The question of moral disorientation in post-soviet societies is familiar in the context of the 1990s when the destruction of accepted stereotypes, threw social consciousness into chaos. Anomie or ‘normlessness’, however, doesn’t only occur in times of crisis. This research shows that the highest levels of anomie are present in the fast growing economies of Russia, India and China.
Some countries recover from this breakdown of social norms faster than others. Christopher Swader, Reader at the HSE Faculty of Sociology and HSE Professor, Leonid Kosals, concluded in their research that it depends largely on good government. They presented their findings in a paper “Post-Socialist Anomie Through the Lens of Economic Modernisation and the Formalisation of Social Control” at the annual American Sociological Association (ASA) conference in New York.
When a society is stricken with anomie people stop being able to understand what is going on at an interpersonal, institutional and social level. This study points out that anomie corresponds to difficulty in determining social norms, roles and behaviour.
The concept of anomie in this context emerged at the end of the 19th century. It was invented by Emile Durkheim who believed that anomie spreads during the transition from a traditional to an industrial society because of the unfamiliar allocation of labour.
Swader and Kosals looked at anomie in relation to modernisation. In spite of the advantages it brings, modernisation releases anomie into the social sphere. It happens because of the erosion of informal social regulation where interpersonal relationships and unspoken norms play a greater role than actual laws.
What is the difference between formal and informal social control? Christopher Swader says, ‘in traditional societies, for example, people are focussed mainly on their families. Behaviour is driven by the expectations of family and close friends’, and this is an instance of informal control. The situation is different in modern societies. Here people are not so bothered about keeping in line with social expectations. Their own desires and aims dominate. At the same time, social control is exerted mainly by a strong legal system. To put it simply, the laws are a genuine force.
Swader and Kosals used data from the World Value Survey, (WVS) to analyse which factors affect the level of anomie and how in developing and developed countries and countries with transition economies.
Education, incomes, social status, access to information are among the most common conditions which determine the level of anomie. Better qualified people on higher incomes are less susceptible in general to it but women are more susceptible than men.
Some factors have opposite effects in different kinds of societies. For example, in developing countries anomie means people are less inclined to go to church or to try to live in ways approved by their families. While in developed countries, trying to fulfil parental expectations causes more anomie, because focussing strongly on the family in a society more oriented towards relations with friends gives rise to conflicting values and a high level of anomie – alienation, hopelessness, breakdown of socially accepted norms etc.
Overall levels of anomie are lower in developed and developing countries than in countries with transitional economies. Most of the factors in societies in transformation have an inflated influence.
According to this research the faster the rate of change, the higher the level of anomie. But as Christopher Swader indicates, a society with a fast growing economy experiences rapid changes in norms and values as well. Bringing down the levels of anomie depends largely on the government. And, as Swader puts it, ‘this is particularly relevant to Russia which went through major demoralisation with the collapse of the Soviet Union’.
Swader and Kosals research data shows that Russia is not distinguished by a high rating of government effectiveness. Swader believes that, ‘when there is a rapid change in values, a government can provide a feeling of stability by effective economic, political and social regulation. But this is not the case in Russia where many people think that the state is corrupt or ineffective’. That is why the level of anomie is impossibly high.