Sociology War

“The state is the parent who beats”, “mobilized and isolated security forces” and “Russia is like a blossoming lotus”

What did sociologists bring to the RASA conference

In Chicago, at the annual conference of the Russian-speaking American Scientific Association (RASA) sociologists, who have recently been living in the United States, have chosen topics for their presentations that can now hardly be discussed publicly while in Russia. Sergey Erofeev (Rutgers University) presented for T-invariant a brief overview of the most interesting speeches.

An analysis of the situation in which ordinary Russians found themselves in a situation of war was presented by Natalya Vorrat (University of Michigan) in the message “Paradoxes of people’s support for the state, even when they understand that the state is not acting in their interests.”

Natalia Vorrat pointed out the basic contradictions in the attitude of Russians “toward the authorities.” Such division is not only a source of social disorder, but also carries the potential for separating oneself (society) from the parent (state). Thus, according to Natalya, “the Russian state is a parent who beats his child.”

Russians’ attitude to the war

Natalya Savelyeva (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presented perhaps the largest project since the beginning of the war, using qualitative sociological methods to understand how Russians feel about the war and how they are trying to reconcile with her (part 1, part 2 ). Without claiming to be completely representative, the results of the study at the same time reveal the fundamental aspects of the public reaction to the war, which in general can be characterized as denial. It is no coincidence that the wording of the topic of her message reflected the imaginary statements disseminated by Russian propaganda – “The so-called mass support of the war by Russian citizens and the mechanism of denial.”

Here are the main modes of this negation:

    Literal denial: “the Russian army does not kill Ukrainian civilians”

    Interpretive denial: “this is not a real war”

    Implied denial: “we had no way out”

    Adaptive denial: “I still can’t do anything about it”

With the inculcation of the feeling of being “surrounded” by a hostile world, people develop a feeling of some abstract “we”, “my country”, which, however, does not completely eliminate alienation from the state. Forced patriotism in this case acts as a probable manifestation of the “Stockholm syndrome”, that is, the sympathy of hostages for the terrorist who captured them.

“Mobilized and isolated” decide too much

The largest number of questions came from the speech of Kirill Titaev, in the recent past director Institute for Law Enforcement Problems European University in St. Petersburg. Titaev, now representing Yale University, showed the specifics of the position in the hierarchy of the Russian state of the security forces, whom he defined as “mobilized and isolated.” The duality of their position explains the phenomenon that in the “land of dreamers, the land of scientists”, people with low qualifications who carry out the repressive functions of the state find themselves in a special position, simultaneously privileged and isolated.

And indeed, based on a large array of data, both this fact and the sobering picture become apparent that security forces, together with their family members, represent 11% of those employed in the Russian economy. If we take citizens who have the right to vote and, accordingly, influence the maintenance of the state system, then the share of security officials and members of their families reaches 16.6%. Considering that their participation in the 2023 elections amounted to 45.65% of the total turnout, there is no doubt that this segment of society is a powerful tool for preserving the Putin system. That is, its role lies not only in intimidating society, but also in the mobilization and special involvement of security forces in the procedures for regularly updating the legitimacy of the authorities, that is, their right to rule.

During the ensuing discussion, not only the peculiarities of the position of the security forces between society and the state were explained, but also the important characteristics of their adaptability in relation to the policies pursued from above. The subordinate, passive, adaptive role of security forces in the present tense, according to Kirill Titaev, gives some hope. It can be expected that with the beginning of democratic changes, many ordinary performers in the power vertical, who are today associated with Putin’s repressions, will be able to perform standard police functions within the framework of a progressive modern state.

Russia as a “blooming lotus”

Mikhail Sokolov (University of Wisconsin-Madison) made a presentation “The mystery of the weak connections between the economic stratum, political beliefs and belonging to the educational/cultural environment in Russian society.”

He noted an interesting specificity: the differences between social groups in Russia are by no means the same as in those countries , where education/culture clearly correlates with income and prestige. In Russia it is easier to spot those who in other countries would belong to the upper middle class, but here are associated with the “curse of the educated Russian.”

Mikhail Sokolov explains that the standard class structure of a developed society is similar to a lotus flower in a bud, when the length of the petal correlates with the length of the educational trajectory, and at the same time the height of the position in the bud and the proximity of the petals indicate on similarities in income and prestige. The Russian lotus is opened: the farther from the center, where unskilled labor is located, the further representatives of different segments and occupations find themselves from each other.

But the question is: what about the connection between the position in the structure of the Russian lotus and the attitude towards the war? The answer is no. Because another paradox of Russia is that education and income, as a rule, are not associated with political position and, let’s add to the thought of Mikhail Sokolov, with attitude to the state. In this regard, only the electorate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the “elderly totalitarians” have a certain peculiarity and integrity, and the supporters of all other parties are almost the same.

About the mafia – scientifically

My topic at the conference was called “State Capture and Group Culture: The Problem of Resistance to the Mafia State.”

Mafia in Russia can and should be called a specific cultural group that grew out of the merger of the security forces as the last support of the state, which was in the 1990s. in crisis, and late Soviet organized crime. It is the mafia culture that determines both the nature of Putin’s power and the essence of Putin’s war (see my material: “War and power: what should we expect? Recommendations of a sociologist”)

The conference also presented a hierarchy of individual values as motivations for the head of a mafia state, primarily guided by fear of retribution from the main enemies: society, from part of which he experienced unacceptable humiliation, as well as disgruntled elites (pay attention to the second picture). I talked about the nature of President Putin’s reactions to humiliation and his impression managementin one of his interviews early in the war.

Results of the sociological session

These brief notes on the results of the round table are only a partial reflection of what is being discussed today in wide circles of Russian social scientists who found themselves in exile due to the war and forced to rebuild their professional trajectories.

At the same time, as it appears from the results of the sociological session of the RASA conference, decades of post-Soviet development in the social sciences were not in vain. We have before us new data, new connections with theory, and in general a completely different quality of analysis of society and the state, which should be in demand when Russia returns to the path from which it so tragically strayed.

Text: Sergey Erofeev


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