Social Survey Research in De Facto States After Crimea

“Daddy works in a magical, faraway land called Academia.”I’m very happy to announce that I’ve a new home office, as a year long house extension project has come to an end. I will seek to renew my writing for this site, though I’m conscious that time spent writing here and on Twitter is time away from R&R, reading and writing, not to mention, most importantly, my family. Certainly, I’d be a much better academic if I neglected my family and kids more! I’m striving on not being too lost in the magical faraway land.

Folks who follow my random musings on Twitter will know that John O’Loughlin and I received a RAPID grant from the US National Science Foundation to build upon our past survey research in de facto states. The Award Description is here, with the summary opening written by the NSF. We are very grateful to the good folks at the Political Science division of the NSF who, as most US academics will know, have had to deal with a concerted political effort in Congress to gut social science research, especially political science. See the AAG statement on this.


One place where social science research is also under the shadow of politics and politicization is Russia. Our previous NSF research project allowed us to employ the Levada Center to conduct a rigorous social science survey in Abkhazia in 2010. They did a terrific job, and were able to proceed unimpeded by the political authorities in Abkhazia (though then President Bagapsh, RIP, pictured above, wasn’t exactly smiling when we met with him, among many others, on our trip to Abkhazia. The Georgian government at the time was not particularly happy about our research, and we sought to convey their perspective in our journal articles). The Levada Center, as many know, is reportedly under considerable political pressure in Russia now as a result of a sweeping “foreign agent” registration law. Whether this law, in effect, criminalizes the aspiration of international researchers to contract with the Levada Center to conduct reliable social survey research on political attitudes is an open question. For the record, our experience cooperating with Russian academics has been excellent; they have been invaluable partners.

The importance of reliable and independent social survey research free of government interference and conducted to the highest standards of rigor should be obvious. Just today,   Alex Cooley and Lincoln Mitchell have an excellent article in Foreign Policy that uses the results of the Levada survey to provide useful public information to a broad English-speaking audience about likely cleavages and attitudes in Abkhazia today. It should be underscored that Professors Cooley and Mitchell’s policy positions, analysis and recommendations are ones that are independent of our research and its results. The goal of our research has never been to provide policy recommendations, though as citizens and moral beings we inevitably have positions on the world we are situated within and encounter. The opening purpose of our research is to generate social science data as a pathway towards knowledge and debate. It doesn’t have a political angle or agenda from the outset (yes, at a deeper level, there are complexities of national socialization, the unconscious, affective conditioning, etc). Whether that is a problem in the polarized conditions after Crimea, and the ongoing fighting in the Donbass, is something we will find out in the next few months.

About Dr Gerard Toal

Irish born academic living in Washington DC researching geopolitical competition and territorial conflicts in post-Communist Europe. Author of CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS (1996), BOSNIA REMADE (w C Dahlman) and NEAR ABROAD: PUTIN, THE WEST AND THE CONTEST OVER UKRAINE AND THE CAUCASUS (Oxford University Press, 2017).
This entry was posted in Abkhazia, Caucasus conflict, Congress, Current affairs, De Facto States, Democracy, Geography, Political Borders, Political Geography, Putin, South Ossetia, World political map. Bookmark the permalink.

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