“In times of upheaval, the social fabric is eroded and the social sciences help producing reflections on the new reality” – 5in10 with Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak

Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak is a sociologist and a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Ukrainian Catholic University. Prior to this position, she was a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Lviv Ivan Franko National University. In 2002, she graduated from the Lviv Ivan Franko National University, and in 2007, she completed her PhD at the Classic Private University. Since 2007, she has also worked as an analyst at the Socioinform Ukrainian Center for Public Opinion Research. She has either participated in or managed more than 20 sociological studies of Ukrainian society. Her scientific interests focus on problems of modern Ukrainian society and individual social groups, such as youths or internally displaced persons (IDPs). Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak has been a non-resident Fellow and member of the Prisma Ukraïna War, Migration, Memory research group since 2022.

Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak

1. How would you explain your research to someone whos not an expert?

The war caused massive displacement of Ukrainians, both within and outside the country. In addition to the personal tragedies and stories of Ukrainians, we can also talk about the impact of these phenomena on society in general. Among other things, the Ukrainian state has faced a loss of human resources, which could potentially deepen the country’s demographic crisis in the future. In contrast, EU countries are facing the problem of ensuring social security and integration for millions of Ukrainians today and most probably in the foreseeable future.

The purpose of this study is to understand how the situation with emigration will unfold in the future. Whether the flow of refugees to the EU will increase, or on the contrary, Ukrainians will start gradually returning home. I intend to identify the factors informing these decisions and strategies that assist both temporary displaced individuals coming to Europe and internally displaced people in Ukraine (IDPs) in relocating to a new place of residence. This research aims to facilitate the development of policies for effectively working with IDPs and refugees, benefiting both these populations and the host country.

Another important aspect of the study is the constant change of the social roles and positions in which Ukrainians fleeing the war find themselves. In official reports, we meet well-established groups (IDPs, refugees, and those with temporary protection status), but our previous research shows that these categories are often mixed in real life. The same person can move around within the country (whether registered as an IDP or not). They may live part of the time as an IDP and part of the time as a displaced person abroad. In one family, its individual members may have very different statuses (refugee/IDP/regular citizen), and may or may not want to officially register themselves. Quantitative research used by most international monitoring organizations does not provide an understanding of transnational families, capture the fluidity of their roles and multi-vector strategies of displacement and survival. Furthermore, it is rarely discussed or explored how displaced people talk about their sense of belonging in such fluid situations and what factors or markers influence its configuration; how all these factors can influence the decision to stay or return. This research is based on a qualitative methodology that will allow us to study in depth their strategies of migration, self-description and adaptation, capturing all the nuances.

2. What intrigued you when you started your academic journey? What were formative encounters or challenges?

The beginning of my academic career was driven by a keen interest in the paradoxes of social reality. Ukrainian society is intriguing in this sense, because whenever I read how it is perceived from the outside, it is often a simplistic binary picture (East versus West, Ukrainian versus Soviet, pro-European or pro-Russian). There was a constant feeling that all its complexity, diversity, and sometimes ambivalence are ignored. For example, I was interested in understanding how it was possible that religious Ukrainians could simultaneously recognize the importance of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and support the preservation of the death penalty in the country. Or how the same event (e.g., the Revolution of Dignity) could be remembered by Ukrainians as two antagonistic narratives. These questions led me to study the mechanisms of motivation, memory, and social behavior. In addition, there was a feeling that society was actively changing, many things were being rethought, discussed, and acquired new meanings. It was interesting to follow these changes and discover new aspects of it.

Over time, the practical aspect of research has become equally important to me. Ideally, when research not only explains social reality, but also helps to form it through the recommendations (e.g., when it lays the ground for developing strategies and policies for NGOs, politicians and organizations).

3. How, if at all, has the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine influenced your research questions or approaches?  

It has indeed influenced my research, primarily due to changing the focus of my research interest to the area of migration intentions and adaptation of migrants. Given the scale of the processes and the significance of the social consequences, it is important for me to understand how these changes will affect the Ukrainian state and host countries. On the practical side, I faced new questions about how to mitigate the adaptation of displaced persons and how to motivate them to return to Ukraine after the war.

4. What do you consider to be the role of the humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval, fragmented publics, and authoritarian transgressions?

The role of the humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval and change is of critical importance. The fact is that a person acts out of habit in much of their everyday life “on autopilot”, and societies in a state of calm have thousands of optimal strategies of existence that do not require extra reflections, because they have been forged by experience and time.

In times of upheaval, the social fabric is eroded. Familiar algorithms stop being relevant. New problems and challenges emerge, and contradictions become more acute. New structures of social relations are being formed. The social sciences and humanities help producing reflections on the new reality: to comprehensively comprehend it, understand it, identify trends that will shape the situation, and offer tactical and strategic tools for its correction.

Today, we are witnessing all three challenges listed in the question: upheaval (war, interruption of food and energy supply, threat of recession), fragmentation (growing popularity of right-wing forces in Europe, Brexit), and challenges of authoritarianism (growing power of regimes in China, Iran, Russia, and others). These processes have the potential of triggering the Third World War. Today, the role of the social sciences and humanities is to identify and neutralize the triggers of this process.

It is within the competence of these sciences to counteract propaganda, any form of intolerance and imperial thinking. It is for the humanities and social sciences to advocate for the values of sustainable development: conscious consumption, tolerance, environmental protection, etc.

These field of studies are instrumental for levelling the consequences of the negative processes taking place in the country and the world. For instance, today psychologists who provide psychological support because of the horrors of war, loss of health, home and family for millions of people in need, and sociologists who identify the most acute problems and provide timely information to the authorities and public/charitable organizations, are appreciated more than ever.

5. How do you think war affects memory or identity? And how does this connect to your research?

I believe that war encourages thinking people to start reflecting back in time, to search for the reasons that led to horrors and tragedy. The main actors in the warfare are states, so people are becoming more interested in the history and politics of their country. In Ukraine, the real history has been silenced for decades. More than half of Ukrainians (all over the age of 45) studied with textbooks written in the USSR, learning the history written for them by the invader. Although Ukrainian youth studied history in Ukrainian textbooks, they were exposed to the pro-Russian version of history at home and in Russian propaganda. It was not easy for an ordinary person to understand where the truth was.

The war forced millions of Ukrainians to rapidly reconsider their identity. Reality made them realize the selectivity and ideological biases of the imposed versions of history, and pushed them to think about a new, authentic, unaltered history, where they see themselves and their place in a new way. Particularly in a European context. This process partly began in 2014 and accelerated significantly in 2022. Ukrainians are massively abandoning the use of the Russian language in everyday life and Russian identity. Interest in historical literature has grown in Ukraine as well.

My research deals with the issues of memory and identity as well. In particular, we will investigate whether the perception of Ukraine and its history has changed among people affected by the war; as well as the impact of migration and war on the identity of Ukrainians.

Citation: “In times of upheaval, the social fabric is eroded and the social sciences help producing reflections on the new reality” – 5in10 with Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 19.12.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49712

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2023, 19. Dezember). “In times of upheaval, the social fabric is eroded and the social sciences help producing reflections on the new reality” – 5in10 with Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 14. Juni 2024, von https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49712

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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