Religion and law

Back in Moscow where the weather is rainy and foggy, but life is full of colours.

Yesterday, our first full day here started with a discussion over breakfast about the roots of administrative theory in European and Central Asian countries. It seems that Max Weber, with his ideal type bureaucracy, has had predecessors in Islamic theorists, who also dealt with the best way of organizing public administration.

Next, we visited a mosque to get a better understanding of the religious aspects of migrant life. It was interesting to hear teaching about proper behaviour with regard to propiska (residence permit). ‘Before entering a home, a good Muslim asks for a permission to enter for three times’, the sermon advised. The believers were reminded that they should focus less on complaining, and instead worry more about their own choices in accordance with their religion. It seems that both the practical role of religious institutions in Russia, as well as the different legal traditions of sending countries need attention in our research.

Later we were provided a first-hand possibility to observe an important side of our research topic. While sitting in a popular restaurant to have lunch, we witnessed an investigative operation by Moscow law enforcement authorities, who ordered all present to stay put and provide identification. In the end, the situation was resolved peacefully and our passports were not checked. However, we felt the tension of persons under suspicion. At the same time, one also wonders about the complexities of law-enforcement as well.

All in all, an interesting start for our second field work period!

Legal culture and integration

Summer break is almost here! It is time to relax a little bit before we start preparing for our next field work trip to Moscow.

On the 13th-15th of May, Prague hosted the third European Summit ( in the beautiful Lobkowicz Castle. In this third gathering of academics, think tank experts, civil servants and politicians, topics included also migration. The panels gave unanimous support to successful integration as the key to societal security in the EU, where member states have different political and social histories with regard to migration.

Our project deals with one dimension of integration in Russia, which is micro level integration to a new legal culture. A simple definition of legal integration at this level sees it as a learning experience in which new arrivals accept and follow new norms and regulations. We also use this definition in our effort, as we look at the rules, which govern migration and Russian labour market, and examine what these rules are, how they are enforced and followed. However, we are also looking beyond the fast changing surface by examining how migrant communities contribute more generally to the shaping of the legal environment in Russian communities and institutions.

This is also a reason for our interdisciplinary approach. As we examine ‘living law’ vis-á-vis ‘law in books’, we do not separate different ways of looking at the law, often used in academic studies. The perspectives of ‘law in’, ‘law and’ and ‘law as’ will be included in our analysis. Examination of migration to Russia  would be articifial without taking into account the historical legacies of the post-Soviet regions. Our key methods include ethnography which is  connected to the empirical tradition of legal-sociology. It underlines the relationship between law and society and utilizes both social and legal theories in analysis. In addition, we try to understand how migrants, who live in the intersection of different legal cultures, construct the meaning of law  in their new Russian surroundings. This implies that we try to find out what kinds of understandings of societal life their legal thinking includes.

This brief description may already give you an idea of the intellectual and practical dimensions of this project. This spring we have had the chance to talk about our work to different audiences and to get feedback on important points. We will continue this part of our project in the fall, with plans to visit Germany and Spain. Then – back to Moscow!

First week of Moscow field work

Our first week in Moscow is over. As we have enjoyed the 1st of May sunshine, we are also taking a look at the experience so far. This has been an intensive week, both in terms of collection of interview material and as a learning experience. We have met migrants of different ages, professions, experience of life in Russia, and financial situation. Interview situations are often demanding for various reasons.We are discovering that certain questions, words and expressions are ambiguous or sensitive to the people we meet. This in itself is rich material, of course, since it gives us a possibility to investigate our key concepts from a cultural point of view.

We are also becoming more aware of our own limitations and try to develop in the process, as much as it is possible. Getting connected with our main informants is an art form in itself. The approach has to be adjusted in every case. The practical conditions make research also an emotional experience, since not everything can be controlled. We have to reflect on our expectations, our ways of working and the material continuously.

Does a researcher of migration and shadow economy become an activist? This is one of the main ethical questions of our work and something that we also had to think about during this first week.  From the beginning of our project, we chose to remain neutral and keep an academic distance to our topic. Hence, we are not promoting policies or political perspectives. Our original attempt was to look at Russia in a global context which includes a possibility to make comparisons.  Such an approach is not easy, but we believe that in the end it provides important insights which might otherwise be overlooked.

Our blog and new project plans

A new year of 2017 has started with active planning of our field work. Our team spent a week together in the Aleksanteri Institute on the 23-27 January to decide timetables for field trips and to organize other practical matters. Among these matters is this homepage, which we will be using actively to tell you about our progress. During February and March, Rustam Urinboyev will be working on the questionnaire for our theme interviews. Our first trip will take place in April-May in Moscow.

During our week, we discussed various aspects of conducting interviews and surveys among our future informants. Our team member Rustam Urinboyev´s  substantial experience in the field and his ability to teach the rest of our team about cultural differences has already proven valuable.  You know – almost anything can happen when you are conducting field studies!  You can face all sorts of unexpected situations, some slightly funny, others possible more serious. So, we have to really think about all details very carefully and be fully aware of doing everything right. This involves having proper documents and making sure that our position is that of a researcher. It also involves being sensitive to cultural differences and expectations from our informants. We cannot just walk into somebody´s life and use them for our own benefit.

During our joint week in Helsinki, we found out that Rustam had received a Marie Curie Fellowship!  His funding will start next year. This is great news, as it further strengthens the study of migration, shadow economy and legal culture.