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Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research

Laboratorium is an open-access peer-reviewed journal produced by an international group of scholars. The bilingual journal, which comes out three times a year, publishes materials based on empirical social research in Russian and English languages.

Between 2009 and 2013, the journal was published with the financial support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The journal is now supported by the Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR).

Current Issue

Researching Complaints: Traditions and Perspectives

Elena A. Bogdanova

In this issue, we publish several papers presented at the international conference “Complaints: Cultures of Grievance in Eastern Europe and Eurasia” that took place on March 8–9, 2013, at Princeton University. Organized by the Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in collaboration with the Program in Law and Public Affairs, this conference aimed to examine the concept of the so-called people’s law from an interdisciplinary perspective. The idea was to separate grievances from a variety of other letters to the authorities and to consider them as a specific genre.


Autobiography as Complaint: Polish Social Memoir between the World Wars

Katherine Lebow

This article considers life-writing as a form of grievance and complaint. In particular, it examines interwar Poland’s answer to the cahiers de doléances: “social memoir” (pamiętnikarstwo społeczne), or autobiographical writings by youth, workers, peasants, immigrants, the unemployed, and others, gathered by sociologists in memoir-writing competitions. Like the cahiers de doléances in prerevolutionary France, social memoir accompanied broader discourses of crisis and reform in the Second Polish Republic. The article explores how complaint was framed and conceived as a meaningful speech act by both sociologists and memoirists, arguing that memoirists turned grievances drawn from everyday experience into demands rooted in a moral understanding of social justice.


Strategies of Complaint: Interest Organizations of GDR Staatssicherheit Coworkers after German Reunification

Amieke Bouma

This article looks at the strategies of former GDR state, security service, and army personnel interest groups unified in the East German Board of Associations (OKV). The largest of these, the Joint Initiative for the Protection of the Social Rights of Former Members of Armed Bodies and the Customs Administration of the GDR (ISOR), aims to achieve the full restoration of the original pension rights of these groups—and especially of former Stasi members. Since its establishment in 1991, ISOR has chosen legal complaints as its main form of action. This strategy is accompanied by petitioning and sending letters to politicians.

Religious Justifications of Complaints Addressed to the President in Contemporary Russia

Elena A. Bogdanova

This article analyzes religious justifications used by contemporary Russian citizens in filing complaints addressed to the president of the Russian Federation. The concept of critical capacity postulated by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot is applied as a frame of analysis. This research permits identification of a connection between the transformation of political (presidential) discourse, which took place in 2000s, and attempts of citizens to justify their claims for justice based on Orthodox foundations.

Give Me the Book of Complaints”: Complaint in Post-Stalin Comedy

Milla Fedorova

This essay investigates how the means of complaint and the figure of the complainer changed in Soviet comedy films from the Stalin era to the 1960s–1970s. It focuses on the ambiguous nature of complaint during the Thaw and the subsequent Stagnation, periods of radical social change—namely, differentiation between complaint as an instrument of expressing grievance and denunciation as a means to harm an undesirable person. The essay discusses how the motif of complaint correlates with the function of the satirical genre—to expose social and political shortcomings.

The Culture of Complaint: Approaches to Complaining in Russia—An Overview

Marianna Muravyeva

This article offers an overview of the literature and methodological attitudes to the “culture of complaint.” Complaining is a popular form of communication in present-day Russian society. It has received the attention of scholars of the Soviet period in Russian history as a specific mass form of popular political participation and relationship with the authorities. However, the reasons for and origins of mass complaining need further research. This article offers an analysis of possible developments in such research with specific focus on gender, emotional regimes of complaint, and the comparative analysis of cultures of complaint.


Protecting Rights in Strasbourg: Developing a Research Agenda for Analyzing International Litigation from Russia

Freek van der Vet

The Russian Federation has the most cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Recent studies on the rule of law in Russia indicate that Russians are vigorously litigating before domestic courts and national human rights institutions, despite low levels of trust in the judicial system. Yet, is claim making inside the country the cause of the burgeoning caseload pending before the Court? This review essay evaluates the different types of judgments and claims coming from Russia and maps out recent literature on the various types of litigation with the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, it puts forward a research agenda for studying the actors behind litigation and the types of cases they bring to the Court. Furthermore, the essay proposes how we might analyze some of these complaints before the ECtHR from a sociolegal perspective.