Transformation of Professional Practices of Identity among Journalists in Russia and Sweden: A Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt

This paper will examine differences in the mentality and behaviour of the representatives of one profession, but from two different cultures--Swedish and Russian. Our task here is not only to reveal and to describe differences, but also to explain the reasons for these features, having shown their social determinants. Further, we wish to note some practices that allow professionals to understand each other in behavioural, rather than merely verbal, terms. These are practices of professional identity. Practices of identity are the typical actions of social agents, defining them as representatives of a certain group; while professional identity, in this case of journalists, refers to behaviour typical of journalists according to internalised rules. Is such a (nonverbal) dialogue possible?

Both an understanding of motives and the transparency of actions contribute, in our view, to rapprochement and mutual tolerance. Research into such motives promotes to some degree the rapprochement of civilised countries and the integration of the European community.

In general, Swedes and Russians like each other, despite skirmishes in their common history. Russians are fond of the so-called "Nordic character" (such as, for instance, Stirlitz, the main hero of a favourite Soviet-era serial about the Second World War, 17 Instants of Spring [17 mgnovennii vecny, based on Iulian Semyenov's 1968 novel], who is still very well known--and this is convincing evidence). Moreover, the Russians are pleased to regard the Vikings as the ancestors of Russia (at least according to one version of history). Some Russian people say of the Swedes: how, other than positively, can you relate to your own roots?

Swedes, too, clearly find a lot of common ground with Russians in behaviour and tastes at a domestic level (for example, the mass consumption of herring, potatoes and pork). However, Russian journalists do not like Swedish journalism, nor do the Swedes like Russian journalism. How is this possible? There appears to be a contradiction here. Journalism, according to the most widespread metaphor, is "a mirror of a society." Moreover, many modern media studies researchers (and we too) consider that journalism constructs a society. (1) What, in particular, does not correspond between the two groups? What do they say about each other?

This paper is based on my thesis research (available in Russian at http://www.shortway.to/annas/), where 47 interviews with Russian journalists and 19 interviews with Swedish journalists are analysed.

In this work, the methods of qualitative sociology, as described by Heinz Abels, (2) were used. These qualitative sociological methods allow the formulation of generalisations and extrapolations. Our Russian respondents (of whom there were 40 in all, 17 from the Soviet period) mark three variants of practices characteristic of Russian journalism: in Moscow, in other big centres, and in the provinces. However, beyond these distinctions it is easy to perceive practices common to all Russians. Our task was to find general, common practices of Russian journalists: instead of the differences, therefore, we concentrated on the similarities.

The interviewees were selected by a method of "snowballing." In other words, we interviewed one after another; when the social characteristics of interviewees were repeated several times and the professional biographies became increasingly similar, we stopped interviewing within this group of journalists. This was the procedure with the Russians. With the Swedes the procedure was approximately the same; here, however, the biographies did not differ so strongly through time from beginning to end, reflecting the quieter social-political context in the country compared to Russia. As a result, the interviews with the Swedes are only about half as numerous. Many Russian interviews were required to understand the transformation of Russia. …