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Comparative Study of Everyday Life:

Current Theoretical Paradigms, Methodological Orientations and Teaching Practices

Rationale and mission

The objective of the three-years Project which undertakes Chair of Comparative Sociology, Faculty of Sociology at St. Petersburg State University with its co-partners Chair of General Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Moscow and Sociology Department at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, is to help young social sciences teachers from the region to develop their professional skills in understanding society/societies/communities based on the new theoretical and methodological grounds, based on the sociology of social existence that manifests a new paradigmatic turn in current sociology.

Rapid social and technological change and such related processes as globalization, informationalization, and individualization determine that we now are less able to take our everyday lives for granted. These social processes combine to erode established structural societal determinants and produce a sprawling fragmentation and pluralization of social life, in which everyday life chances and identity become increasingly socially differentiated. This Project tries to illustrate how sociology of everyday life can enhance our ability to reflect upon and to respond to these processes.

Thus, the Project Proposal to the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching deals with the problems of a new paradigmatic turn in sociological scholarship and teaching that is a turn to studying everyday life. The development of such a Project aims to explore the strengths and limitations of theoretical and empirical analyses of the so-called "first sociology" (sociology of social organisms and big systems) and "second sociology" (sociology of actors and behavior) for the social sciences in the region. The new focus is on social existence manifested by social events of various scales. This sociology of social existence provides a new angle of vision, which promises to advance considerably our understanding of real life of the region.

This is a two foci Project. The course will introduce participants to sociology of everyday life as a new paradigmatic shift in sociology, as a way of asking and answering questions, as a way of thinking, and as a scientific study. The course will be also oriented towards teaching practices and interactive pedagogical techniques, it will make a stress on how to bring new sociological scholarship to the classrooms.

The Project is committed to cultivating lifelong learning strategies with orientation to empower participants to pursue continuous self-renewal through replenishing her/his knowledge base in an information technology driven age.

The mission of the Project is to present to young scholars from the region current sociological methods and social theory research, to present innovations and solutions within sociology of everyday life. Presenting crucial issues in the forms of debates, discussion of opposite positions, and employing the methodology and approach of comparative scholarship the Project aims to stimulate academic circles to enter into new discipline of sociology of social existence from different standpoints: sociological, anthropological, philosophical, economic and political. That should contribute to the development of the social sciences and humanities in regional universities in the fields, which are still dominated by conservative and traditional approaches.

Objectives and Goals

1. The Project tries to show theoretical and practical value of the research in the field of fundamental and applied issues of the sociology of everyday life. The course challenges its participants to view problems of everyday life in the region as functioning at various levels of sophistication.

2. The Project aims to highlight comparative anthropological, sociological and cultural explanations of post-Soviet performance in everyday life processes. It aims to reposition comparative studies’ production not only within current social theory developments but, what is more vital, within teaching practice in the regional universities. The output of academia is no longer confined to a pure intellectual debate but is increasingly part of a current teaching activity, and real managerial practice.

3. The Project organizers are looking forward to establishing a network of professional structural bodies, individual scholars and teachers, which are dealing with issues of socio-economic, political and cultural developments in everyday life of the region. The Project places an emphasis on establishing self- sustaining interdisciplinary research and teaching networks among scholars and professionals from different nationalities, cultures, professions, and disciplines.

4. Other important goals include: facilitating young scholars’ access to and engagement with global and regional academic and professional communities, international agencies for social sciences development, and transnational internet-based research networks; facilitating access for young scholars in remote locations to information, resources, and organizations arenas related to their research needs and interests; and establishing mentorship relations, linking young scholars with their senior colleagues around the world.

Theoretical background

Theoretically and methodologically in teaching activities of the Project will dominate two moments: comparative approach and an argument of a new paradigmatic turn in sociology, a turn towards sociology of social existence.

The rather positive prospect of the comparative studies in the era of globalization is based on the thesis, that due to the globalization and information exchange "the trans-societal meanings emerge not as a result of methodological tricks, but of a real historical process. The problem of incommensurability of societal concepts becomes definitely less acute than before" (Sztompka, 1990: 52). Definitely, a much more pessimistic perspective on the compatibility due to disappearance of interdependency is possible, which is "the paradox of comparative research" (Sztompka ibid: 53). Comparative research gets easier through the emergence of trans-cultural and trans-political spaces, but it at the same time becomes "basically unattainable" due to disappearance of independent variable(s). Sociology sees the only way out of this paradox: to refuse the vision of the comparative research as following the logic of quasi-experiments. The comparative study in the globalised world should, "seek for divergences, uniqueness among uniformity" (Sztompka ibid., 54)

Nomiya (2007) positions comparative continuum as lying between nationalists and globalists. Nationalists negate the impact of globalization, who claim, that "national" (identities, history, etc.), as products of collective experiences, cannot be erased easily, but will continue existing as a "norm", although in the globalised world. The problem of this approach is that the persistence of nations as important endeavor cannot be simply stated and taken for granted.

We consider current turn in social sciences in general and in sociology particularly towards everyday life and iconographic methods of studying society as a paradigmatic shift in sociology. It signifies the birth of the "third sociology", the sociology of social existence, following after the "first sociology" of social wholes – organisms, systems – as practiced by the classics of the discipline, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and later Talcott Parsons, and the "second sociology" of social "atoms" – behaviors, actions, or even their "sub-atomic particles", meanings, scripts, texts – initiated by Max Weber, and later pursued by George Herbert Mead, Claude Levi Strauss and others.

