Results of the IV LCSR International Conference
The conference has finished. Let's sum up the results.
On 10-15 October 2014, the 4th International Annual Research Conference “Cultural and Economic changes under cross-national perspective” convened by the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research of the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” was held in Saint Petersburg.
This year the LCSR conference was hosted for the first time by the HSE campus in St. Petersburg. Over 120 scholars attended, including newcomers and experienced researchers from Russia, the United States, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The majority of the participants of the conference were members of the LCSR research network and attend annual conferences to get valuable comments on their work, ask questions and find coauthors for collective research projects. The laboratory’s thematic field of research is expanding every year, and traditional research on values, happiness and subjective well-being, trust and social capital is supplemented by the growing number of papers on corruption, political life of society and other social issues.
Inequality and development
This year Ronald Inglehart, Scientific Supervisor of LCSR, opened the conference with the report “From Class Conflict to Cultural Issues — and Back Again?”. This year the focus of his long-term research on the influence of values on different aspects of social life was the problem of growing economic inequality inside countries, despite new economic sectors. Replying to the question of who should be the main force in the fight against economic inequality, Inglehart said:
“The governments are controlled by oligarchs, so they won’t do it. In the U.S., as in Russia, there are particular wealthy persons who have enormous influence on government decisions. And I guess they are fine with this situation. That’s why there should be a bottom-up solution to this problem; there should be some civil society, like, for example, in politics of the United States, where trade unions played an important role. I think that organizations of this kind have to protect not only particular workers, but the working class in general. It’s in everyone’s interests, because income stagnates during the last years, and it affects not only those with secondary education, but also people with higher education degrees, while the income of smallest part of citizens, the very elite of the society, has largely grown”.
“Geographical location, political situation, the access to cool water and even the average general temperature – all of these influence the countries’ development. The first countries to make a leap in development during the period between 1000-1500 were North- and Western European countries. These were part of the so called “cool water region” – a cool and rainy climate. However, during the globalization era, with freely-spread information all over the world, human empowerment becomes not only predestined, but a matter of choice. Although, one cannot exclude from the consideration the influence of political situation which can be both an obstacle and a driver of the development”
How to trust the state?
The conference brought together a broad circle of experts in social and political science, economics, and cultural studies, all engaged in interdisciplinary research, related to, among other things, relations with the state.
Alejandro Moreno, political scientist and President of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, focuses on political views, behavior, relations and perception of democracy among different generations of Latin Americans:
“The young generation, in contrast to those born during the period of non-democratic rule, is more critical to the democratic regime. It might be connected to the fact that they have higher demands for democracy than the older generation does, being already satisfied with the fact that people are not being shot by the death squads”.
The degree to which the state can be helpful for an individual citizen in large part determines the interrelation between the state and the society. If citizens see that the state is working for their benefit – they trust it.
Thus, Balázs Telegdy (Sapientia University and University of Bucharest, Romania) in his research examines factors that have the most influence on people’s trust in institutions of the state.
“My hypothesis is that there are two main determining factors. The first one is help that people get from the state: if the support they are getting is efficient, the level of trust increases, and vice versa. The second factor is a collective morality (moral behavior, ethics) of citizens. If the state allows citizens to escape from paying taxes, and citizens know it – their level of trust decreases. If they know that nobody violates the law and the moral aspirations in the society are high – the level of trust in the state increases”.
The issue of corruption remains one of the most important problems for contemporary developing societies. Eric Uslaner (University of Maryland) presented his research, which is so relevant to the Russian realities, and spoke about mechanisms that might hold the growth of corruption in different countries in the world:
"We want to show how the level of corruption is closely related to the level of education: the higher the educational level, the less corrupt the country. We have started our research back in the 70’s, however, most countries still have the same level of education they had at that time – it is difficult to reverse the system. There are only four countries that have actually done a great job in terms of improving the quality of education: South Korea, Japan, Finland and Italy. In Finland, they increased the level of education in order to break away from the influence of the Soviet Union. Japan had no choice - they were forced to reform the education system after the Second World War. South Korea also had to prove its independence after the end of the Korean War, among other things through the reform of education”.
Reverse discrimination and how to avoid suicide?
One of the studies presented at the Conference was the problem of discrimination in multicultural societies.
Arye Rattner (University of Haifa), using the example of Israel, showed that when anybody of the members of the judiciary can be officially accused of discrimination, he tries to act "mirror-like", that is, not in the interest of a representative of his nationality, but on the contrary, to the disadvantage of him/her:
"The existence of discrimination in the Israeli criminal justice system is assumed by many, but some have challenged this assumption. We consider the interaction of three actors: the defendant, victim and judge. We analyze the outcome of the trial in case when the judge belongs to one ethnic group, the victim to another, and the defendant to the third one. Does it influence in one way or another the result of the trial? In this research, we wanted to determine whether there is discrimination against Arabs, acting as the defendants in a court presided over by a Jew, in the case then the victim is a Jew or an Arab. We also consider two possible cases with different judges: when a judge is a Jew and when he/she is an Arab. In the Israeli-Arab system, there are also judges of Arab origin, and we wanted to find out whether they would give preferential treatment to, as we might expect, their fellow defendants? According to our research, there answer is no, they would not! Quite the opposite: the Arab defendants face more severe sentences and punishment from the Arab judges when the victim is a Jew.”
On the last day of the Conference, Eduard Ponarin, head of LCSR, spoke about his research that shows the relationship between the number of suicides and the spread of religious sects in the United States.
"The data demonstrate that there is a pattern of correlation between percentage of confessions in a district and the suicide rate, on the one hand, and the age of the confession, on the other. Old confessions allow parishioners to ignore certain dogmas, which are not compatible with common sense, while at the same time contribute to the sense of belonging to a community and a lower level of anxiety. New religious movements contribute to the psychological tension among parishioners, causing them to proselytize; that often leads to alienation from society and actualizes contradiction between dogmas and social realities. In particular, those sects, whose adherents are more inclined to believe in miracles, appear to be younger and more vulnerable to suicide".
Annual LCSR Conferences support multi-disciplinary orientation of the participants' reports. Often research teams are formed of the scientists of different fields of study that certainly provides a tangible result: in 2014, the laboratory staff and researchers published 18 articles in a foreign language; 25 of 51 published a series of HSE preprints in sociology. The laboratory continues to expand and invite to cooperate and work in a research network of scientists from different countries of the world.
We invite all those who are interested to join our research network and to participate in the events of our laboratory in 2015: regular LCSR Spring Seminar, Summer School and, of course, the Annual International Research Conference LCSR-2015. Follow the news and announcements on our website!