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Dmitry Feldman

Doctor of Political Science, Professor, World Politics Department MGIMO-University

The specifics of Russian political science are present not only in the very low competitiveness of its products but also in its painful adaptation to the norms and organizational forms of the everyday cognition developed by the scholarly ethos built into our relatively young community.

Deliberations on the topic of the title are an attempt at an intra-scholarly or rather intra-disciplinary reflection. At that, the topic area is limited by the socio-cultural and institutional styles and methods of the professional activities inherent to the part of the Russian political science community engaged in foreign policy studies. Naturally, many points specific to Russian foreign policy scholars simultaneously affect historians, economists, lawyers and other experts studying international relations. Meanwhile, apart from features common probably to all countries and the social sciences as a whole, Russian political science and work on international relations are known for their genetic, institutional, functional and other traits that significantly affect the everyday life and established forms of behavior, self-assessment and renovation of our professional community, as well as the overall style, methods and results of its products. And it is some of these features that are the subject of the ruminations presented in this essay.

By all means, this attempt of intra-scholarly reflection is biased and personal, and makes no pretense at expressing even the most popular opinions about the problems at work in the Russian foreign relations community, while any pretension to flawlessness, impartiality and other types of purity is even smaller. This gap might as well be filled by my colleagues, should they opt to participate in discussions about this issue.

On the Specifics of Our Science

The primary mission of the foreign relations science is usefulness

Foreign policy studies is an applied discipline, which is regarded by philosophers of science investigating the ways and forms of its development as a social institution geared at obtaining knowledge to turn into a commodity. Without entering into polemics with those who have more or less reason to insist that the aim of fundamental science lies in obtaining truth [1], let us acknowledge that the primary mission of the foreign relations science is usefulness.

This alignment of cognitive activity does not come from timeserving, social or historical or cultural determinations intrinsic to a certain period in the life of a country or a region. The cause is in the deep-rooted socio-cultural motivation of individuals (not only scholars), whose socio-economic status and personal wealth shape the subjective individual interest in orientating science in this manner, motivating them to an appropriate science content. Science is international but scholars live and work within the specific historical environment of a given country, abiding by its laws and traditions. Hence, being sympathetic to the hopes that “the progress of the socio-humanitarian cognition will some day bring us to a public order where capital and the state no longer dominate over science,” [2] we hardly expect Russia to become the home of such progress.

Yet several years ago, we tended to link the nature of Russian (post-Soviet) political science, particularly its foreign relations segment, to the birth defects and the dire legacy of the dogmatized Soviet social science, as well as to teething problems of new people and institutions inexperienced in the foreign political studies [3]. Today, many foreign and Russian scholars point to the marginality of Russian studies of international relations, which arise from its systemic particularities. It is difficult to agree and even more difficult to contest that these are the problems of the entire discipline, but not of the separate authors, directions or research centers [4].

The specifics of Russian political science are present not only in the very low competitiveness of its products (knowledge plus educational and expert services) but also in its painful adaptation to the norms and organizational forms of the everyday cognition developed by the scholarly ethos built into our relatively young community.

Basically, our situation is not worse off than that of many other countries. For example, China and Japan have failed to generate anything analogous to European science during their thousand year histories. Formed in Europe during the inception of classical science, the ethos of market-oriented scholars cultivated a high level of competitiveness and personal independence that were taken up and adopted by science during its institutionalization. In post-Soviet Russia, inevitable damage has been inflicted not only on the “social cohesion of the professorship,” [5] but to the entire scientific sector through growing differentiation of the scientific, educational and expert community its legitimization in the form of public ratings and bonuses that are not always public but invariably become widely known, snowballing differences in remuneration for scientists of the same academic degree, title and position, as well as changes in the priorities of labor policies. Harm has been done to professional ethics as well.

On Ethics

The specifics of Russian political science are present not only in the very low competitiveness of its products but also in its painful adaptation to the norms and organizational forms of the everyday cognition developed by the scholarly ethos built into our relatively young community.

