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Society and Lifestyles: Towards Enhancing Social Harmonization through Knowledge of Subcultural Communities

Final Report Summary - SAL (Society and Lifestyles: Towards Enhancing Social Harmonization through Knowledge of Subcultural Communities)

The overall aim of the project was to extend knowledge about values and religions in Europe by investigating groups representing various values and religious beliefs in post-Soviet countries. Further it sought to enhance the integration of groups with different values and religions into the life of the society-at-large based on a harmonious coexistence of individuals and sub-groups.

The research scope included case studies on 'taste', lifestyle subcultures such as hip-hop, punks, antifascists, skinheads, hippies and others; new religious groups such as Hare Krishna, Neo-Pagans, Vissarion, Anastasia, theosophical groups and others as well as ethnic and religious minority cultures such as Muslims, Roma communities, a Baptist religious confession group and others. The area of research involved the post-Soviet countries of Europe. After a half century of communist rule, the cultural heritage of post-Soviet societies still differs sharply from the cultural heritage of Western countries. However, until the start of this project, there had been no systematic research on sub-cultural communities with their different values and religious beliefs in the post- Soviet region.

The main idea of the project was to understand how groups arise, function and disappear. These topics can help to explore questions of identity formation by individuals as participants of different groups. They also have an impact on solving such issues as social cohesion, intergroup tensions, discord and violence.

Different perspectives and meanings were explored by researchers using interpretative approaches based on the general project objectives. New information will aid better understanding of subjects and the groups which arise and act in post-Soviet countries.

SAL research shows that a value orientation (systems of values in general) is the main impetus for forming a sub-cultural identity. It is sensitive to influences from the meaningful environment, the one sub-cultural group members communicate with and react to. This results in varying behaviours by similar groups in different societies.

The SAL project studied groups of different membership sizes. It needs to be emphasised that small groups are equally as important as large ones for researchers. From a theoretical point of view, the processes of growth and decay of small groups can be observed more readily, with a greater possibility of identifying the reasons for the processes. It is also significant to point out that small cultural groups (even in their initial originating stage) can accumulate and transform cultural ideas and values which signal new forces originating in society. Understanding these processes can help to deal with them more easily. Finally, it is significant to note that not all of the mentioned phenomena are accessible to direct research - in some cases field studies could prove dangerous to investigators not only because the group itself may be dangerously aggressive but also because the society as a whole wishes to suppress certain kinds of investigations.

The SAL project studied over thirty sub-cultural groups in ten countries and found the relations between different groups and the larger societies to be very heterogeneous with regard to the needs and rights of individuals of varied identities, genders, cultures and value orientations. Thus, policy recommendations are, in most cases, country specific. In addition, two more universal features are evident. First, there is a need to improve both the quantity and quality of media coverage of sub-cultural group issues at all levels, particularly about EC policies and laws concerning human rights and values and to present more factual and balanced reporting of sub-cultural group activities. Second, there is need for continuing research on group-societal interactions which is systematic and methodologically well-grounded. Such research could serve the informational needs of the media in the short run and also provide factual data and reliable analyses needed in the long range.

The SAL electronic archive was developed over the three years of the project with the aim to stimulate communications between the researchers. It was verified and adopted for the needs of researchers during the project workshops, and materials from the fieldworks were uploaded for sharing information among the SAL project scholars. For a sense of the amount of data involved, the numbers of the particular types of files found in the archive are listed: 124 audio files (interviews); 1 159 image files (photos from events, photos of the symbols used by the group and others); 41 video files (videos of events, living conditions and other matters); 661 text files (interviews, questionnaires and others); 241 synopses. At any given moment, there are over five gigabytes of such data.

New information was gained about neglected groups for anthropology, sociology and political science. New methods / extensions of methods were developed for studying groups. The project introduced novel research on groups with different values and religious beliefs in post-Soviet countries, where traditions for this sort of research had never been developed previously. The project contributed to the growth of a new generation of researchers in the social sciences in post-Soviet countries. This is particularly significant for two reasons. First, because field research is only possible in the applicable national languages, past research on groups in these countries was minimal at best, limited by the lack of linguistic expertise among outside researchers. Second, in the absence of hard empirical information, researchers tended to over-generalise and grossly underestimate the variety and complexity of social processes occurring in post-Soviet countries. The interdisciplinary nature of this project contributes to the development of new intellectual traditions. In particular, it opens up broader perspectives on values, meanings and goals that are vital for democratisation.

The availability of the research data is expected to enhance the democratisation processes in the countries recently admitted to the EU in several ways. Associated with the research project, there is a long range effect on the mindset of those more directly touched by it, an effect with more immediate consequences depending on the information collected, interpreted and presented. With regard to the latter, the trustworthiness of the results is crucial. This project contributed to intensifying not only scholarly but also public discussions on the behaviours of the groups and groups' members, topics which had previously been underdeveloped in this region. Communications between social groups and between social groups and researchers were enhanced during cultural forums that were held within the frame of the project's methodology. Communications between social groups and institutions were explored in SAL case studies by analysing how society influences the social groups under investigation and how these groups are influenced by each other.

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