Public Sociology Laboratory (PS Lab)

Who we are

 

We are a team of young social scientists. Most of us are PhD or MA students in social or political sciences or alumni of the leading Russian and European universities (European University in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, European University Institute in Florence, Italy, National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Russia).

 

What we do

 

The goal of our group is to create socially and politically engaged, publicly relevant, at once methodologically rigorous and theoretically intricate knowledge. What does this mean? First of all, despite such traditional academic conventions as the distinction between scholarship and commitment, our shared belief is that such a distinction is a false dilemma and there is no neutral, objective, and apolitical knowledge. The issue here is not to be unbiased or uninvolved, but rather to understand one’s own political assumptions and preoccupations. True scientific knowledge can be achieved only through recognizing and taking into account one’s own politically engaged stance.

 

Secondly, to have a political bias does not mean to be free from methodological commitments. To have such a bias without method means to be a politician, to have a method without such a bias means to be an empty positivist. Thus our goal is to find methodologically firm grounding for a socially and politically engaged knowledge.

 

Thirdly, by means of our research we address the issues which have both social and existential importance. We are convinced that neither ultra-empiricist sociology nor philosophical abstractions can be considered as a solid ground for a sound social science. To state this in a different manner, our goal is to ground “high philosophy” in solid empirical data.

 

Finally, we believe that the distinction between the domain of specialized knowledge and the domain of general public is irrelevant and even harmful. Scientific knowledge does not make any sense if there is no public debate about it.  By recognizing our role as public intellectuals we attempt to make our knowledge part of the public debate, not just academic discussion.

 

Theories

 

Speaking of theoretical frameworks, we are all inspired by such examples of politically engaged knowledge as Marxism, public sociology, critical theory, and the set of theories which are connected with social change, important at once for social groups as potentially political actors and for individuals as human beings, and challenging for common sense.

 

Methodology

 

Out essential method is a semi-structured and in-depth interview. This choice is defined by our theoretical concerns. Such ambiguous and problematic phenomena as subjectivity, transformation of identity, or “points of bifurcation” giving rise to civic engagement can be revealed and examined only through long and detailed conversations.

 

Nevertheless, complex research objects such as collective action can hardly be explained only by means of qualitative techniques. That is why we also use such methods as network analysis. Discursive and rhetorical dimensions of social phenomena too need to be taken into account. That is why we include discourse analysis in our methodological arsenal.

 

What else?

 

Our activity is not limited to academia. We systematically take part in public discussions and publish articles and essays. We took part in and collaborated with various civic initiatives and activist projects (OD-Group – student’s protest in MSU, Street University at Saint-Petersburg, Edufactory, Committee for Academic Solidarity, Trade Union “University Solidarity” etc.) as well as  with various institutions both in and outside Russia (The New School for Social Research, USA, Political Critique, Poland, EUI, Italy, European University, Russia, CISR, Russia, etc.)