International Research Seminars Series in Sociology

In March issue of The HSE Look, we would like to focus on three of the many seminar series which are held at HSE, and we are glad to present the interview with Christian Fröhlich, Assistant Professor at the School of Sociology, about the seminar series in Sociology at HSE Moscow.

What prompted the launch of the seminar series?

The seminar series in Sociology was launched as early as in the fall semester of 2012 on the initiative of the first foreign assistant professors at the Department of Sociology - Christopher Swader, Sergej Bessudnov, Benjamin Lind and Ruben Flores. Since then, it has been continuously supported by HSE’s administration, in particular by Professor Vadim Radaev. It was devised to make advantage of international networks with new colleagues and attract foreign experts as guest lecturers to the Faculty of Social Sciences. This will, therefore, boost the international profile and appeal of HSE´s s School of Sociology. This has obviously contributed to the high position of sociology and social science in international rankings in terms of HSE’s visibility and prominence.

Is there any over-arching topic or disciplinary focus for the seminar?

The organizers do not set an overarching theme for each year. The only, however weak, guiding principle for the selection of presenters is the prospect of interest not only on the part of sociologists but also from other social science disciplines, such as political science or public administration. As a result, the seminar series involves a huge variety of interesting topics in social research, which have fulfilled another intent, namely to bring HSE faculty into lively contact with the latest developments and innovations in sociology at the global level.

How do you choose the topics for the specific events within the series?

The lectures in the series are usually organized by international faculty at the School of Sociology, but the organizing groups were started last year for other departments at the Faculty of Social Science in order to make sure these events have a faculty-wide scope. Every member of the organizing team can suggest guest lecturers and then it is decided collectively whom to invite. Most often, the guests are already personally connected to one of the organizers, but those ties may be quite weak, such as an acquaintance from a conference. What counts is whether the research is interesting for social researchers at HSE in general.

But not all guests of the series are directly invited from abroad to participate in our series. Each year, we also invite so-called ‘windfall speakers’. These are colleagues who stay in Moscow for other purposes and are just invited over to present and discuss their research at HSE. In the past, these were colleagues from HSE’s campus in St. Petersburg, and from the Centre d’Études Franco-Russe in Moscow, where many wonderful scholars from France visit for research stays and teaching.

How are the meetings organized? Are they individual presentations or panel debates?

The evening lectures usually take place during the fall semester, but there may be some events during May and June, or in January and February. There is no standard rhythm, but guest lectures are most often organized once a month. In the early years, these events were more frequent due to the higher number of foreign colleagues working in the department. 

The guest lecture itself is organized as an evening event, usually held on Tuesday nights at 6.15pm. The guest lecturer has about 45-60 min talking time, after which a Q&A session follows for around 45min. The debates continue in more comfortable conditions after that in a nearby Georgian restaurant. The lectures also draw students into the classroom even after teaching hours. Participation is voluntary, of course, and we like to invite the students from the faculty’s English-taught Master´s programmes.

What are the usual outcomes of the seminar series?

Over the years, the seminar series has brought many international scholars to the HSE and thus widened the global networks of the general faculty. These meetings have also provided a multitude of opportunities for research collaboration. Previous guest lecturers have been developing common research ideas with their peers at HSE, or are, in fact, actual or prospective co-authors with HSE faculty members. For example, Ruben Flores did an interview on Norbert Elias with his British guest Stephen Mennell and published it in a journal, and Christian Fröhlich co-authored a paper with Kerstin Jacobsson from University of Gothenburg on protest and dissent in urban liminal spaces.

Inviting guests also poses an opportunity to develop teaching partnerships. Tawat Mahama has been developing a format for teaching the Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) method with Sofia Pagliarin from the Swiss Research Institute. Another form of cooperation is developing student exchanges or broader partnership agreements, such as double Master’s degree programmes. For example, in 2016 we began our partnership with Tilburg University, including a guest lecture. And in most cases, invited guests not only present their research in the seminar series but also hold a workshop on a particular topic for Master´s students, which is a great benefit for the educational environment at HSE. We have held workshops on the sociology of culture and a comparative analysis of secularization. So, our guests mostly end up having quite a full schedule in the one week they are in Moscow, with presenting, teaching, discussing project ideas or institutional cooperation, etc.

What are your plans for 2018 and beyond?

The 2017 seminar series brought a broad variety of topics to the faculty, such as the formation of the urban passenger as a social figure, the moral dimension in social movements, the effects of mega-events such as the Olympic Games on urban development, and the pluralization of law in modern societies. The upcoming seminar series in 2018 will include such topics as modernization and globalization in India or Muslim identities. This year, we also plan to broaden the disciplinary width beyond sociology in order to evolve into a faculty-wide international seminar series in social science.

Read more in The HSE Look March 2018 issue