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A «Small» society: theoretical framework and empirical evidence

русская версия

Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
Мир России. 2004.  Т. 13. № 1. С. 49-90. 
Тематический раздел:
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.
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