. It was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to read the same lit­er­a­ture that is read now by col­leagues behind the Iron Curtain, it was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to feel like a cit­i­zen of the world, to think about some uni­ver­sal prob­lems, not those prob­lems that were put for­ward by the 25th or some oth­er fate­ful Congress of the CPSU. That is why in the Soviet peri­od so many peo­ple from those who per­ceived the Soviet ide­ol­o­gy not too enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly sought to get into science.

Now this his­to­ry has every chance of repeat­ing itself. Let us take the fig­ure of one mil­lion peo­ple who left in con­nec­tion with the war, and com­pare it with the num­ber of con­sis­tent lib­er­als that mass polls in pre­vi­ous decades give us. In var­i­ous polls - when polls were still work­ing, for bet­ter or worse - there were usu­al­ly about 10-12% of peo­ple who voiced lib­er­al views, were for rap­proche­ment with the West and against the ver­ti­cal of pow­er. , put this num­ber in his usu­al ele­gant terms of 15%. But 12% is more than 12 mil­lion if we take only adults. If we assume that a mil­lion peo­ple left, then the total num­ber of con­sis­tent lib­er­als is one-tenth of the total. Add to this the fact that not all of those who left were lib­er­als: some sim­ply did not want to be draft­ed, plus the mil­lion includ­ed minors. So, in fact, the per­cent­age of those who left is greater. All of these peo­ple live in Russia, and their chil­dren will go to uni­ver­si­ty and have to work. Of course, the num­ber one choice for them now is IT, but there are peo­ple with an incor­ri­gi­bly human­i­tar­i­an mind­set (like me), or for some oth­er rea­son not suit­able for IT. Many of them are like­ly to go into sci­ence. Of course, right now the vig­i­lant agen­cies that expose spy sci­en­tists are active­ly work­ing to ensure that sci­ence, espe­cial­ly tech­ni­cal and defense-relat­ed sci­ence, does not seem to be such an attrac­tive field for young peo­ple (rarely do you see peo­ple who shoot them­selves in the foot with such pas­sion as defend­ers of Russian mil­i­tary-tech­ni­cal secrets). But there are var­i­ous escapist fields, as far removed as pos­si­ble from the defense indus­try, in which espi­onage is still dif­fi­cult to sus­pect. Sumerian lan­guage, for exam­ple, or the physics of black holes. And so they may expe­ri­ence a sig­nif­i­cant influx of those who want to do them. Plus there will be those who, for one rea­son or anoth­er, are dis­ad­van­taged in oth­er areas and can real­ize their ambi­tions only where the Hamburg account is more significant.

Again, the same thing hap­pened in Soviet sci­ence, where peo­ple like Boris Abramovich Berezovsky, for exam­ple, end­ed up for the same rea­sons. If you remem­ber, there was a scan­dal about his expul­sion from the Academy of Sciences. He was elect­ed to the Academy when he became an oli­garch, and when he fell into dis­fa­vor, they want­ed to expel him, but they did not. In defense of the Academy, I should say that he came to busi­ness and pol­i­tics from sci­ence, dealt with math­e­mat­i­cal eco­nom­ics, the picky bride prob­lem. He defend­ed his doc­tor­ate back in 1983. If he had kept at it, there is a good chance that he would have become a cor­re­spond­ing mem­ber or maybe even an aca­d­e­mi­cian. Because - well, what else could an ambi­tious young man in the Soviet Union do, espe­cial­ly with his sur­name? It was then that new oppor­tu­ni­ties opened up for him, just when the Academy real­ized that it would like to get more peo­ple into its ranks, who had become the new mas­ters of life…

T-i:Why is it dif­fer­ent now? Here, for exam­ple, we read the sci­ence news: “Mikhail Kovalchuk, pres­i­dent of the Kurchatov Institute, award­ed Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, a Kurchatov medal for ‘out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the devel­op­ment’ of the Institute. Why do you think the mod­ern author­i­ties in Russia no longer need a new Landau or a new Kurchatov? 

MS: Modern sci­ence is both a field of intel­lec­tu­al pro­duc­tion with its com­pe­ti­tion, its hier­ar­chy, and the like, and a large bureau­crat­ic cor­po­ra­tion. It takes the same man­age­r­i­al tal­ents to run this cor­po­ra­tion as it takes to run, say, a dairy plant. The Soviet sys­tem of sci­en­tif­ic man­age­ment was ori­ent­ed toward an ide­al in which these tal­ents would be com­bined in one per­son. Therefore, the direc­tor of the insti­tute had to be the great­est sci­en­tist in it. Examples when great sci­en­tists were good man­agers did occur, but even more often there were sit­u­a­tions when good sci­en­tists wast­ed time not cop­ing with admin­is­tra­tion, or good admin­is­tra­tors had to pre­tend to be sci­en­tists by impos­ing them­selves as co-authors to junior col­leagues or sim­ply forc­ing them to write arti­cles for themselves.

For many decades the com­po­si­tion of the Academy of Sciences has rep­re­sent­ed a kind of com­pro­mise: either tru­ly out­stand­ing sci­en­tists, or admin­is­tra­tors capa­ble of steer­ing the affairs of their insti­tute and the entire Academy, or - in the third cat­e­go­ry - patrons, polit­i­cal fig­ures whose patron­age the Academy need­ed. Ramzan Akhmatovich falls into this cat­e­go­ry, but this sto­ry did­n’t start with him at all. Take, for exam­ple, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev, who grad­u­at­ed from the Institute of Water Transport by cor­re­spon­dence in the 1970s, but who found him­self inter­est­ed in eco­nom­ic sci­ence in the mid-1990s, and with­in 10 years he had worked his way up from PhD to aca­d­e­mi­cian with­out leav­ing the admin­is­tra­tion of his region. Bourdieu wrote of these groups as the intel­lec­tu­al and aca­d­e­m­ic poles of the field of sci­ence. The heroes of the episode you quot­ed rep­re­sent pre­cise­ly the aca­d­e­m­ic pole, on which sci­ence flows smooth­ly into the state appa­ra­tus; in Russia it may look more odi­ous than else­where - because the state appa­ra­tus is - but the fig­ure of a major aca­d­e­m­ic man­ag­er, whose sci­en­tif­ic achieve­ments are ques­tion­able, but the abil­i­ty to beat mon­ey out of oth­er politi­cians is unde­ni­able - is a kind of glob­al universal.

