Monday, October 20, 2008

Comparing Civic Participation: Caucasus Data 2007

What's the level of engagement in the three countries of the South Caucasus? Are people involved? Are they staying abreast of what goes on? Again, our Data Initiative provides insight, since we asked people whether they had engaged in various activities over the last six months.

We seem to be seeing different patterns in the three countries. Print media, for example, is read a lot less in Azerbaijan than in the neighboring countries.

(in the last six months)

But of course, that could just be due to particular quirks: more television, or a bigger country in which relevant media does not make it out to the countryside. Just a blip? No, apparently not.

(also asked for the last six months)

Azerbaijanis indeed are less engaged in events. Few say that they discuss what is going on politically. One reason may be that they live in much more homogenous political space.

Generally, levels of civic engagement are low. This recalls, of course, Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work, which says that civic association forms the basis of both political (in the sense of good governance: public health, education, policing, and so on) and of economic success. Conversely, a people caught in amoral familism will find it hard to collaborate to improve their communities; and since the majority of real public goods can only be attained by collective action, this could be a serious constraint on improving livelihoods.

(yep, last six months)

On that level, we are extremely glad that we have captured this data. It will allow us to track changes over time.

But is the news all bad? Actually, no. Azerbaijan sees quite some volunteering. As rumor has it, the communal subotnik which brings communities together to clean up and improve the neighbourhood still is alive in some places (although volunteering may be encouraged top-down). See the data:

(still: in the last six months)

And in a similar vein, there are contributions to charity in Azerbaijan. In part, this may be because tithing (giving one tenth) to charity is mandated under Islam, and (as you may recall from our previous post) about 15% in Azerbaijan actually say that they pray every day. That almost adds up.

(remember for how many months...?)

What we are describing, ultimately, is a fascinating research agenda: filtering out who the socially active people in a community are, and what makes them different, and how they were mobilized, and how this could be replicated.

Our data set, for anyone who wants to take that stab, is online, and more data on similar questions will follow soon.


Unknown said...

This is fascinating data, but I am not sure if basing questionnaires on Western civil society conceptions (e.g. Putnam) can capture civic engagement, at least in Georgia.

For example, many Georgians spend considerable time helping friends in need, but would not describe this as "volunteer work".

Middle-calss civic engagement in the West may predominantly work through formal organizations, but this does not apply in Georgia. For example, a German wanting to help IDPs would immediately establish an NGO. A Georgian would simply pack some food into a bag and drop it off at an IDP centre.

What exactly are we trying to measure?

Till Bruckner

xcaucasus said...

we are precisely trying to measure CIVIC engagement, and yes, we tailored the questions to the Caucasus. We did not use the classical Roper question set. (You may find looking at the questionnaire useful, and we're happy to take further suggestions for future improvement.)

Sure, in Putnam's Sicily (or Banfield's South Italy) people also help each other, but they predominantly do so within family/clanship contexts characterized by an expectation of definite reciprocity.

This "I help you because you may help me" is very different from the broader, more abstract civic-spiritedness in northern Italy, described in detail by Putnam. As I recall, Putnam characterizes it as something like "I do this because I believe it should be done, and we will all be better off if the majority of the population behaves the same".

That type of civic engagement is essential for civic and public achievement, as opposed to one that remains locked into narrow family, reciprocity, or clientelist structures.

I agree that the recent Georgian response to the IDP crisis showed great public mobilization, very inspiring, but I think there is little doubt that this was an exception.

Moreover, institutions (rules, procedures) happen to be essential when trying to create a more permanent impact, beyond dropping off food in a bag.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to knock local culture. As Marc Howard has shown, this is a deeply post-Soviet/post-socialist phenomenon that also affects eastern Germany, for example.

But it's a huge challenge for anyone (especially government) trying to mobilize and activate their own societies.

Arpine said...

A breakdown by settlement type (rural/urban/capital) might also be worth looking into. Looks like, in all three countries people volunteer more in rural communities than in urban and the capitals. While in Armenia (7% in rural communities vs. 6% in the urban and 4% in the capital) and Georgia (8% in rural communities vs. 3% in urban and 2% in the capital) this difference is not significant, there is quite a gap in Azerbaijan. Thus, 38% of the respondents in rural Azerbaijan communities have done volunteer work vs. 20% in urban communities and 16% in the capital.