NSF Grant Goes to Anthropologist Hemment
Assistant Professor Julie Hemment (anthropology) has been awarded an $82,495 grant from the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology program for her project,"Youth Organizations, Voluntary Service and the Restructuring of Social Welfare in Russia." Contingent on the first year's performance, she has also been awarded an additional $50,505 for a second year of support.
Hemment specializes in Russia, post-socialism, gender and transition, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and global civil society, feminist anthropology, Participatory Action Research Methodology, and public anthropology. Her book Empowering Women in Russia Activism, Aid, and NGOs (Indiana University Press, 2007), which is a first-hand account of social activism and the politics of development in postsocialist Russia, has met with outstanding reveiws.
WIth her NSF grant, Hemment will undertake research on new, state-sponsored youth organizations in Russia. To date, media and scholarly analyses of these organizations have focused on their political import. In contrast, Hemment will analyze their significance for the reconfiguration of social welfare and citizenship in the context of macroeconomic restructuring and political liberalization.
The project centers on the following question: to what extent are youth organizations an aspect of Soviet-style economic liberalization and democratization? In many respects, the youth organizations bear resemblance to Soviet-era organizations such as the Komsomol (Communist Youth League). But they also draw on elements of the conceptual apparatus of international democracy promotion that transformed Russian society in the nineties.
The research will take place in a provincial city that is home to a flourishing set of organizations to promote youth voluntarism. Hemment will employ a range of social science methodologies, including library-based research, participant observation, interviews (with social service providers, city officials, the directors of youth organizations and youth volunteers), and quantitative surveying.
Hemment's own data collection will be supplemented by a novel collaborative methodology that engages the youth themselves in the process of inquiry. She will work closely with Russian colleagues at Tver State University to lead Russian undergraduate students in a peer ethnography project wherein they conduct interviews with activist peers. Says Hemment, "I'll be working with long term colleagues, Russian scholars and students at Tver state University, building upon my earlier collaborative work from which the book emerged. I began work on the project this summer and made the first of 4 trips to Russia. I expect to return in the spring."
Preliminary testing of this methodology shows that it yields a practical, on-the-ground view of how young people experience and negotiate these government-sponsored projects. This research will further understanding of the relationship between youth voluntarism, social welfare restructuring, and issues of neoliberal governance. In so doing, findings will provide valuable knowledge about emerging welfare regimes and the recreation of citizenship and state power in Russia and other post-socialist societies. Because it asks questions about the aftermath of international development assistance, and examines Russian civil society projects in the context of what some social scientists have called a global backlash against democracy promotion, this research will be useful to a wide range of social scientists and policy makers.
September 15, 2008