Although research in the new Russia has intensified, its quality and consequently the competitiveness of the increasing flow of printed papers, conference reports, etc. have failed to follow suit. Moreover, we are witnessing the fortification of the previous trend of self-repetition and multiple replications of ancient results. Book-to-book rewriting is becoming exceedingly widespread. Pervasive plagiarism permeates all qualification and research papers – from undergraduate projects to doctoral dissertations, from scientific articles to popular textbooks and monographs. Educational services have become more diverse but by no means better in quality. Hunting for students, primarily those on the pay basis, and striving to keep them in the university, in chairs and among degree aspirants have brought devalued progress assessments rather than better education. Authors and dissertation and grant applicants of all kinds often menacingly collude with friendly reviewers, opponents and experts on a lucrative basis to obtain tailor-made opinions. The obvious moral, or rather immoral, perversity of the practice borders on criminality, driving some (I would say many) scholars out of notorious dissertation boards, foundations and status- and cash-awarding organizations.

The diagnosis of morality across Russian society by my colleague Professor Yanitsky, Sector Head of RAS Sociology Institute, seems even graver for political science than for other disciplines: "…at the center, we see individualistic values, i.e. personal success and wellbeing with a total neglect of the public good. Capitalism has actually destroyed the sense of responsibility for the country as an ethical category." [6]

Unfortunately, the implantation of norms and principles foreign to our ethos in Russian international relations, with promises for advancement in the future, will not remove its most significant weaknesses. In my mind, the point lies is in the excessive servility and the invariable readiness to oblige, following the reliably imbedded rule to execute an order as wished by those who pay the piper. While harboring no illusions about the government-science relationship across all times and all societies, we cannot but acknowledge that Russian international relations really deserves a prize in the contest for "carrying the train" of the rulers, in the words of Immanuel Kant.

Irina Busygina:
An Impalpable Presence

In most cases, the discourse on ethics in science boils down to the decline of modern morality. Even a distant acquaintance of the subject clarifies if not refutes the frightening conclusion by stating that the decline has been in progress for several thousand years and accompanied by obvious successes in world science, the political sciences included. The bottom line is the fact that the ethical norms of the scientific community and individual scientists affect both cognitive processes and the use of its results. While confining ourselves to the statement and trivial confession that the morals of Russian scientific institutions are similar to those described in Mikhail Bulgakov's Theatrical Novel, we shall not concentrate on the description of the abyss of the moral precipice that seems to have been reached long ago.

Are you frightened? Not me. Our vision of the situation in other more or less capitalist countries fails to provide grounds either to lament that "we are worse than anybody else" or to be proud of the high morality standards in the temple of science of Holy Russia.

On the Norms of our Cognitive Activities

The cognitive style of scientific institutions is not defined only by the moral atmosphere and ethical norms within individual relationships. No less important for the modus vivendi are the norms specific for obtaining, transferring and utilizing knowledge. Normally, these are formed within the most stable and successful scientific schools. As recognition of their success and efficiency expands, these norms are taken over by other coexisting and competing groups and assimilated by the entire scientific community.

Common practice for perhaps for all modern Russian schools in the field of political science appears to be the uncritical borrowing of often inappropriate foreign conceptual structures, separate notions and theoretical propositions.

Let us try and uncover the commonalities inherent to the known political science schools. These seem to be a belonging to a certain common scientific tradition of understanding the genesis and principles for verification of scientific knowledge, functions and goals of scientific cognition; the institutional execution and consolidation of norms, procedures and rules for relations within the school including the substantiation of originality, novelty and succession in obtaining scientific results, as well as the appropriateness of their joint or individual utilization; and an intellectual peculiarity found if not as an obviously developing norm then as a research style or handwriting specific for representatives of a given school.

Unfortunately, one more common practice for perhaps for all modern Russian schools in the field of political science appears to be the uncritical borrowing of often inappropriate foreign conceptual structures, separate notions and theoretical propositions. First of all, this pertains to political science of the U.S.A., the renowned leader in studies of international relations. As a result of a skilful amalgamation of the borrowings with a perfectly populist anti-Americanism, Russian political science has generated certain widespread textbooks that propagate assertions about the emergence of new actors in foreign relations and world politics, asymmetrical conflicts, new-generation conflicts, etc. in modern conditions (or in the globalized environment).

