Research plan

Current theoretical and methodological development (update 2016)
The topic of modernization remains relevant because after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has had to re-build its state identity and the associated political, social and economic systems, and the country must also define itself as a nation, a state and a society, vis-à-vis global development on one hand and the Soviet and Imperial Russian legacy on the other. Since the early 2000s, in an effort to consolidate power, Russia’s rulers have rallied behind a unifying conservative-liberal ideology that has partly replaced and partly built on Soviet and traditional models. A conservative turn and a simultaneous modernisation effort seems to be a typical Russian paradox. However, global social imaginaries and normative ideas concerning personal liberties, social-economic welfare, political freedoms, and the rule of law are all key elements for any twenty-first century state as part of the evolving multi-level global order. These are global modernisation challenges with which Russia must deal.

We do not have all-encompassing and totalizing concepts of the Russian way of modernisation before the empirical analysis has taken place. Rather, we have two basic dimensions in our research setting. The first aspect is a generic theoretical approach found in Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory. This approach has its strengths, as it can be used for generating concrete research settings concerning the various challenges in Russia’s institutional development. The second starting point is the understanding of Russian modernisation as five fundamental challenges.
Our understanding of the research setting is presented in figure 1 (below).

We are moving ahead both theoretically and empirically on both of these aspects. (1) On the one hand making Giddens’ structuration theory empirically relevant and on the other hand (2) trying to create synthetic answers concerning the major challenges of Russian modernisation.
(1) Russian studies in general do not have a high profile in epistemological or methodological reflexivity. This implies that we have no ready-made answers to such questions as how to use the grand classificatory concepts of modernity, modernisation, or entangled modernities in empirical research? Or, how to theorize modernisation in a way that can also explain the ongoing contemporary transformation effort in Russia? In fact, we do not have any self-evident concepts to start with. We should specify what kinds of explanations we are looking for, and, what is the significance of empirical results for the theory? To what extent is theorizing about coming up with creativity, speculation and imagination? To what extent we can rely on existing paradigms and to what extent should we aim at creating new concepts, coming up with ideas about solving problems in a hypothetical and heuristic way? At what level will our concepts and statements be falsifiable?

In several studies, especially by Kivinen, Gel’man, Aalto and others, we have tried to show how Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory, as a conceptualisation of the constitution of society, can become the hard core of the new interdisciplinary paradigm (or research programme in Lakatos’ sense) in Russian studies. This hard core is abstract enough to avoid too strong functionalist assumptions of the classical modernisation theory and open enough to empirical research to avoid totalizing explanations of Russia that previous, too structurally-based paradigms are suggesting. We argue that Giddens’ theory cannot be empirically tested but it opens a ‘protective belt’ consisting of specified concepts of structure and agency within several disciplines, leading to series of propositions that can be empirically tested and periodically adjusted.

(2) Within classical (functionalist) modernisation theory, traditional and modern societies were counterposed using some of the Parsons’ key model variables. Instead of this kind of counterposing, the new approach that we are suggesting aims at specifying the Russian way towards and through modernity in terms of institutional development by conceptually informed empirical structuration analysis with regard to five major macro level challenges. In order to develop our research setting more concretely, we have ‘to operationalize’ the various aspects of structuration in each of the five challenges. This can be done by creating middle range theoretical concepts and by proceeding through specified hypotheses. In this way we take a step back from reduction in abstract categories (for example, differentiation and integration cf. functionalist tradition and Arnason) as well as from the totalizing efforts to subsume arbitrarily all kinds of phenomena to all-encompassing civilizational concepts.