T-i:We were just talk­ing about sci­ence more. Can we extrap­o­late this to the human­i­ties? It is more depen­dent on ide­ol­o­gy and its asso­ci­at­ed con­trol. Hence the repres­sion. Quite a lot of the sci­en­tists who have left Russia are from the human­i­ties and, accord­ing­ly, the human­i­ties that have been pro­mot­ing mod­ern method­olo­gies and the­o­ries inte­grat­ed into world sci­ence, that have been read­ing all this in for­eign lan­guages, and, in fact, have been trans­lat­ing and trans­mit­ting new ideas to Russia… And now they are out­side of Russia. Don’t you think this sit­u­a­tion is dis­as­trous pre­cise­ly for this field of knowl­edge, for research in Russian lit­er­a­ture, his­tor­i­cal dis­ci­plines, social sciences? 

MS: I’ll prob­a­bly say some­thing that sounds delib­er­ate­ly provoca­tive, but rather no, I don’t think we’re deal­ing with a dis­as­ter in this sense. At least, a dis­as­ter for any­one oth­er than these depart­ed sci­en­tists them­selves. My col­leagues and I have been sur­vey­ing pop­u­la­tions of Russian soci­ol­o­gists, econ­o­mists, polit­i­cal sci­en­tists, and his­to­ri­ans in recent years. And one of the uni­ver­sals we observed in each of these exam­ples was that the dis­ci­plines each time split into two large polit­i­cal camps, iso­lat­ed in a social sense. Communication and infor­ma­tion exchange took place with­in the clus­ter, and mem­bers of one clus­ter did not real­ly know what was going on in the neigh­bor­ing one (least of all, this divi­sion into camps can be seen in his­to­ri­ans). These two camps were formed around iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with world or nation­al sci­ence: a pref­er­ence for Russian or English lan­guage com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a belief that it is impor­tant or not impor­tant for Russian sci­en­tists to devel­op a nation­al tra­di­tion, that the rel­e­vant dis­ci­pline should take into account the inter­ests of the coun­try and state, that Western the­o­ries are not suit­able for explain­ing what is hap­pen­ing in Russia, etc. You could call them iso­la­tion­ists and assim­i­la­tion­ists. It will hard­ly come as a sur­prise to any­one that iso­la­tion­ists are usu­al­ly polit­i­cal states­men and assim­i­la­tion­ists are liberals.

Now, the sci­en­tists you speak of who have left are assim­i­la­tion­ists. Even before the recent exo­dus, there were few­er than more or less con­sis­tent iso­la­tion­ists, depend­ing on the dis­ci­pline, a quar­ter to a third of the work­ing sci­en­tists in each field. Of that quar­ter or third, I’d say about half have left in the time since February 24. More often the young and in the ear­li­er phas­es of their careers than the mature ones in the lat­er phas­es. Total, between one-eighth and one-sixth of the sci­en­tists active­ly pub­lish­ing in the field.

Does this have any trag­ic con­se­quences for any­one oth­er than those who left? I would say that, rather, no. The mis­sion of the assim­i­la­tion­ist part of Russian sci­ence was, first, like any sci­ence, to pro­duce new ideas and, sec­ond, to car­ry out the trans­fer of ideas pro­duced and pub­lished in oth­er lan­guages, engaged in pub­lic edu­ca­tion. Both mis­sions have failed. I will not say any­thing about pub­lic edu­ca­tion, except that 10, 12 or 15% of lib­er­als remained 12 or 15%, and in a crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion they could do noth­ing. Their num­ber cer­tain­ly has not grown. You could, of course, say that if it weren’t for the work of main­tain­ing the envi­ron­ment: not lib­er­al edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, not lec­ture halls, and not oth­er sci-fi pop, there would be even less, 5%. But frankly, there is noth­ing to sup­port this hypoth­e­sis. In gen­er­al, where polit­i­cal views in Russia come from is one of the great mys­ter­ies of Russian his­to­ry. Presumably, they are strong­ly tied to fam­i­ly mem­o­ry. One way or anoth­er, the lib­er­al and illib­er­al polit­i­cal envi­ron­ments cre­ate their own infor­ma­tion bub­bles into which lit­tle pen­e­trates from the out­side. And the ideas import­ed by the assim­i­la­tion­ists remained the domain of the same 12%.

What I will say more about is that the assim­i­la­tion­ist social sci­ences have been woe­ful­ly inef­fec­tive in pro­duc­ing new ideas for the non-Russian-speak­ing world. Take, for exam­ple, the pub­li­ca­tions of Russian soci­ol­o­gists. My col­leagues at the Center for Institutional Analysis of Science and Education at the European University recent­ly count­ed pub­li­ca­tions in English pub­lished after 1991 authored or co-authored by Russian schol­ars that made it into Web of Science, a more exclu­sive cita­tion index. It turned out that there are about a hun­dred and forty of them - 144, to be exact. That’s for 30 years! And the first 20 years account for less than a third - 47. And they were writ­ten most­ly in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Western sci­en­tists. Basically, these are the pub­li­ca­tions for which Russian sci­en­tists col­lect­ed field data. An inter­view with Victor Vakhstein in T-invari­ant absolute­ly describes this mod­el of work. And then rapid growth begins at a time when Western foun­da­tions have already closed and kicked out, and pub­li­ca­tion pres­sure has begun: the Higher School of Economics, and behind it oth­er uni­ver­si­ties, pay sub­stan­tial mon­ey to those who pub­lish in English and threat­en to fire every­one else. But on a glob­al scale, this is just a neg­li­gi­ble, very small flow. All those 140 arti­cles pub­lished in 30 years is the scale of one major depart­ment in the United States in one year. There seem to be a lot of peo­ple who iden­ti­fy with world sci­ence, who read in English, only they are absolute­ly not pub­lished in it. And they are invis­i­ble to the out­side world.

T-i:How can this be explained? 

