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IPSA's RC21-29 International Expert Conference
Moscow, October 26-27 2012

About the conference on

Citizens and Leaders in a Comparative Perspective
What can political psychology and political socialization research tell us about recent trends and events?


Moscow, October 26-27.

By Helen Shestopal

Discussion on interrelation of citizens and leaders was the focus of an international conference that has taken place at Lomonosov Moscow State University, October 26-27, 2012. This conference was sponsored by the Research Committee on Political Psychology of Russian Political Science Association together with two Research Committees (RC) of IPSA: RC21 – on Political Socialization and Education – and RC29 – on Political Psychology. The past, now vice-presidents) of both RC’s Christ’l De Landtsheer (University of Antwerp) and Paul Dekker (The Netherlands Institute for Social research) did a lot in attracting an international political science community to this project.

Participants concentrated mainly on one question of discussion during the conference: whether theories of Political Socialization and Political Psychology are relevant for interpretation of the recent political trends and events in the world. It is not a secret that for the majority of observers the events like the Arab spring, new movements like “Indignados” in Spain, or “Occupy Wall street” in the USA, and protest marches in Russia after the 2011 presidential elections were absolutely unexpected. Both leaders and citizens were not prepared for these events. In this light we invited our colleagues for discussion, as we believed that political psychology conceptions and theories have not lost their explanatory potential, though in some of the aspects they definitely need reappraisal and development for more adequate estimation of new political phenomena.

The suggested theme presupposed the achievement of two very different tasks. The first concerns the study of psychological nature of politics and is fundamental for political science. The other has an applied character and focuses on the psychological consequences that new political phenomena have for leaders and citizens.

The first task necessitated revision of our theoretical approaches, models and schemes. We were keeping in mind that IPSA previously initiated several times such theoretical discussions that deals with the issue of the nature of Political Science knowledge. As a result, some fundamental books that were summarizing development of Political Science as a discipline were published .

Recently IPSA sponsored a new multi-volume edition of Oxford Handbooks of Political Science. One of ten volumes was dedicated to political behavior . As the publisher notes, this volume is responding to the very latest scholarship in political behavior, with sections covering: mass belief systems and communication, political values, new debates in political behavior, political participation, and public opinion. Contributors of this volume examine the role of the citizens in contemporary politics. It is symptomatic that even in latest editions of the Political Science series, topics of political leadership, political psychology and political socialization were absent. Additionally, political behavior is – as a rule – reduced to electoral behavior. Matters concerning political attitudes, values and images in citizens’ minds are also missing.

This situation is better in the “Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology” , edited by D. Sears, L. Huddy and R. Jarvis. It contains a chapter on personality in politics by D. Winter and interesting chapters on political socialization by O. Ichilov and on values by S. Feldman. This book summarizes our knowledge on development of theoretical approaches to interrelation of citizens and leaders in contemporary politics. It is important that for the first time in such a fundamental book one can find two articles on the problem of political perception that in political science literature is still ignored, while in a highly mediatized political practice this problem appears to be one of the central issues for understanding interrelation of citizens and politicians.

Inviting scholars to this discussion, we assumed that it is important to provide a variety of political experiences that we want to interpret. That is why we did not want to restrict ourselves to merely one national political culture, but represent different types of political experience from Israel to Japan and from Norway to Iran. As Moscow was hosting the conference, the Russian experience was represented more completely.

Participation of scholars from many countries permitted us to collect a number of methods and results of the studies, which not only enabled us to describe some current shifts in mass political mentality, but also to start their theoretical modeling.

It is too early to speak about possibilities of a comparative method. Each of the suggested models has its own peculiarity, determined by national political culture, traditions and theoretical priorities of the scholar. But we believe that approaches, suggested by discussants, permit us to think about a further integration of the academic community and rises the hope that in the future we can complete projects on comparative political leadership, political values and attitudes of citizens, political perception and political socialization. Geographical diversity of studies gives a wide range of countries and representation of different political practices.

The discussion was focused on three main issues. The first was devoted to the studies of political socialization. This theme was in the center of political scientists’ interest in the second part of the XXth century. But in recent years it was rather out of the mainstream of political science. The discussion has shown that it is this area of knowledge where one can look for the basis of explanation of the newest forms of political behavior.

As I. Ichilov has shown in her key note paper. one can find substantial shifts in political socialization that determine the changes of political behavior of citizens: it concerns a number of socialization agents and the character of their interrelation. If earlier the leading role in political socialization process belonged to the family, now these are Media (mainly electronic ones) that have a priority. As a result, in countries such as either Egypt and Russia, or Germany and Japan we can find a new generation, whose political views are molded by the Internet.

Another important feature of contemporary models, in comparison to theories of political socialization of the 1970s and 1980s, is an acknowledgment of socialization by students, that it is not only an adjustment to the existing political system that can be regarded as a result of this process. Today we see legalization of the models of political disobedience and civil resistance.

Transfer of the accent from the early stages (childhood) to the lifespan is another important feature of contemporary approaches to political socialization. One more new development in theories of political socialization concerns the fact that in their studies of the context of formation of political concepts, scholars now pay more attention to conflicts, wars and other widely spread circumstances that accompany acquaintance of young people with political reality.

The second block of problems focused on citizens and their attitudes, values, images, mentality and needs. This group of papers contained a number of theoretical models, used for analysis of current trends in political life. Scholars analyzed categories of citizens, different by their age, residence, political and ideological identity, as well as those psychological interrelations between citizens and authorities that emerge when there is no effective communication between them, like distrust, lack of political support, political misperception, political protests, etc.

The third kind of issues were devoted to leadership in the modern political world. In their papers participants of the conference showed that leadership in the XXI century has a number of new traits. First of all, together with the classic types of requirements to the contemporary leaders, we can see a number of new ones that can be explained by changes in political processes (globalization, new forms of political communications, new role of leaders’ followers) and by changes in social demands. In studies of political leadership, issues of methodology play a special role. Papers of Christ’l De Landtsheer, Victor Petrenko and Olga Mitina, and Natalia Smulkina demonstrated new models of theoretical and methodological interpretation of leadership.

As one can see, discussions of the mentioned three areas of political science theories – political socialization, political attitudes, and political leadership – have a substantial potential that enable political scientists, united in corresponding Research Committees of National and International Political Science Associations to achieve a new quality of interpretation of the current trends and events of political life.

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Content: Christ'l De Landtsheer
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