A «Small» society: theoretical framework and empirical evidence
Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
The challenges that Russia faces now raise the question about the applicability of
the concepts elaborated by Western social scientists in the context of post-Soviet
transformations. This feeds an old debate between the partisans of universalistic
models and those who put emphasis on particularities of Russian civilization and
the post-Soviet institutional context. The author argues that social scientists should
avoid both extremes, the universalistic point of view as well as the particularistic
position. The proposed model of the ‘small world’ necessitates permanent
efforts to ‘embed’ it into particular institutional context. Abstract
features of this model do not count in an ad hoc way, they must be concretized and
revised each time it is applied to a new empirical case. An analogy with the transition
from the abstract to the concrete in the Marxian philosophy seems pertinent as far
as the search for a compromise between universalistic and particularistic theoretical
concepts is concerned.
The ‘small’ world has several constitutive features. Firstly, all relationships
in the ‘small’ society are personalized and localized. The choice of
the partner for an economic, social or political transaction is far from being free.
Secondly, there is no clear distinction between the various spheres of everyday life
such as politics, religion, science, market, art, private life and so on. For example,
the social construction of the ‘small’ society excludes the separation
of public and public life. The third marker of the society under discussion concerns
the manner in which violence is controlled on a daily basis. The steps involved in
controlling violence that do not imply the institutionalization of violence include
the search for a replacement victim, the mythic development of a scapegoat victim
and the construction of a victim that can be sacrificed. Fourthly, the duality of
norms means the opposite behavior, on the one hand, with respect to the members of
the community who are really in and with those, on the other hand, who are others,
strangers who are really out. Finally, the ‘small’ society is built upon
power, not authority. It should be noted that the Russian language lacks clear distinction
between the two cases of submission, voluntary and forced. In a final account, the
‘small’ society represents a coherent and internally stable system which
differs both from the modern and the traditional societies.
Four case studies are described in the article. The proposed model sheds a light
on the prisoners’ community in Russia, on the post-Soviet society in general
and the business milieu in particular, and on the academic milieu both in the post-Soviet
and the Western countries. The prisoners’ community lies the most closely to
the ideal type of ‘small’ society. In total institutions the relations
are personalized, the spheres are non differentiated and so on at the highest degree.
The structuring role of power allows the generalization of the model and its application
to the three other cases. For example, the post-Soviet society continues functioning
as an ‘hour-glass’ society, without any strong feedback between the government
and the population. So, the ordinary people consider the State power as imposed,
not voluntary, and they reproduce in everyday lives the basic elements of the ‘small’
society. As far as the academic milieu is concerned, the author tries to theorize
the metaphor of a ‘small world’ developed by D. Lodge in his ‘academic
romance’. In fact, the science functions outside of legal frameworks, i.e.
there is no universal source of scientific power accepted by everybody, which leads
to the reproduction of the ‘small’ society.