MS: My expla­na­tion relies on the struc­tur­al holes. A struc­tur­al hole is locat­ed between two dense sec­tions of a net­work in which all agents are more or less con­nect­ed so that they can freely exchange infor­ma­tion and resources. The exchange between these sec­tions sep­a­rat­ed by the hole, how­ev­er, does not take place or only takes place thanks to the bro­kers, who are in a unique posi­tion because they have con­tacts on both sides of the hole and, because of this, can ben­e­fit great­ly, for exam­ple, by manip­u­lat­ing both sides to their advan­tage. The plot is repeat­ed­ly played out in cul­ture. Take, say, “For a Fistful of Dollars” with Clint Eastwood. In our case, the struc­tur­al hole is cre­at­ed by the lan­guage bar­ri­er. On one side there are those who do not read or speak Russian, though they would in prin­ci­ple like to learn some­thing about snowy Russia. And on the oth­er side there are those who do not read in for­eign languages.

Brokers read on both. And for these bro­kers, the struc­tur­al hole opens up incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties. It is pos­si­ble to bring some Russian data there, and, most impor­tant­ly, it is pos­si­ble to retrans­late what is pro­duced there into one’s native lan­guage. As a result, a pecu­liar fig­ure of a sci­en­tist appears who reads sci­en­tif­ic texts in a for­eign lan­guage, although he almost nev­er writes in it, but writes in Russian, although he does not always read spe­cial lit­er­a­ture in it.

All these peo­ple who import­ed English-lan­guage sci­ence did not need to invent any­thing at all in order to be con­sid­ered major sci­en­tists, except to trans­late reviews, some­times accu­rate­ly, some­times adding some­thing of them­selves. And Western foun­da­tions will­ing­ly gave mon­ey for you to edu­cate Russia and pre­pare stu­dents, joined to the glob­al sci­ence, which did not increase the desire to pub­lish in English. A sep­a­rate sto­ry will one day be told about how Russian-speak­ing audi­ences learned, for exam­ple, about American soci­ol­o­gy. People who engaged in retrans­la­tion could com­plete pages from them­selves to a favorite author, or they could pass off pages from a favorite author as their own.

When the GPT chats get to the point of cross-check­ing var­i­ous text­books writ­ten by major assim­i­la­tion­ist fig­ures in Russian against those in English, there will be a scan­dal. If it ever comes to that. In milder forms, such a mod­el of oper­a­tion is quite legit­i­mate, as long as it does not acquire patho­log­i­cal proportions.

T-i:And what under­lies such legitimacy? 

MS: All sci­ences pro­duce news. News includes, but is not lim­it­ed to, tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood dis­cov­er­ies. The con­cept of news is broad­er than the con­cept of dis­cov­ery. Historically, the metaphor of dis­cov­ery comes from geog­ra­phy, and then it makes its way into the nat­ur­al sci­ences. Then it pen­e­trates the human­i­ties, for which it is even more con­ven­tion­al, or at any rate, we are deal­ing with some oth­er kind of dis­cov­ery, not a glob­al dis­cov­ery for all mankind, but a local dis­cov­ery for mem­bers of some com­mu­ni­ty or envi­ron­ment. The nat­ur­al sci­ences dis­cov­er unin­hab­it­ed islands that no human being has ever set foot on. The human­i­ties dis­cov­er an already inhab­it­ed America. “Discovery” here was a dis­cov­ery only for Europeans. Or, one might say, for those who lived in America, Columbus, to their great regret, dis­cov­ered Europe. And these kinds of local dis­cov­er­ies, in gen­er­al, are more like the sit­u­a­tion of the human­i­ties. Anthropologists do not dis­cov­er any­thing new about the cul­ture they describe. They only bring news from the vil­lage they study to anoth­er, their own, vil­lage, dis­cov­er­ing one cul­ture for anoth­er cul­ture. The big ques­tion is whether the social sci­ences can dis­cov­er a desert island. But they can dis­cov­er for some peo­ple what oth­ers have known for a long time. This, too, is the use of the struc­tur­al hole, and in this respect all the human­i­ties are about brokering.

But the struc­tur­al hole that the lan­guage bar­ri­er cre­ates has, in a sense, a com­plete­ly patho­log­i­cal effect. One could say that this struc­tur­al hole func­tions as a resource curse. Through it we can end­less­ly pump infor­ma­tion from world sci­ence to local sci­ence, like oil, with­out pro­duc­ing any­thing new at all. And the infor­ma­tion that comes back is often of very low qual­i­ty. Production turns out to be back­ward and low-tech.

T-i:How exact­ly does this happen? 

MS: Here, for exam­ple. How does the choice of area of spe­cial­iza­tion in the coun­try at the aca­d­e­m­ic periph­ery go? There’s already some­one there who spe­cial­izes in gen­der. Someone who spe­cial­izes in social strat­i­fi­ca­tion. Someone who spe­cial­izes in the social stud­ies of med­i­cine. And I’m a young schol­ar who’s won­der­ing what I should do. I think: there are spe­cial­ists in this, in this, in this, but no one deals with migra­tion. I’m going to be a major spe­cial­ist in the soci­ol­o­gy of migra­tion. My stu­dents, if I have any, say to them­selves: this one has already done migra­tion, let’s do soci­ol­o­gy of sci­ence. And so each of us clos­es our own lit­tle struc­tur­al hole. We basi­cal­ly have noth­ing to talk about, because I am the chief soci­ol­o­gist of migra­tion, they are the chief soci­ol­o­gists of sci­ence. We can be very fond of each oth­er and drink at con­fer­ences, but there is no way I can check if they are telling the truth at these con­fer­ences. And they can­not check if I am telling the truth. Western col­leagues also do not know: do I even tell any­thing about migra­tion in Russia that is sim­i­lar to real­i­ty, or am I mak­ing it all up.

Any form of col­le­gial qual­i­ty con­trol is very much dimin­ished when the den­si­ty of the envi­ron­ment decreas­es. The suc­cess of English-lan­guage soci­ol­o­gy will large­ly be due to the fact that it is a very dense envi­ron­ment. There are many peo­ple work­ing in every par­tic­u­lar field there. Everyone knows that arti­cles will be sent to review­ers who know the lit­er­a­ture in that par­tic­u­lar area and will wring your neck if, God for­bid, you miss some­thing. And if every­one is respon­si­ble for his or her own area, qual­i­ty con­trol of the research is vir­tu­al­ly elim­i­nat­ed. That is why method­olog­i­cal stan­dards, for exam­ple, do not grow. That is, all the worst - from slop­pi­ness to out­right fraud is not stopped in any way. Hands are com­plete­ly untied.

