RUSSIAN INTELLECTUAL ELITES IN TIMES OF CRISIS:
STRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENTS IN DISCIPLINARY ORGANIZATION AND THE THEMATIC REPERTOIRE OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Discursive models condition the legitimating of social orders. The social sciences structure the kernel of the world view channeled through language; the crisis of the social sciences predetermined the collapse of communism. The communist idea consisted in an ideal project of societal transformation, a task which has to a significant extent influenced the post-communist project. The congruence of post-communist discourse and the communist idea is manifest likewise in the structural integration of the social sciences in public discourse and mass information. The fundamental orientation of the transformations within post-communist discourse is based on the articulation of novel integrative ideologies, including the ‘Russian national idea’. Useful in the determination of the structural position of the social sciences within public discourse is the concept of epistemic chimera which unites diverse themes, styles, and values. The thematic, axiological, and stylistic contamination of the social sciences contributes directly to scholarly debates in the current, post-soviet period. In the 90s Russia witnessed the birth of multifarious textual ‘space’ — a conglomeration of themes, verbal styles, forms of success, publication activity, citation strategies, inclusion within networks of scholarly communication, social statuses.
The vertical stratification of textual space is characterized by the opposition between ‘etatism’ and ‘normativism’. The dominant positions fall to the style of virtuosic intellectual play, in which the condition of admission into the intellectual community is the author’s individual style. This situation is reinforced by the disintegration of the state’s prerogative in organizing the social sciences as well as by the emergence of the specifically individualistic position of the ‘social scholar’. Individualization is becoming the functional precondition of innovation. One of the markers of intellectual ‘elitism’ consists in the reception of the ‘West’ as a cultural model. The individualization of intellectual styles is reinforced as well by the underdeveloped state of academic institutions and the academic community’s weak resistance to market pressures.
The development of the communist regime was based not only on repressive control but on mechanisms productive of societal consensus, including, to an important degree, the social sciences. The post-communist period has likewise witnessed the disintegration of discursive practices. As soon as the system’s legitimacy began to crumble and the state began to speak in many tongues, the regime collapsed. The social sciences of the post-communist period are involved in creating novel discursive models as well in reinsitutionalizing social orders.
The principal role in the creation of discursive models has fallen to techniques for the reception of printed and oral texts, including referring, memorizing, fragmentation, citation, discussion. Disciplinary boundaries are without greater significance in these regards. The disciplinary boundaries formerly admitted by Soviet social science have lost their significance. Even philosophy is falling apart into thematically and stylistically incompatible fragments. Culture theory has acquired a dominant position, in as much as ‘culture’ is the basic metaphor for the production of an integrative model. In this regard Soviet Marxism has not disappeared in the wake of the reforms of the 90s, but has instead taken new form in the ‘culture idea’.
At the end of the 90s the infrastructure of the social sciences arose anew. This came to expression in the flow of publications. In 2001 62000 books were published in Russia , a figure never before attained in Russia ’s history. A structurally balanced book market has come into being in which some 15000 registered publishing businesses are active. About 90% of the total print run is concentrated in Moscow and St Petersburg , and some 30% of the output consists in teaching materials and textbooks.
Renewal has come to the thematic repertoire of the social and human sciences. The traditional lexicon of Soviet Marxism (relations of production, superstructure, the working class, etc.) has practically disappeared from standard speech. In the domain of the ‘philosophical sciences’ (which comprise psychology) 2001 saw the publication of 1700 books, while in sociology some 715 positions appeared. Articles in philosophy and psychology numbered about 1200, about the same as in sociology. Worth mentioning here is a functional anomaly within the textual space of the social sciences: at the end of the 1990s Russian philosophy became the setting for a hitherto unimaginable situation — the quantity of books outstripped that of articles some one and a half times. Should this tendency be confirmed it is fully justified to speak of the disintegration of the discipline and its transformation into a kind of ‘philosophical klatch’, a genre of merely intellectual literature. All this confirms the active involvement of the social sciences in public discourse. Within the philosophical sciences bibliographies are being compiled of books and brochures of a spiritually enlightening, soul-saving and esoteric nature which were absent throughout the Soviet period. The diversification of the repertoire of the social sciences shifts in response to the cultural demands of the non-professional public. We are witnessing the emergence of a specific ‘mass’ philosophy that obliterates thematic boundaries, a phenomenon assisted by the absence of systemic corporative control in science. Social science as an epistemic chimera is disintegrating into autonomous forms. Notable is the fact that the quantity of mass-circulation political publications in 2000 declined some eight-fold in comparison with similar publications in the course of the ultimate ‘communist’ year of 1990.
