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INTRODUCTION

Rationale

Post-communist societies have been shaped by two large waves of social transformations. One of these is the global flow of capital, trade, information and risks, which has had an impact worldwide – and on Europe in particular. The other phenomenon that has had an impact on these societies, as they undergo the simultaneous processes of building their state and national identities, is the shift from a monistic to a pluralistic paradigm of institutional, structural and value systems.

Although they all shared the same starting point, the Soviet empire, post-communist societies have each chosen their own way towards an open and civic society. Why are the trajectories of post-Soviet societies’ development so different? Which were the social forces that led the transformation? Who are the actors of the recent reforms, what social platform do they have, what values do populations share, what are the political and social outcomes of such changes?

The Academic Network "Social Transformation in Comparative Perspective" was formed to contribute to the analysis of these questions. The leading principle of the Network is the belief that the complex issues of post-communist social transformation may be adequately analyzed and understood only through a combination of social science research areas. The findings of western social theory on the processes of social change, inequality and class cleavages must be complemented with research on how various research and analytical tools may be applied to the specific and dynamic social realities in the post-communist world. In order to address these issues in a wider, European context, the Network combines comparative research - the analysis of what is common and what is different in these countries in terms of social changes - with a discussion of the methodology of comparative research.

The Network is a joint project of sociologists from post-communist, post-totalitarian and post-Soviet countries and those from all around the world who share a research interest in social transformation.

History

The Network was launched following a series of extensive academic discussions. The process started in 1996 with a discussion of the possibility of conducting comparative research on transformations in the social/class structure of post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia. Since then, this issue has been addressed by sociologists, including E.A.Yakuba, O.D.Kutsenko, S.A.Makeev, (Ukraine), T.I.Zaslavskaya, V.A.Yadov (Russia), Helmut Steiner (Germany), Nikolay Genov (Bulgaria) and David Lane (UK) in several international conference series, such as the ‘Kharkiv Sociological Readings’ (Kharkiv, Ukraine) in 1996-2002, and ‘Where is Russia Going?’ (Moscow, Russia) in 1996-2003.

Goals and objectives

The Network was formed to:

  • contribute to the advancement of the analysis, research and teaching of post-communist transformation processes and the improvement of research and teaching methodologies in the social sciences. Its specific focus is the integration of recent sociological theory and empirical research of sociologists from countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, the UK and Russia.

  • provide academics with a methodology to use in comparative studies of converging or diverging developments in post-communist societies. Special consideration is given to the following issues: the relationship between social action and formal or informal social institutions; the changing nature of social opportunities; inequality; perceptions of social perspectives; actual forms of social interaction and the impact of these developments on political conflicts, interest cleavages and the formation of a new civic identity.

  • start a forum for the exchange of experiences in teaching and designing courses in post-communist transformation. As social transformation processes have a major impact not only on theoretical and applied sociology, but also on the methodology of the discipline, the Network explores ways to integrate its findings into the teaching of sociology in general and of the sociology of social change in particular. The members of the Network share their research and theoretical findings and work together to apply them in the process of developing new courses at their universities.

  • set up a collection of databases to supply academics and teachers in the wider discipline with resources and materials on post-communist social transformation in a comparative perspective, including bibliographies, lists of academics who study particular questions in the field, text collections and useful links.

  • establish a database of course syllabi to supply lecturers in the social sciences with a variety of approaches to teaching, which may be applied in curriculum development.
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