Another source of tech­no­log­i­cal back­ward­ness is more inno­cent, but it also pre­vents the emer­gence of any inter­na­tion­al vis­i­bil­i­ty. We say to our­selves: well, yes, of course, a sim­i­lar study has already been con­duct­ed twen­ty times in oth­er coun­tries, but we want to enlight­en the Russian pub­lic, for whom the ref­er­ence to oth­er coun­tries is irrel­e­vant, and no one has done such a thing in Russia. And yes, it’s pro­duced bet­ter in the orig­i­nal: on larg­er and bet­ter sam­ples, with bet­ter meth­ods - but in Russia and the way we did it, no one has done it, so any­way, we’re mak­ing a step for­ward. And, as a result, we do a study that has no chance of being pub­lished in English. Its best pos­si­ble result: a the­o­ry that has already been test­ed twen­ty times works in Russia. By the stan­dards of glob­al soci­ol­o­gy, this is not con­sid­ered a dis­cov­ery, espe­cial­ly if we test­ed it using less sophis­ti­cat­ed meth­ods, although it might well be local news.

These are typ­i­cal periph­er­al prob­lems. I sus­pect that in Russia they may not even be the most acute, because, after all, the acad­e­my is quite large. But the trou­ble is that in addi­tion to the main lev­el, where we cross the lan­guage bar­ri­er between English and Russian, there are many, many sub-lev­els, where we, for exam­ple, cross the bar­ri­er between Moscow and the Tambov region. Tambov region or any oth­er region should also have its own chief soci­ol­o­gist of migra­tion. And this chief soci­ol­o­gist of migra­tion serves as the main source of knowl­edge for col­leagues in Tambov about what they say in Moscow about what they say in Chicago, and is respon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing knowl­edge about the Tambov region for a local audi­ence. Such a cas­cade in which struc­tur­al holes are repro­duced at every level.

To sum­ma­rize, in gen­er­al, expo­sure to world sci­ence is undoubt­ed­ly a good thing. But it can also be a source of back­ward­ness for periph­er­al dis­ci­pli­nary com­mu­ni­ties if they are small in size and het­ero­ge­neous in terms of access to infor­ma­tion (there are books in Moscow that are not avail­able in Tambov). Local nov­el­ty can com­plete­ly replace glob­al nov­el­ty for them, and pro­duc­tion remains low-tech. And much of the empir­i­cal work pro­duced by inter­na­tion­al­ized Russian sci­en­tists was such repro­duc­tion, lack­ing any par­tic­u­lar glob­al nov­el­ty. The irony is that they could sin­cere­ly feel that they were doing the most impor­tant thing that could be done in their periph­er­al sit­u­a­tion: enlight­en­ing, intro­duc­ing the light of knowl­edge - and also giv­ing the fastest rep­u­ta­tion­al out­put. Again, all of these are not Russian pecu­liar­i­ties. With minor adjust­ments, we can find a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in many dif­fer­ent coun­tries. And in many places, the most sig­nif­i­cant result of the assim­i­la­tion­ists’ work for world sci­ence has been that some of the most tal­ent­ed of their stu­dents have not fol­lowed their path, but have emi­grat­ed to the soci­o­log­i­cal metropolis.

T-i:Are our own, Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tif­ic prod­ucts sig­nif­i­cant and pro­duced with­in Russia pos­si­ble? There was such a dis­cus­sion in Shaninka about “samod­u­mov”: here, there are real sci­en­tists, who trans­late gen­er­al­ly mean­ing­ful glob­al knowl­edge, and there are samod­u­mov, who sit in provin­cial uni­ver­si­ties and dis­cov­er some­thing of their own… What is the real role of these “samod­ums” in the devel­op­ment of science? 

MS: I’ve always, you know, sym­pa­thized with self-doubters. Secretly. Many times in the his­to­ry of sci­ence there is a sim­i­lar sto­ry about how some­one made a great dis­cov­ery because he was in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion and did­n’t know that most sci­en­tists had reached con­sen­sus and that the idea he was try­ing to devel­op had already been dis­missed as obso­lete, absurd, and unsup­port­ed by data. Knorozov’s deci­sive steps in the deci­pher­ing of Maya hiero­glyphs were, it is believed, due to the fact that he did not know about the work of Thompson, who proved that Maya writ­ing does not have a pho­net­ic com­po­nent. Then it turned out that it was there. Knorozov was behind the Iron Curtain, the author­i­ty did not press on him, so he went his own way. And the way was right, although most of the world-renowned sci­en­tists in this field at the time thought oth­er­wise. How typ­i­cal is this sto­ry? It seems that Russian sci­en­tists unwit­ting­ly became par­tic­i­pants in a nat­ur­al exper­i­ment, the pur­pose of which is to find out.

Indeed, if the assim­i­la­tion­ists are bad­ly defeat­ed, the bat­tle­field is left to the iso­la­tion­ists. We shall see, accord­ing­ly, what they can do, left to them­selves and even with some sup­port from the author­i­ties. Some of them, any­way. There is a good chance, how­ev­er, that this exper­i­ment will not go very far, at least not if the the­o­ry called soci­o­log­i­cal neo-insti­tu­tion­al­ism is to be believed.

T-i:What is the essence of this theory? 

MS: This is a the­o­ry that tries to argue with one of the main think­ing habits of social sci­en­tists since the 19th cen­tu­ry. Sociologists and not only soci­ol­o­gists have thought and con­tin­ue to think of soci­eties as enti­ties that evolve under the influ­ence of inter­nal factors.

