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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