University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Social Networks and Everyday Practices in Russia
Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
My doctoral dissertation in sociology and Russian studies, Social Networks and Everyday Practices in Russia, employs a "micro" or "grassroots" perspective on the transition. The study is a collection of articles detailing social networks in five different contexts. The first article examines Russian birthdays from a network perspective. The second takes a look at health care to see whether networks have become obsolete in a sector that is still overwhelmingly public, but increasingly being monetarised. The third article investigates neighbourhood relations. The fourth details relationships at work, particularly from the vantage point of internal migration. The fifth explores housing and the role of networks and money both in the Soviet and post-Soviet era. The study is based on qualitative social network and interview data gathered among three groups, teachers, doctors and factory workers, in St. Petersburg during 1993-2000. Methodologically it builds on a qualitative social network approach.
The study adds a critical element to the discussion on networks in post-socialism. A considerable consensus exists that social networks were vital in state socialist societies and were used to bypass various difficulties caused by endemic shortages and bureaucratic rigidities, but a more debated issue has been their role in post-socialism. Some scholars have argued that the importance of networks has been dramatically reduced in the new market economy, whereas others have stressed their continuing importance. If a common denominator in both has been a focus on networks in relation to the past, a more overlooked aspect has been the question of inequality. To what extent is access to networks unequally distributed? What are the limits and consequences of networks, for those who have access, those outside networks or society at large? My study provides some evidence about inequalities. It shows that some groups are privileged over others, for instance, middle-class people in informal access to health care. Moreover, analysing the formation of networks sheds additional light on inequalities, as it highlights the importance of migration as a mechanism of inequality, for example.
The five articles focus on how networks are actually used in everyday life. The article on health care, for instance, shows that personal connections are still important and popular in post-Soviet Russia, despite the growing importance of money and the emergence of "fee for service" medicine. Fifteen of twenty teachers were involved in informal medical exchange during a two-week study period, so that they used their networks to bypass the formal market mechanisms or official procedures. Medicines were obtained through personal connections because some were unavailable at local pharmacies or because these connections could provide medicines for a cheaper price or even for free. The article on neighbours shows that "mutual help" was the central feature of neighbouring, so that the exchange of goods, services and information covered almost half the contacts with neighbours reported. Neighbours did not provide merely small-scale help but were often exchange partners because they possessed important professional qualities, had access to workplace resources, or knew somebody useful. The article on the Russian work collective details workplace-related relationships in a tractor factory and shows that interaction with and assistance from one's co-workers remains important. The most interesting finding was that co-workers were even more important to those who had migrated to the city than to those who were born there, which is explained by the specifics of Soviet migration. As a result, the workplace heavily influenced or absorbed contexts for the worker migrants to establish relationships whereas many meeting-places commonly available in Western countries were largely absent or at least did not function as trusted public meeting places to initiate relationships. More results are to be found from my dissertation: Anna-Maria Salmi: Social Networks and Everyday Practices in Russia, Kikimora Publications, 2006, see www.kikimora-publications.com.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 02.05.2006