For exam­ple, there is the class strug­gle. If we take the clas­si­cal Marxist scheme, its char­ac­ter is deter­mined by the devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive forces. There are advanced soci­eties, which have already passed to the cap­i­tal­ist stage of devel­op­ment, where the bour­geoisie and the pro­le­tari­at strug­gle. And there are back­ward soci­eties in which feu­dal­ism or even prim­i­tive com­mu­nal­ism pre­vail. All these soci­eties devel­op as sep­a­rate iso­lat­ed organ­isms, pass­ing through the same stages of growth. Already Marx was well aware that empir­i­cal­ly this the­o­ry is not quite ade­quate: how old a per­son next to us is will have no effect on our bio­log­i­cal age, but the devel­op­ment of neigh­bor­ing coun­tries clear­ly affects the speed and direc­tion of our coun­try’s devel­op­ment. Wallerstein tried to make Marxists think of soci­eties not as iso­lat­ed mon­ads. But the habit and not only for Marxists - remains. We look by default for the main rea­sons that some­thing in Russia is devel­op­ing so-and-so with­in Russia itself.

Now let’s admit to our­selves that the main force guid­ing the devel­op­ment of soci­ety is not some inter­nal fac­tors, cul­tur­al or eco­nom­ic, but imi­ta­tion. Why are we doing things this way in our coun­try? Because oth­er coun­tries have already done it and done it this way. It is always eas­i­er and safer to imi­tate or imi­tate than to invent our­selves. The insti­tu­tion­al mod­el saves us cog­ni­tive effort, it gives our actions legit­i­ma­cy - we can say that we are copy­ing best prac­tices. Take, for exam­ple, the clas­sic exam­ple parsed by the father of neo-insti­tu­tion­al­ism, John Meyer, who began as a soci­ol­o­gist of edu­ca­tion. Theoretically, edu­ca­tion sys­tems can be orga­nized in any way at all, in every coun­try or even in every region in its own way. Why are they orga­nized quite sim­i­lar­ly every­where, from ter­mi­nol­o­gy (there are pro­fes­sors every­where who lec­ture stu­dents) to some basic things like sub­ject sets and the aca­d­e­m­ic year calendar?

Because human­i­ty has tried every way to orga­nize an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, and this one was the best? No. No one has ever tried the vast major­i­ty of ways in which an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem can be orga­nized. It has sim­ply been copied. From this point of view, the most impor­tant force in insti­tu­tion­al devel­op­ment is imi­ta­tion, bor­row­ing a legit­i­mate mod­el. Because it allows us to act with­out ask­ing too many ques­tions or suf­fer­ing from hav­ing to answer too many ques­tions. Of course, if imi­ta­tion were the only force, coun­tries would be com­plete­ly iden­ti­cal, and they are dif­fer­ent. But if we com­pare the scale of the sim­i­lar­i­ties with the scale of the dif­fer­ences, we find that there are many more sim­i­lar­i­ties than there could be.

And from this pres­sure (Meyer calls it “world soci­ety”) Russia has not escaped in any way, not even by mess­ing up rela­tions with much of the world. There will be no unique edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem beyond the renam­ing of the bach­e­lor’s and spe­cial­ist’s degree to the basic lev­el of high­er edu­ca­tion. There won’t be its own text­book of eco­nom­ics, his­to­ry, soci­ol­o­gy, what­ev­er there won’t be any of that. First of all, to invent a sci­ence from scratch, one that enough peo­ple besides the inven­tor him­self can be made to believe in, is a high­ly non-triv­ial task. Secondly, some­one in the rel­e­vant min­istry must take respon­si­bil­i­ty for mak­ing sure that this sci­ence is taught. Both are prac­ti­cal­ly impossible.

T-i:So there is no cat­a­stro­phe here either? But some­thing will change, won’t it? 

MS: Let us imag­ine that we want to grow our own, not taint­ed by the “bad” glob­al sam­ples import­ed from the West, or, in oth­er words, indi­genic eco­nom­ics. And we entrust this task to a cer­tain influ­en­tial econ­o­mist, G., who is known for his crit­i­cism of American eco­nom­ics. And what will he do? Let’s keep in mind that eco­nom­ic sci­ence has to answer a cer­tain num­ber of prac­ti­cal ques­tions which are answered by god­damn eco­nom­ics like what the inter­est rate should be and must lean lean thin­ly on the results of empir­i­cal research. Besides, we need a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of oth­er Russian econ­o­mists to under­stand it, in addi­tion to econ­o­mist G. him­self, oth­er­wise it is not clear who will teach it to the stu­dents. Finally, and most dif­fi­cult of all, it is desir­able that the oth­er indi­ge­neous schol­ars rec­og­nize G. Isolationists do not, of course, rep­re­sent a sin­gle school. There are many the­o­ries that are indi­ge­neous in one way or anoth­er, unit­ed except in the fact that many of them share con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal impli­ca­tion, and if G. receives such a tempt­ing offer, many would think that they should have been in his place.

Economist G. can hard­ly be reproached for fail­ing to meet this chal­lenge. Most like­ly, he will get out of the sit­u­a­tion by tak­ing a stan­dard text­book on macro­eco­nom­ics a para­phrase of the retelling of Western text­books and adding one chap­ter to it. It is clear what this chap­ter will be about: it will be about G.‘s views on eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, seen through the prism of geopo­lit­i­cal con­flict, and his answers to ques­tions like how Russia should act in a sit­u­a­tion of poten­tial war with an eco­nom­i­cal­ly more devel­oped ene­my, on whom it is much more depen­dent than this ene­my on it. The answer, of course, is to have an econ­o­my that is pro­tect­ed from any shocks from the out­side, to strive for autarchy, in gen­er­al, to build an eco­nom­ic “fortress Russia. This chap­ter will stand last and be pre­sent­ed as the pin­na­cle of eco­nom­ic thought. Beyond that, the con­tent will remain the same text from a Western macro­eco­nom­ics textbook.

The same would apply to, say, a his­to­ry text­book. You could add some­thing reli­able about Ukraine, add a reminder that Russia nev­er attacked any­one, and leave the rest as it was. It is unlike­ly that some eccen­tric like Academician Fomenko will get into it. Will there be some kind of indi­ge­neous the­o­ry of the neolith­ic rev­o­lu­tion? Will there be any spe­cif­ic Russian approach­es to the Carolingian monar­chy? To European feu­dal­ism? I think not.

