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Thinking Conceptually, Analyzing Empirically: The New Europe Barometer

On November, 17th, 2011 Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and 6th Century Chair in Politics (University of Aberdeen) gave a talk on “Thinking Conceptually, Analyzing Empirically: The New Europe Barometer”.

On November, 17th, 2011 Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and 6th Century Chair in Politics (University of Aberdeen) gave a talk on “Thinking Conceptually, Analyzing Empirically: The New Europe Barometer”.

The main point of Richard Rose’s talk was the importance of asking the right meaningful questions. In his presentation he referred to “Verstehen” sociology of Max Weber. According to Rose, it is very important to understand which concepts we are trying to study with quantitative data.

Richard Rose began to conduct his research in 1991 when many countries suffered from the collapse of institutions. Most of the states he was studying had not existed 10 years before. People had to survive without any functioning institutions. Transformation of politics (parties instead of the Party), economy (from planning to free market exchange), society (informal social capital comes out in the open) took place.

The main focus of his work was to study mass response to multidimensional institutional transformation. When doing international comparisons, Rose claims, it should always be taken into account that in various countries different questions matter. Some people assume that it is possible to ask the same questions in all the countries. For example, the UN, IMF, WVS, the electoral study surveys sometimes expand questions to countries where there are no comparable institutions.

Richard Rose demonstrates some alternatives for questionnaire construction. The main point of his concept is not to ask people who are experiencing transformation questions which are pointless from their point of view but to listen what they say. For example, Rose discussed his questionnaire with the Bulgarians in 1991. They found many questions pointless and told stories from their real life instead. So he tried to turn anthropological ethnographic description into quantitative data which turned out to be possible to some extent.

Rose shows three examples of turning real life stories into quantitative data. These are micro-economic model, political evaluation and social capital.

Microeconomic model. Richard Rose compared the share of those whose income from the main job or pension is enough for living, and the share of those who manage to cope with multiplicity of resources. No wonder that the second share is higher in all the countries of transition. There is a huge difference in income level (from 61% in Slovenia to 15% in Russia), whereas the discrepancy in coping is much smaller (from 65% in Belorussia to 85% in Latvia).

Political evaluation. Instead of asking about democracy Richard Rose asked about the regime, then about the idea of democracy, about freedom which is reflected in behavior, etc. In the WVS 85% of Azerbaijan were satisfied with the democracy. He asked how should they interpret this statistical fact.

Furthermore he used Churchill hypothesis and asked about the other forms of government (army should rule, return to communist rule, suspend parliament, elections, dictator better). According to the results, a significant minority support alternative regimes.

Social capital. Richard Rose rose a question whether people trust a corrupt regime. He strongly believes that people have a portfolio of alternatives. The dimensions of social capital include allocation of public sector by law, allocation of market to paying customers, non-monetized production, beg or cajole officials controlling allocation, re-allocation in contravention of the rules.

After the presentation Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel discussed the issue of democracy. They demonstrated that the WVS also takes into consideration specific characteristics of different countries. Professor Inglehart noted that understanding of democracy is very different and the WVS looks into what people think about democracy. For instance, people in Albania and Azerbaijan tend to speak better on democracy than people in Sweden and Switzerland. Christian Welzel mentioned that according to WVS the support of democracy is very high even in societies which are not democratic in European sense.

Further information could be found on Richard Rose’s website in the barometer section: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/cspp/

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