Visiting researchers: who are they?
IIMS and ICSID have been actively implementing their Visiting Researchers Program for a long time. Every year, at least ten researchers from all around the world come to Moscow. Most recently, Ashley Blum, a PhD student at the University of California in Los Angeles, visited ICSID and spent about a month and a half in Moscow. We talked to Ashley about her research project and her life in the Russian capital.
What is currently the subject of your research and why did you choose this particular topic?
My research is focused on the politics of inter-group relations, migration and xenophobia in Russia. I am particularly interested in understanding the relationship between elite rhetoric and the media on these issues and public attitudes.
Why did you choose the Post-Soviet region as a subject of your research and the Higher School of Economics as a place to do it?
A lot of recent research on related topics—right wing populism and xenophobia—has focused on the politics of immigration in the United States and Europe (although some research on the post-Soviet space exists.) I think there are a few reasons why we can learn a lot about both elite strategies and political psychology among ordinary people by studying the Russia case. Elites in Russia face different pressures and incentives regarding public opinion than those in liberal democracies. State control over major media sources in Russia also makes Russia an interesting case for studying elite messaging in relation to mass attitudes. Finally, Russia’s long history of grappling with its own internal ethnic diversity and its complicated relationship with the its so-called “near abroad” make this an important case for studying migration and identity politics that is relevant to broader international geopolitical concerns.
I chose to conduct my research at the Higher School of Economics because of the opportunity to meet and work with several scholars in both economics and sociology whose research interests were related to my own, but at the same time were able to provide a novel prospective on the questions I was asking. I hope that the collaborative relationships I have developed during my time in Moscow will continue long after the conclusion of this trip as I further develop my research agenda.
Do you have any advice for foreign colleagues who are going to do research in Russia for the first time?
I would recommend starting as early as possible when it comes to figuring out the bureaucratic issues related to travelling to Russia. As soon as you make the decision to travel to Russia—maybe even before your trip is confirmed—figure out what kind of visa you will be able to get and whether your passport’s expiration date is late enough given the length of your visa. Expediting the visa and passport process can cost hundreds of dollars.
I arrived in Moscow in August, so during the first part of my trip, most other researchers and students were out of town. I really wanted to meet other people in Moscow, as well as have the chance to practice speaking in Russian in a low-pressure environment. I ended up finding a few meetup groups in Moscow for people interested in meeting travelers and practicing speaking Russian and English. These groups helped me meet other travelers, new arrivals in Moscow and local Muscovites, which was a very positive experience (and helpful for my research and Russian as well.) I would recommend other visitors do the same.
What is your impression of Moscow? How did you enjoy living here?
Moscow is overall a nice place to live. Coming from Los Angeles, I was especially impressed by the public transportation. The metro is efficient and inexpensive and can take you almost anywhere you want to go in the city. There are plenty of sites to see, museums to visit and restaurants to try. I enjoyed just walking around different neighborhoods and looking at the architecture. The parks are also really nice for going for a run or just getting some fresh air.