The sec­ond obsta­cle that stands in the way of the devel­op­ment of indi­ge­neous social sci­ence is the patho­log­i­cal dis­trust of Russian offi­cials respon­si­ble for sci­ence toward Russian sci­en­tists, includ­ing the most well-mean­ing ones. Perhaps even the most well-mean­ing ones in the first place, because it was these state-think­ing sci­en­tists who orga­nized the “turnkey” defens­es of old­er offi­cials. Actually, this dis­trust was the rea­son for the tri­umphal march of Scopus a few years ear­li­er: even very anti-Western offi­cials were sure that only for­eign jour­nals select­ed arti­cles based on their qual­i­ty, not on con­nec­tions with authors. Actually, all sci­ence bureau­crats have a con­stant fear that they will become vic­tims of either scam­mers or mad­men who will sell them a per­pet­u­al motion machine or liv­ing water, and offi­cials will be under sus­pi­cion that they agreed to this for a kick­back. Under such con­di­tions, the appear­ance of Academician G. with some over­ly orig­i­nal the­o­ry can become a headache for them; the offi­cial feels an almost reflex­ive need to shift respon­si­bil­i­ty to some­one else. Western experts are no longer avail­able, but there are, say, Chinese ones. And since Chinese sci­en­tists are very strong­ly ori­ent­ed toward the English lan­guage, it will not be pos­si­ble to per­suade them to rec­og­nize spe­cial Russian sci­ence. So the pres­sure of world soci­ety will pen­e­trate from this side.

We can rough­ly imag­ine what the alliance of offi­cials with iso­la­tion­ists will bring about if we take a look at the recent­ly revealed con­cept of the mod­ule “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood,” which is sup­posed to teach stu­dents to love their moth­er­land start­ing September 1 this year. In some places, the con­cept seems like a col­lage of cur­ric­u­la from a vari­ety of school and uni­ver­si­ty dis­ci­plines. Gumilev’s con­cept, prob­a­bly the most impor­tant con­tender for the role of indi­ge­neous the­o­ry, occu­pies a promi­nent place, but Gumilev para­dox­i­cal­ly neigh­bors the the­o­ry of orga­ni­za­tion­al fields of McAdam and Fligstein, the logother­a­py of Viktor Frankl and the social con­struc­tion of real­i­ty of Berger and Lukman. As the cher­ry on the cake in the list of required read­ings, Comparative Political Science by G. V. Golosov. I only won­der if the authors of the course con­cept them­selves would come to con­fess to being “third par­ties” if the Ministry of Justice declared Professor G. Golosov an ene­my of the human race? All kid­ding aside, the con­cept reflects both the call of indi­gene­ity and the con­stant desire to be rec­og­nized and to keep up with the lat­est trends; in this sense, iso­la­tion­ists are nev­er as con­sis­tent in their iso­la­tion­ism as assim­i­la­tion­ists can be in their rejec­tion of every­thing national.

T-i:Your pre­dic­tive exam­ples of indi­ge­neous sci­ence look inno­cent. And in real­i­ty we see that they are used to try to send direc­tor Yevgeniya Berkovich and play­wright Svetlana Petriichuk to prison. Isn’t the destruc­to­log­i­cal exper­tise on which the main accu­sa­tion against them is based a far more fright­en­ing sto­ry in the devel­op­ment of sci­ence than the vul­gar­iza­tion of the Carolingian monar­chy approach? 

MS: Well, it’s fair to say that crim­i­nal cas­es in Russia have involved many strange exam­i­na­tions, most of which have noth­ing to do with indi­ge­neous sci­ence. As in the sen­sa­tion­al case a few years ago, when the inter­pre­ta­tions of a 10-year-old girl’s pro­jec­tive tests, not con­firmed by either lab­o­ra­to­ry tests or her tes­ti­mo­ny, became, in fact, the main evi­dence in a pedophil­ia case against her father (psy­chol­o­gists, as far as I know, con­sid­er this an out­ra­geous abuse of the method­ol­o­gy). But yes, it is true that since there are more anti-lib­er­als among iso­la­tion­ists, it is more like­ly that they are more like­ly to appear at their respec­tive tri­als and tes­ti­fy while try­ing to pop­u­lar­ize their teach­ings, as in the case of the noto­ri­ous “destruc­tol­ogy”.

T-i:But indi­ge­neous sci­ence did not emerge by order from above after February 24. This phe­nom­e­non has long exist­ed in all areas of human­i­tar­i­an knowl­edge in Russia. And this knowl­edge is quite legit­i­mate, such research, which can­not even be trans­lat­ed into any for­eign lan­guage, because it is not clear what to trans­late, is defend­ed in dis­ser­ta­tion coun­cils and so on and so forth… On the oth­er hand, there is (or should we already say “exist­ed?”) the sci­ence of the European University, sci­ence of Shaninka, sci­ence of the Higher School of Economics, sci­ence of the NES and a whole range of oth­er insti­tu­tions in Russia. And it is different.
Doesn’t it turn out that there is a cul­tur­al inequal­i­ty: sci­ence, which pro­duces an indi­ge­neous prod­uct that is not very clear, is quite mas­sive and rel­a­tive­ly easy to get into. And the sci­ence that does not pro­duce such a prod­uct, but pro­duces quite some­thing con­vert­ible, it is quite dif­fi­cult to get into. Or there could have been some oth­er strat­e­gy, I guess, that had to do with open­ness, with edu­ca­tion and so on, right? 

MS: I think the first part of this ques­tion is a per­fect state­ment of the assim­i­la­tion­ist cre­do: if sci­ence is not con­vert­ible, then by def­i­n­i­tion it is ille­git­i­mate. In all seri­ous­ness, I don’t know the answer to what went wrong. All of the insti­tu­tions list­ed taught most stu­dents for free. Could it be that they had a high cul­tur­al cen­sus that kept kids from less-edu­cat­ed fam­i­lies out? In an old study, we tried to test the extent to which par­ents’ aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess affects belong­ing to an assim­i­la­tion­ist or iso­la­tion­ist camp, and found that there seems to be a con­nec­tion (chil­dren from aca­d­e­m­ic fam­i­lies are more like­ly to be assim­i­la­tion­ists), but a rather weak one and medi­at­ed by polit­i­cal sym­pa­thies (chil­dren from aca­d­e­m­ic fam­i­lies are more like­ly to be polit­i­cal lib­er­als and lib­er­als more like­ly to be assim­i­la­tion­ists). Is the dif­fer­ence in the com­plex­i­ty of their work respon­si­ble for the fact that some pre­ferred to read econ­o­mist G. and some pre­ferred to read econ­o­mists from the NES? Maybe, though there is no unam­bigu­ous con­fir­ma­tion of it. I myself did not find econ­o­mist G. an easy read.

