As any scholar would agree, a well-placed publication is the result of a long, challenging process. On June 5, 2020, the Wisconsin Russia Project (WRP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison held an inaugural day-long Virtual Workshop on current social science research on Russia. The purpose of the workshop, which was conducted remotely as a videoconference, was to support six WRP postdoctoral and pre-doctoral researchers, who each shared a draft of an article manuscript to be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal and received feedback from their peers and from senior scholars.
In a traditional conference format, authors present short versions of their papers. But in the workshop format, all the participants read the complete papers in advance of the meeting. Each paper was assigned two discussants, who offered constructive criticism at the start of the feedback session. Then, after the author had 5 minutes to respond to the discussants’ comments, a moderated discussion followed, in which graduate students, visiting scholars, and professors offered additional feedback and suggestions for improvement, with an eye towards eventual publication. A total of 17 graduate students, scholars, staff, and faculty participated in the event, with 40 minutes devoted to “workshop” each paper.
When else does a scholar have an opportunity for so many colleagues to thoughtfully engage with a manuscript-in-progress prior to submission? Indeed, traditional conferences enable scholars to share work in progress, but they do not necessarily enforce a deadline to complete a full draft for audience members to read critically beforehand. The workshop format not only motivates researchers to prepare full-length article drafts but also allows for much more detailed and deeper commentary from a supportive but critical audience than is possible in the abbreviated time frame of a traditional conference, a sort of preliminary “peer review” experience that can be vital for young scholars as they prepare their manuscripts for journal submission.
The WRP steering committee had originally planned a more traditional in-person conference at UW-Madison that would have featured not only WRP participants but young social scientists who study Russia from around the world, complete with refreshments, AV equipment for presentation slides, and handshakes and applause. But restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the conference, which would have been the second event of its nature, to be postponed. The WRP steering committee devised the workshop format as a way to feature the work of its participants and provide them with helpful feedback at this advanced stage of their projects.
“The Steering Committee is very pleased with how the Virtual Workshop turned out. The papers represented a broad range of path-breaking social science scholarship on contemporary Russia, and it is exciting to see such methodological, theoretical, and disciplinary diversity represented in our program,” commented Professor Ted Gerber, Director of the Wisconsin Russia Project.
“The quality of the papers was uniformly high, and it was mirrored by the quality of the commentary and discussion. We are grateful to the authors for sharing their work in this format, and we are confident that they were amply rewarded for doing so by the input they received from their colleagues. Although the virtual mode posed some challenges, everyone rose to the occasion and made the best of the event. We all learned a lot from the experience, and we will consider ways to implement the workshop approach in the future.”
The theme of the morning session was “Political Economy, Education, and Inequality” and included the following papers:
“How do the Characteristics of Regional Environment Influence Universities’ Efficiency? Evidence from a Conditional Efficiency Approach” by Aleksei Egorov (WRP pre-doctoral scholar)
Moderator: Cole Harvey; Discussants: Anton Shirikov, Ted Gerber
“Who Delivers the Votes? Elected Versus Appointed Local Executives and Manufactured Votes in National Elections” by Cole Harvey (WRP postdoctoral scholar)
Moderator: Yoshiko Herrera; Discussants: Aleksei Egorov, Paul Dower
“Land Inequality, Industrialization, and Unrest: Evidence from the Late Russian Empire” by Dmitri Kofanov (UW-Madison PhD candidate; WRP Research Assistant)
Moderator: Ted Gerber; Discussants: Austin Charron, Cole Harvey
The theme of the afternoon session was “Identity and Conflict” and included the following papers:
“Dagestani ‘Heroes’ of the Russian Civil War and the Formation of Social, Political and Religious Identities in the Contemporary Republic of Dagestan” by Grigory Grigorev (WRP predoctoral scholar)
Moderator: Kathryn Hendley; Discussants: Natalia Savelyeva, Sasha Klyachkina
“Beyond Support and Resistance: Civilian Strategies Amidst and After Conflict in Post-Soviet Chechnya” by Sasha Klyachkina (WRP postdoctoral scholar)
Moderator: Austin Charron; Discussants: Dmitri Kofanov, Kathryn Hendley
“Mobilizing Narratives and Their Role in the War Conflict in Donbas, 2014 – Onwards” by Natalia Savelyeva (WRP postdoctoral scholar)
Moderator: Paul Dower; Discussants: Grigory Grigorev, Yoshiko Herrera
The Wisconsin Russia Project is funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. Its goal is to promote social science research and graduate training on contemporary Russia by sponsoring post-doctoral and pre-doctoral fellowships, graduate research assistantships, and faculty and graduate student research collaborations and initiatives. The WRP community reflects a diverse set of disciplines, methodologies, and research topics. The Steering Committee looks forward to seeing the manuscripts discussed at the Virtual Workshop evolve into peer-reviewed publications in the future.