Throughout the 90s the thematic repertoire was dominated by translations. Throughout the communist period translations from European languages were the privilege of reading elite. This tendency has become even more marked in the post-communist period. Preparing translations has become the hallmark of consummate professionalism and devotion to the ‘West’ as the acme of intellectual achievement. By 2001 the evident lacunae in the repertoires of translated literature had been practically eliminated. In 2001 alone some 4700 books were translated from English, French, and German.
Given the external diversity of the thematic repertoire the piecemeal distribution of key words in social scientific publications brings distinctive semantic dominants into view: 50% of the lexicon is accounted for by 17 semantic items. No more than 3% of the word forms involve scientific terminology. The dominant lexical groups, the ‘social’, ‘social change’, ‘Russian’, ‘sociological’, ‘society’, ‘personality’, etc. fail to mark research themes. For this reason publications in the social sciences amount to a transformation of the ‘intelligentsia’s logosphere’ into a new discourse. What is coming into view is the desemanticization of the scholarly lexical repertoire. Worth noting in this connection is the growing insignificance of the traditionally significant opposition ‘the state’ (vlast’) vs. the people’ (narod).
The boundaries are disappearing between ‘social sciences’ and public discourse. The differences among sociology, culturology (cultural theory), philosophy, and political science are becoming a matter of convention. The differences are functionally marked only in officially registered syllabuses. The disintegration of thematic boundaries explains likewise the transformation of ‘marxism-leninism’, ‘scientific communism’, ‘dialectical and historical materialism’ into ‘philosophy’, sociology, political science and culturology (cultural theory) respectively. The ‘collapse of Soviet communism’ amounts to a change in nomenclature. The makeup in personnel of social scientists has practically not changed.
The professionalization of the social sciences presupposes the emergence of a specific ethos and sets of values and norms, sustained by corporative rules and internal expertise. Professionalization is connected with specific norms of social control. The emergence of the requisite conditions takes place in the course of the development of a new language and new discursive techniques. The specific phenomenon of the post-communist period is the appearance of ‘clever talk’ in the social sciences which sets the norms for professionalism. Its basic function lies in the creation of intertextual links and the production of the ‘new’ as such and accordingly in the rejection of the old as well as in the construction of uninterrupted conflict. Clever talk enlivens the text, violates the boundaries between the ‘significant’ and the ‘profane’, endangers the norm and runs against established taste. Moreover, clever talk appeals to a ‘library’: to authoritative opinion, literary art, life experiences, and inevitably to philosophy as the most convenient means to produce the new within the intellectual context. Clever talk exists for the most part in marginal zones, wherever mass communication occurs. The transfer to ‘higher strata’ of the thematics and stylistics found in the lower strata is only possible if ‘elevators’ or ‘passages’ exist, which guarantee the accessibility of themes and the linguistic means that bring them to expression. Likely bridging systems in this regard are the metaphors in which the social sciences abound. In this regard all the talk about the ‘exit from communism’ requires careful consideration not so much of thematic changes as in the stylistics of ‘societal discourse’. The stylistics alone testifies to the continuity between the post-communist and communist discursive models. Together with the ‘professional’ the social sciences persist in producing a type we could call ‘the master of thoughts’.
Glasnost and the collapse of the communist regime at the beginning of the 90s brought nothing essentially new into the composite text of the social sciences. The range of topics, the stylistics and pragmatics of textual construction were based on the metaphor 'socialism with a human face'. It was a metaphor that was actively exploited in the social sciences, including their official representatives. Both glasnost and the social sciences throughout the nineties resorted to emphatic speech, an essential element of heresy at the stage where it begins to break with dogma. Communist rhetoric virtually always mobilized emphatic discourse to the maximum. In this respect, glasnost' was no exception to the rule that governed revolutionary enthusiasm. In regard to the renewal of the lexicon of the social sciences this meant that the 'authentic philosophy of marxism', obscured by ideological formulas, was hard to grasp not because this required much effort, but because it supposed access to the authentic text and a form of initiation into the secrets of the doctrine that remained hidden to mere mortals. Those initiated into the truth transmitted it to one another in secret, personal communication. This form of transmission of societal knowledge came to entail the creation of distinctive forms of 'team-spirit', that is, circles of in-groups. These gave rise, throughout the nineties, to new scientific and educational institutions and the corresponding 'networked' career trajectories. Post-communist discourse has given up the topoi of 'Soviet Marxism', but it has retained both the pragmatics and the stylistics of its intellectual practices.
(Translated from the Russian by Prof. E. M. Swiderski, Fribourg CH)