Enlightenment seems to have tak­en place. Take the huge num­ber of pop­u­lar­iza­tion ini­tia­tives in which, I think, all the key fig­ures of the assim­i­la­tion­ist camp par­tic­i­pat­ed. Books and arti­cles were avail­able to all but the most copy­right-sen­si­tive. The prob­lem was not that any­one was exclud­ed, but that some­one was not burn­ing to be includ­ed. We seem to be get­ting back to the ques­tion of how Russia is divid­ed into polit­i­cal camps with almost impen­e­tra­ble bound­aries. In the case of the social sci­ences, the human­i­ties, there is not the rigid prac­ti­cal cri­te­ri­on that pre­sum­ably exists in the nat­ur­al sci­ences, where you can say that if we speak one sci­en­tif­ic lan­guage and you speak anoth­er, our lan­guage is bet­ter because our covid vac­cine works and, sor­ry, those rat-tail rubs that you rec­om­mend against it don’t real­ly work. But when we’re talk­ing about social sci­ence, the advan­tages of one lan­guage over anoth­er often lie in the realm of aes­thet­ics or moral­i­ty, and it can be dif­fer­ent from one polit­i­cal camp to anoth­er. However, as the ques­tion­able suc­cess­es of covid vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigns in Russia (as well as in the United States, Ukraine, and many oth­er coun­tries) have shown, even seem­ing­ly obvi­ous prac­ti­cal util­i­ty, backed by the author­i­ty of sci­ence, can be of lit­tle help in the post-truth era.

T-i:With sci­ence in Russian every­thing is more or less clear. But what about sci­ence on Russian material?

MS: It is wide­ly dis­cussed in soci­ol­o­gy and relat­ed spe­cial­ties that mate­ri­als from some coun­tries are strong­ly equalto mate­ri­als from oth­ers. There’s an excel­lent arti­cle by Monica Krause on this sub­ject, which says that America is a kind of mod­el object, a bench­mark of mod­ern soci­ety, and all the oth­er coun­tries are some­where in a series of con­cen­tric cir­cles with the US in the cen­ter. The bench­mark is not because it is right, not because it is good, but because it serves as a nat­ur­al point of ref­er­ence. And the far­ther we depart from it, the far­ther we sink into a world of strange exoti­cism. This is very clear if we look at names of arti­cles in inter­na­tion­al English-lan­guage jour­nals. An arti­cle on American mate­r­i­al will be called sim­ply “Inequality in Access to Higher Education,” with­out spec­i­fy­ing that it is “in America. And if some­one from Russia pub­lish­es an arti­cle in English on the same sub­ject, the title will nec­es­sar­i­ly state that it is about Russia. Because every­thing stud­ied in the United States is con­sid­ered applic­a­ble to oth­er mod­ern coun­tries until proven oth­er­wise, and every­thing that applies to Russia or to Tunisia, Indonesia, or Uruguay is, on the con­trary, inap­plic­a­ble until proven oth­er­wise. Krause makes sev­er­al sug­ges­tions as to why this is so. Part of America’s posi­tion has to do with its role as a prece­dent. American soci­ol­o­gy is the biggest, there are so many peo­ple involved in it, these peo­ple have writ­ten so many papers, so many text­books, and they have done it first in so many fields. So we read American books on empir­i­cal soci­ol­o­gy as exem­plary works, and every­one who has stud­ied soci­ol­o­gy has stud­ied from American text­books in one way or anoth­er, and they have tak­en the idea of what mod­ern soci­ety is all about. Thanks to the text­books and thanks to pop­u­lar cul­ture we know even more about America than we do about Russia; more­over, we know that schol­ars from oth­er coun­tries also stud­ied from these text­books and also know how America works, and know that we know it. So the U.S. becomes a nat­ur­al point of ref­er­ence for all of us. This is one of the mech­a­nisms by which mate­ri­als from dif­fer­ent coun­tries are sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly unequal.

Another mech­a­nism: thanks to America’s influ­ence, there is a notion, or at least there have been for many decades, that over time all coun­tries will become like it. In this sense, the study of the strange exot­ic is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly grate­ful occu­pa­tion, because it is a tran­sient phe­nom­e­non any­way. Studying it is akin to the work of anthro­pol­o­gists, who try to record for cul­tur­al his­to­ry lan­guages before they are swept away by the wave of mod­ern­iza­tion and glob­al­iza­tion. But soci­ol­o­gists, econ­o­mists, polit­i­cal sci­en­tists, and oth­ers are alien to such an interest.

This does not mean that coun­tries on the periph­ery are not in the cen­ter of inter­est, but this inter­est is usu­al­ly very nar­row­ly focused and based on some not always reflex­ive notions of what is impor­tant in a coun­try, or in what respect that coun­try is ide­al­ly typ­i­cal. Five times as much has been writ­ten, I think, about the Russian Revolution and the Civil War as about the Revolution and the Mexican War, even though they took place at rough­ly the same time, with a com­pa­ra­ble num­ber of vic­tims. But there is a feel­ing that the Mexican Revolution was some kind of an inter­nal Latin American affair. But the Russian Revolution had an impact on the entire twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. No his­to­ri­an, of course, would say that one should not study the Mexican Revolution because it is unim­por­tant. But his­to­ri­ans, too, respond in one way or anoth­er to pub­lic inter­est and their own human inter­est. Say, the mass of Western his­to­ri­ans who began to study the Russian twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry were left­ists who want­ed to fig­ure out what went wrong with social­ism. It is unlike­ly that many out­side of Mexico had this kind of per­son­al inter­est in the rev­o­lu­tion there.

