Doing Cross-Cultural Research in Moscow

Hye Won Kwon, Research Fellow at the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, talked to The HSE Look about her experience of living in Moscow and how it enriches her research.

What are your research interests?

My research is interdisciplinary, and is at the intersection of sociology, psychology and cross-cultural research. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how culture and social structure shape individual psychology. Too often, individual psychology is treated as idiosyncratic and variation among people is too rarely tied to social structures. I collect and analyze survey data from different nations to study how stratification is reproduced through psychological functioning across cultures. As one example of psychological resources, my dissertation examines the sociological utility of the popular psychological concept, “grit” (i.e., perseverance and passion towards long-term life goals) above other established subjective measures of individual orientations to stratification across cultures. Psychologists, educators and parents are interested in this concept because it’s been shown to be a strong predictor of better life outcomes including subjective wellbeing and academic success. However, grit research has been conducted mostly in psychology and in a single nation (e.g., the U.S.). Grit has been studied in a contextual vacuum, as grit researchers are less interested in exploring social structural and cultural contexts of grit’s development. My dissertation project adds sociological and comparative angles to it, to see how the findings hold across different cultures, using cross-cultural survey data collected from the U.S. and South Korea, often thought to be on the opposite ends of the individualism vs. collectivism scale.

Has your stay at HSE been productive so far in terms of making new academic connections?  

At my previous university few people were doing cross-cultural research, while the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) specifically focuses on comparative studies. Even through short conversations with my lab colleagues and supervisors I get the help that I need in terms of improving my methodology and analysing the project results. It’s been only 2.5 months but I’ve already learned a lot about the tools and the issues that I need to consider in developing comparative projects. I strongly believe that my stay at HSE and my affiliation with LCSR help me further develop my own research projects as well as my collaborative projects with other co-authors.

What are your plans for this year as a postdoc?

One of the manuscripts based on my dissertation about grit is currently under review, and I’m working on several more for publication. My immediate plan includes examining the social valuation of grit across cultures: Is grit a valued virtue across cultures? Is an individual’s social structural and cultural location associated with how much she or he values grit as a virtue? I am currently revising my dissertation chapter on this and analyzing existing international survey data (e.g., World Values Survey, which is affiliated with the LCSR).

At the LCSR, I recently started my new research on socioeconomic status, human agency and subjective wellbeing, and a meeting with our international director, Christian Welzel, really helped me to move forward. I am hoping to present my preliminary findings from this project at our April conference next year.

In addition to these projects, I’m doing another cross-cultural project with collaborators in the United States to study how people use values to draw group boundaries between “us” (in-group) and “them” (out-group). We collected survey data from four countries - USA, South Korea, France and Turkey, and are currently analysing the results. One co-authored paper has been accepted this month, and we are planning to submit two more manuscripts to the journals early next year.  

Also, as a cross-cultural researcher I find that the experience of living in a different culture is really helpful in broadening my perspective - and also inspiring. I hope to learn more about Russian culture and language.

What is your favourite thing to do in Moscow?

I first came to Moscow back in 2015 for a conference organised by LCSR, and I am very happy to be back here. I feel like one year is too short to enjoy this beautiful city. I really try to make time - a day or a half day - to go to an art museum, or attend a musical performance and such. I love exploring local markets and tasting food from around the world. I went to Kolomensky park to buy some honey earlier this fall, and I wish I bought more jars so that I could bring it to my family on a holiday visit to South Korea.   

Do you participate in any events at HSE?

Regarding research, there’s a regular seminar led by our laboratory happening weekly, and I’m also keeping my eye on the email announcements sent by other institutes and labs, just in case I find a research presentation that speaks to my interests. If we talk about social events, I really enjoyed the events organised by the International Faculty Support Unit. I found them very helpful in meeting other postdocs and tenure-tracks, and I made several friends with whom we hang out quite often. And I think it’s quite important to make connections in a new place where you do not have any family or friends, which are the usual support systems we have ‘at home’, especially when you do not speak the local language very well.   

Read more in the full December 2018 issue of The HSE Look