The "third sociology" takes as its ultimate object of inquiry social events: human action in collective contexts, constrained on the one hand by the agential endowment of participants and on the other hand by structural and cultural environments of action. Thus, the reified abstractions of the first and second sociology are overcome from both sides, the macroabstractions of systems and structures existing somehow above human heads, and the micro-abstractions of behaviors or actions existing somehow inside of the real life of human beings.

The "third sociology" rejects both these reductions of social life, i.e. the upward reduction, treating it as the manifestation of systemic or structural determinants, and the downward reduction treating it as the sheer aggregate of behaviors or actions. The idea of social existence focuses on what really occurs in human society, at the level between structures and actions, where the constraints of structures and the dynamics of actions produce the real, experienced and observable social events, the social-individual praxis making up everyday life, in fact the only life that people have, which is neither completely determined nor completely free. In the notion of social event the agential (personal) input of acting individuals and the structural (situational) context within which they act are brought together in one, undivided phenomenon.

In this way, the "third sociology" parts with two illusions of common sense. First, it does away with the arrogant and egocentric belief in our individual autonomy, importance, exceptional quality and independence from the rest of society, because indeed if we look at it from a purely bodily perspective we are separate bags of skin full of flesh. But this is not the essence of our humanity! Second, it forsakes the opposite, fatalistic and resigned belief that our fate is entirely shaped by invisible, superhuman and uncontrollable forces, as we constantly bang our heads against a wall curtailing our freedom – the wall of laws, rules, principles, and standards not of our making, and we go through various painful experiences if we ignore this wall, or do not recognize it in time: ridicule, rejection, social isolation, banishment or even imprisonment. Yet this does not preclude the importance of human agency. Instead, the "third sociology" paints a more realistic picture of the human condition, or "social existence", which embraces both the limits of our "freedom from", due to our unavoidable embeddedness in the net of relations with other people who happen to be free, too, and the opportunities for creative participation in the life of society, or our "freedom to", due to our unique location in wider social constellations with other people, who may be influenced by our actions.

 

Educational Objectives

The Project’s educational objectives are:

(1) to provide theoretical and methodological tools to study complexities of everyday life with a stress on socio-economic and cultural processes in the countries of the former Soviet Union;
(2) to offer a unique opportunity to gain information, knowledge, and skills on multi-dimensional and comparative analysis of social issues of everyday life from the outstanding, internationally recognized scholars;
( 3) to provide a basis for developing new courses by the participants either offered within existing curricula programs, or newly developed programs; 
(4) to contribute to participants’ critical and analytical skills in reading and writing;
(5) to help participant to improve and to develop new teaching techniques.

Format

Debates and discussions will try to show how scholars develop their arguments, what kind of proofs they offer, how they deal with contradictory evidence, and how it might be implemented in teaching activities.

To encourage a more active approach to teaching, the course will mix lectures and guided seminars with group-work and round-tables. The first weeks of the Sessions will begin with a “group starter” which should get all participants at a similar stage of understanding of the basic ideas in the literature distributed beforehand. Course participants will be divided into groups tutored by resource persons. 
The last three days of Summer Sessions will be devoted to the presentations done by the participants.

What are the anticipated learning outcomes of the Project

We envision social analysis as a continuous feedback process in which questions are formulated and potential answers are investigated leading in turn to new, challenging and relevant questions.

The particular skills and abilities of participants to be considered as the general outcomes of the Project include
- knowing how to formulate right questions about social issues of everyday life
- knowing the new methods in understanding reality of the everyday life
- knowing the strategy and tactics of doing comparative social studies
- how to identify sources of gathering information on social phenomenon
- how to evaluate evidence and how to draw reasoned conclusions 
- how to communicate/present conclusions and emergent questions to others - how to design syllabi 
- how to bring scholarship provided by resource persons to the classrooms

Project Organizers

This is a collaborative program: Chair of Comparative Sociology, Faculty of Sociology at St. Petersburg State University, Chair of General Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and Institute of Sociology at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland will take part in organizing and developing the Programs for the Project activities. The host institutions will be Comparative Sociology Chair at St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Project Directors:

Prof., Dr. Piotr Sztompka, Professor of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland.
Prof., Dr. Andrey V. Rezaev, Professor, Comparative Sociology Chair, St Petersburg State University, Russia.

Working language: English.

Core Resource Persons

Prof., Dr. Piotr Sztompka, Professor of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland.

Prof., Dr. Jeffrey C. Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Yale University, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Prof., Dr. Nico Stehr, Karl-Mannheim-Chair for Cultural Studies, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Prof., Dr. Vladimir Il’in, Professor, Comparative Sociology Chair, St Petersburg State University, Russia.

Prof., Dr. Nikita E. Pokrovsky, Chairperson, General Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia

Prof., Dr. Apostolis Papakostas Professor of Sociology at the School of Social Sciences and Director at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES) at Sцdertцrn University College, Stockholm, Sweden

Dr. Malgorzata Bogunia-Borowska, Associate Professor, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland

Target audience

The courses are primarily intended to assist young university lecturers, assistant professors, advanced postgraduate students and other scholars who are teaching or plan to teach such subjects as sociology, cultural anthropology, social philosophy, cultural studies, journalism at their home universities and institutes.

The courses require participants who are well educated and preferably have prior teaching and/or research experience in one of the theoretically/empirically oriented traditional social sciences disciplines. Building on the respective previous knowledge and skills of the participants the courses are going to be offered on an advanced level both in terms of its comprehensiveness and in-depth analytic techniques.

 

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