Similarly, social sci­en­tists react to what tourism experts call the “coun­try brand,” albeit in a very pecu­liar way. Italy is piz­za and the mafia; social sci­en­tists, in their pro­fes­sion­al capac­i­ty, have lit­tle to say about piz­za, but the mafia is for us. You want to study orga­nized crime, go to Italy, because it is as much a bench­mark in that respect as the U.S. is in oth­er qual­i­ties. Stereotypes like that can change. Stereotypes about what is impor­tant in Russia have changed sev­er­al times in the last 30 years. Thirty years ago, most would-be assim­i­la­tion­ists work­ing in Russia stud­ied civ­il soci­ety because it seemed that Russia, like the rest of Eastern Europe, was a sto­ry about civ­il soci­ety over­throw­ing a total­i­tar­i­an regime. Then came the dis­ap­point­ment and the emer­gence of cor­rup­tion and klep­toc­ra­cy: you want to study undig­ni­fied rule, wel­come to Russia. And now this has been rel­e­gat­ed to the back burn­er, because now the world-print­ing in social sci­ence jour­nals in English, at any rate-thinks that the most impor­tant thing about Russia is the war with Ukraine. The war has cer­tain­ly pushed Russia beyond the out­er­most perime­ter of the map of nor­mal­i­ty, very far from the coun­tries whose names are not put in the head­lines. The war also deter­mined quite unequiv­o­cal­ly what is worth study­ing in Russia. Now the most impor­tant prism through which one looks at Russia is the war. If you want to under­stand how some peo­ple can unex­pect­ed­ly start a uni­ver­sal cat­a­stro­phe, while oth­ers do noth­ing to pre­vent it, wel­come to Moscow. Of course, these events are per­ceived as impor­tant not only in and of them­selves, but as a kind of parabo­la or synec­doche for so many oth­er events, past and future. In the light of this cen­tral rel­e­vance, any object of study relat­ed to Russia is rein­ter­pret­ed. For exam­ple, clas­si­cal Russian lit­er­a­ture in this con­text becomes impor­tant to a glob­al English-speak­ing audi­ence pri­mar­i­ly because it may have nur­tured impe­r­i­al sen­ti­ments, and the study of Russian sci­ence in con­nec­tion with an assess­ment of what kind of resource the Russian mil­i­tary indus­try has.

Here we should add that these notions of rel­e­vance not only indi­cate what should be stud­ied in each coun­try, but also what is inap­pro­pri­ate to study in it. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent in the case of soci­ol­o­gy, which - in its cur­rent state, any­way tends to study social prob­lems from the per­spec­tive of vic­tims vic­tims of social injus­tice, dis­crim­i­na­tion or inequal­i­ty. But is it pos­si­ble to study the prob­lems of vic­tims who are them­selves crim­i­nals, per­haps com­mit­ting far worse crimes than those they them­selves suf­fer from? Let us con­duct a thought exper­i­ment. Imagine the sto­ry of a strong woman try­ing to make a career in a tox­ic male envi­ron­ment. She is sex­u­al­ly harassed. She is con­stant­ly being pushed around, let­ting men get ahead of her, even though she loves her job and does it bet­ter than they do. The nat­ur­al reac­tion for most soci­ol­o­gists today would be to fer­vent­ly sym­pa­thize with her. But imag­ine being told that this woman is some­one like Ilse Koch. And she is try­ing to make a career in a con­cen­tra­tion camp. There were quite a few women serv­ing in Nazi camps, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, but not one of them became a com­man­dant. That is to say, the glass ceil­ing there was still what it was. But would we sym­pa­thize with Ilse Koch? Or, giv­en the career she chose, will we think that she deserved all her mis­for­tunes, and that she deserved it, and should we choose to study the case of some more sym­pa­thet­ic vic­tims? I think many soci­ol­o­gists uncon­scious­ly feel that this would be a more appro­pri­ate decision.

T-i:What does this say about the prospects for our science?

MS: It seems to me that I have already pre­dict­ed a lot of things. Let me con­clude by say­ing what I hope this inter­view will look like if some­one sees it 50 years from now. I would like it to be per­ceived as anoth­er his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment, which I adore Memoirs of Avdotya Panaeva, or rather, one episode from them. In which Nekrasov and Panaev in the Sovremennik’s edi­to­r­i­al office receive a man­u­script from a young aspir­ing author, ter­ri­bly pleased. Turgenev comes to them and says, “Well, what kind of lit­er­a­ture is there in Russia any­way? While we’re fight­ing our stale cen­sors who won’t let us write, world lit­er­a­ture has gone cen­turies ahead. Nothing good will ever be print­ed in your mag­a­zine! I’ll sell my men and go to Paris! They won’t read me any­way, but at least I’ll see some nor­mal life. Nekrasov and Panaev sit, sob­bing, shed­ding tears over the man­u­script of a bud­ding, but already doomed to obscu­ri­ty author. The author’s name is Leo Tolstoy.

Turgenev seems to be say­ing all the right things, and there’s no harm in it. We could also add that in Europe they con­sid­er Russia an exot­ic coun­try, which is inter­est­ing as an illus­tra­tive exam­ple of ori­en­tal despo­tism, and they hard­ly expect aes­thet­ic enlight­en­ment from it. But in the end, none of this turned out to be true. So those who would like to pre­serve the Russian lan­guage for schol­ar­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion are left, fig­u­ra­tive­ly speak­ing, to pub­lish the jour­nal Sovremennik and wait for a young capa­ble author named Tolstoy or some­one else with their manuscript.

T-i:It appears that we have prospects. And, like, even quite recognizable? 

MS: Yes, there is a sense of com­plete rep­e­ti­tion, as if I have entered a book on the his­to­ry of Russian cul­ture. It is nec­es­sary to remem­ber Nekrasov and Panayev and their sad­ness and cer­tain­ty that they will def­i­nite­ly have nei­ther life nor lit­er­a­ture. One must be pre­pared to ana­lyze what is hap­pen­ing. Social sci­ence is like an exor­cism. They are based on the belief that if you call a demon by its real name, it will dis­ap­pear. So we have to fig­ure out what that name is. What else can we do?


Read the inter­view series “It Makes Sense” on our web­site: Eugenia Vezhlyan talks with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the human­i­ties and social sciences.

Irina Savelieva: “You should have seen the world beyond your hut”.

Oleg Lekmanov: “What saves us is the hope­less­ness of our sit­u­a­tion…”.

Victor Vakhshtayn: “In Russia, the mea­sure of a sci­en­tist’s influ­ence is the mea­sure of his guilt”.


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