Even a tentative attempt to verify the propriety of incorporating all these supposed novelties into the category-and-methodology system of the national science on foreign relations shows that the new actors, i.e. the non-state participants of international relations and world politics, are not as new as the state itself. Asymmetrical conflicts, irrespective of the axis one chooses, have been in existence at least from the times of David and Goliath, while the other type, i.e. symmetrical conflicts, are basically nonexistent. As far as the new generation of conflicts is concerned, allegedly specific to the presence and significant influence of an international context, even a beginner in world history is aware of the fact that for several thousand years, there have been no civil wars, noticeable political unrest, revolutions or coups without this purportedly new international component.

Russian foreign policy scholars, let alone educators in this realm, are practically unaware of the huge body of Russian literature on politico-ethical axiological aspects about these relationships.
Igor Baranov:

The substitution of theoretical work with something else, tactfully titled "the paradigm of mastery" by Dr. A.D.Bogaturov several years ago, has brought about the absence or at least the deficiency of homemade theoretical concepts. They have been pushed back upon (but by no means replaced) primarily by creative scholars concentrated on clarifying how many differences – nine or twelve – exist between separate foreign conceptual isms. Secondly, it is criticism of a narrow circle of foreign authors who have become more popular in Russia than back home. I would not wager anything more substantial than public repentance, but the frequency of citing Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama challenges the frequency of writing about Communist Party congresses in the years of stagnation during the USSR.

At the same time, Russian foreign policy scholars, let alone educators in this realm, are practically unaware of the huge body of Russian literature on politico-ethical axiological aspects about these relationships. To this end, let me remind the reader that Moscow State University established its Politics Department in 1755, and, as is apparent from the first original publication on political science, professors then had a clear understanding of the connection between politics and ethics [7]. The recognition of this fact was also institutionalized by the establishment of a department for ethics and political science at Moscow State University in the 19th century.

Epistemology has been not been more fortunate, remaining a sphere monopolized by the study of logic and the methodology of science, the philosophy of science and theory of cognition. It has been developed by physicists, mathematicians, geographers, philologists and other scholars engaged in methodological aspects of their disciplines. Frequently, their analyses and suggested solutions offer direct and even instrumental significance for international relations, which is not to suggest that studies of foreign relations lack their own epistemological problems or are able to successfully advance while leaving them in neglect.

In no small measure, our theoretical helplessness comes from the seemingly nationwide craze over case studies. Performed post factum, they are essential for education, but everything beyond this point is at best limited by the qualifications of the scholar. As a rule, they do not even claim to possess prognostic connotation or grounds for alternative foreign policy decisions.

In Russia, the role of foreign policy studies appears to focus on propagandizing support or retrospective substantiation of decisions already made, rather than on elaboration, comparison and assessment of various options for action in a particular international environment. At the same time, decision makers in foreign politics suffer from an acute shortage of reliable, proven and, even worse, thoroughly calculated advice.

On Methods of Our Work

In recent years, many Russian research and educational institutions have made considerable progress in offering technical and technological support to international studies, matching the world's top centers of the 1970-1980s that used formal methods with much more primitive tools. Despite their overly critical and ideology-driven assessment of these works, Soviet scholars did acknowledge "rational points in this research, primarily in specific methods and techniques, as well as in the collection of empirical data" [8]. To a great extent cosmopolitan in nature, modern Russian political science employs methodologies with a low level of efficiency despite the more advanced (although modest to up-to-date criteria) and quite sufficient technical capabilities for solving certain empirical problems. Formalization and mathematization, including modeling and networking, logical-mathematical and other quantitative and formalized methods for elaborating and substantiating theoretical concepts and practical recommendations are quite rare, more an exception than a rule. The suppression of cybernetics as a bourgeois false science and the application of formal models, matrixes and other "formal tricks alien to genuinely scientific and singularly correct dialectical materialistic methodology" is part of a bygone era. In public, nobody rejects the pragmatic and perfectly market-oriented thesis that the "formalization of empirical research opens the way to a higher level of argumentation and defense of suppositions, establishing the basis for higher value added of expert knowledge." [9] However, there are only several dozen domestic foreign policy works using formal methods, and many times fewer authors.

