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On Interpersonal Violence in Russia in the Present and the Past: A Sociological Study
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
2006 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

For much of the twentieth century researchers in the West knew little about the phenomenon of interpersonal violence in Russia as the Soviet authorities kept the vital and criminal justice statistics of violence secret. It was not until the Soviet Union was in its final death throes that these statistics were officially released for the first time in over fifty years. They showed that at least in terms of its level of lethal violence, Russia was one of the most violent countries in the industrialized world. Since that time, the sharp rise in violent mortality that has occurred in post-Soviet Russia during the transition period has attracted the attention of many researchers in both the East and West. The studies that have resulted have done much to enhance our understanding of violence in contemporary Russia. However, there are still many questions to be answered. For example, was Russia a violent country in much earlier periods of its history and are there particular social and/or cultural processes that have been important in explaining the occurrence of violence in Russia across time?

To address these and other questions I have made use of the vital statistics data of homicide from tsarist and Soviet Russia, as well as individual-level survey data on violence from the contemporary period. By doing this it has been possible to show that there was a high level of lethal interpersonal violence in Russia throughout those periods of the twentieth century for which data exist and that Soviet Russia became comparatively more violent between the end of the tsarist and Soviet periods. Moreover, alcohol seems to have played an extremely important role in the occurrence of both lethal and non-lethal violence across time. In relation to this, I have focused on the particular drinking culture in Russia as a possible explanatory mechanism for the occurrence of violence, in conjunction with the Russian state’s dependence on the taxable revenue alcohol generated – which in both tsarist and Soviet Russia prevented any prolonged attempts to act against the deleterious effects of alcohol. The high level of violence in Russian society also highlights the problems that the Russian authorities had when trying to impose order on a geographically vast and ethnically diverse country. This might explain why even by the end of the Soviet period, rates of lethal violence were highest in those places (i.e. Siberia and rural Russia more generally) where the state’s presence is likely to have been at its weakest.

The consequences of interpersonal violence have become a serious public health issue in contemporary Russia. The lesson that ‘might makes right’ seems to be learnt at an early age by some men who may subsequently model their behaviour on what they have witnessed in their childhood homes, with alcohol acting to facilitate the occurrence of violence in some instances. Any attempt to address the issue of violence in Russia must therefore focus on the specifics of the Russian drinking culture, as it is likely that if this can be changed, a reduction in levels of serious interpersonal injury can also be achieved. However, it may be the case, that it is not only changes in the drinking culture which are necessary, but also perhaps, the way in which violence is seen in Russian society traditionally, both by the state and its citizens – as a means of resolving both relatively minor and more intractable problems.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Södertörns Högskola , 2006. , 168 p.
Södertörn Doctoral Dissertations, ISSN 1652-7399 ; 7
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-1331ISBN: 91-7155-332-0OAI: diva2:189902
Public defence
2006-11-24, MB 503, Södertörns högskola, Alfred Nobels allé 7, Huddinge, 10:00
Available from: 2006-11-02 Created: 2006-11-02Bibliographically approved

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