The heart of the matter seems to be in the customary use of backroom discussions or at best public debates, instead of empirical research of the facts, events and phenomena, as well as their comprehension and generalization through formalized conclusions, verification, refutation, and/or confirmation by other researchers. We tend to present scientific conclusions as commentaries on events or as a well-timed analytical memo, which is definitely helpful but far from sufficient to reflect the functions of the science of international relations as a rational basis for making and implementing expedient decisions.

On Fruits of Our Labor

This inward reflection should by no means end up as self-criticism, although it definitely suggests its presence. It seems equally important to reveal the inherent capabilities of our community for improving scientific research. It is common knowledge that many (but not all) shortages can be handled through sufficient infusions of money. Science in Russia, primarily non-military and arts-related, is underfinanced. A sober assessment of prospects for rectifying the situation suggests that remunerations should not increase by way of more fairly dividing the money among the eaters or the vigor of project directors. The money should be channeled to authors of individual papers – first of all, to young scholars – who rise above the global or at least top national level of research. With starting salaries low, even a modest reward in the amount of at least one or two annual payments could make an effective incentive not just for a larger scope of work and more publications, but also for higher quality research. While providing no examples for obvious reasons, I do insist that Russian foreign policy science has ample assets.

Their employment should imply not only researchers’ curiosity, reasonable instruction and more funds, but also the improvement of scientific organization that fails to adequately account for the demand for marketable knowledge including the training and use of effectively skilled personnel. Moreover, the organization of the sciences seems to ignore, sometimes guardedly and sometimes explicitly, market-oriented practices, while operating along bureaucratic rules. We still lack a system for advancing this commodity to the market to suit the interests of society, the state and business, and also have no clear vision of the methods and forms for its circulation in the market.

Modern Russian science, political science and international relations included, goes hand in hand with society. In Russia and in the greater part of the global socium, knowledge production means a race for scholarly products and a contest in the efficiency of methods for picking fruits from the tree of knowledge. Competition and cooperation among participants in the production, distribution and exchange processes is a reality both for Russia and other countries and nations eager both to enjoy and produce the fruits of enlightenment. And the future niche of science will depend not just on our aggregate IQ but also on the practical forms of its utilization.

1. See: Fundamental Science in the 21st Century. // Voprosy Filosofii Journal. 2008. №5, С. Pp. 58-71.

2. Ibid. P. 60.

3. E.g. see: D.M.Feldman. National Political Science as Spiritual Emanation of the Scientific Community // Moscow University Herald. Series 18. Sociology and Political Science. 1995. № 3; I.G.Tyulin. Foreign Policy Research in Russia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow // Cosmopolis. Almanac. Moscow, 1997. M.V.Ilyin. National Political Science: Comprehension of the Tradition // Political Science. 2001. № 1; D.M.Vorobyov. Political Science in the USSR: Formation and Evolution of the Scientific Community // Polis. 2004. № 4.

4. See: I.Timofeyev. Foreign Relations Science: Return to Leadership? RIAC. Education and Science. March 13, 2013.

5. M.M.Lebedeva, O.N.Barabanov. Global Trends in University Development and Transformation of Russian Education Policy // MGIMO-University Herald. №6, 2012. P. 268.

6. O.Yanitsky. The Protest Movement of 2011-2012: Certain Results // Vlast magazine. 2013, №2. P. 17.

7. See: K.G.Langer. On Limits and Key Representatives of Political Science. Moscow, 2011.

8. Modern Bourgeois Trends in the Theory of International Relations. Moscow, 1976, P. 461.

9. I.N.Timofeyev. Formalized Research Methods in Political Science and Comparative Politics: Prospects for MGIMO School of Political Science // Comparative Politics Journal. 2010. №1. P. 125.

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