In past 20 years CESSI was involved in academic research on issues of fairness and justice in Russian society. The important part of this work, the recent project of 2019 “Public demand for fairness and its provision by the government” became the winner of joint RFBR and EISR competition for funding of best projects in political science (N 19-011-31443). The principal investigator of the project is V.G. Andreenkov, the idea and the design of the survey – V.L. Rimskiy, research materials were prepared with the participation of A.V. Andreenkova and A.V. Fedotov. Data was collected by CESSI in summer-fall 2019. The analytical report for the survey data was prepared by V.L. Rimskiy.
Although the category of fairness is broadly used in public discourse in contemporary Russia, including academic disputes, the public understanding of fairness and intergroup diversity in treating this concept is still an open question.
The survey of 2019 had several research tasks:
• To learn basic principles and reasons of making judgments about fairness or unfairness in relation to particular process, act or subject in modern society;
• To reveal the criteria of fairness used by different social groups and in different life occasions, likelihood and conditions of reaching consensus on criteria of fairness between different social groups;
• To study main and peripheral principles of fairness for different life situations and life domains;
• To investigate the reasons of ambivalence and inconsistency in evaluation and application of principles and criteria of fairness for different life situations, domains and actors;
• To designing the survey method for studying public perception and understanding of fairness.
The survey was conducted in several stages:
Stage 1. Secondary data analysis, bibliographical research.
Stage 2. Quantitative telephone surveys – collecting information about life situations facing fairness issues
Stage 3. Focus-groups with different population groups in 3 regions, testing “scenarios” - situations related to fairness and possible solutions.
Stage 4. In-depth interviews with 3 groups of respondents: а) general population, b) «activists» c) professionals and experts on fairness issues).
All stages of the survey were conducted in July-November 2019.
• The research results showed that “fairness” is perceived as a positive category in its ideal form as terminal value for developing of the society. It is given higher priority to many other value categories as freedom, wellbeing. In the same time people think about fairness only in negative context as the issue of unfairness in everyday context.
• In public mind the fairness is related to all aspects of life – from basic everyday issues, interpersonal relations to general societal and political aspects. Public perceptions on fairness can be categorized into several groups: a) fairness as a balance of ideal and real status; b) formal equality of people in front of the law, equality of rights; c) as realization of unconditional value of human life, basic human rights on comfort and stable life in society and in the country within established and known rules and norms; d) moral category as honesty, truthfulness and rightness and as moral behavior.
• Understanding the concept of fairness among people is not unified but is rather variable and multi-facet, though it does not build a barrier in making judgments about fairness or unfairness in particular life situations, does not prevent the opportunity to find consensus on fair solution. Different understanding of fairness is due to different intellectual, cultural and social experience of people, with those aspects of fairness which people were facing in their lives. The judgments about particular cases related to fairness are done based on values, moral norms and life views even if the understanding of fairness is not universal or equal.
• The key aspect of fairness issue is a high spread of life situations qualified as unfair by respondents, as well as a persistent opinion that anyway the solution of situation with unfairness is not realistic or possible, it also includes the disbelief in positive outcome and resolvability, and the lack of clear and known mechanisms and institutions for tracing fair solutions, recovering fairness. The lack or small number and ineffectiveness of institutions which could help people to solve issues related to unfairness and turn the issue into fair aid, “ready solutions” and standard practices lead to painful reaction of people to any issues related to unfairness, enhance the climate of social anger, uncertainty and aggression.
• The research shows that potential basis for common understanding of fairness and the criteria of fairness still can be found talking about particular cases and life situations. Criteria and principles of fairness used by people are not consistent or unified, but may be combined, substituted or interchanged for different life situations – interpersonal, social or political.
• Intensifying public discussions about reasons, criteria and mechanisms of establishing fairness seem to be an effective way to overcome public skepticism and the feeling of powerlessness, lack of human rights and low self-confidence which are highly spread in many social groups of Russian society today. Currently such attitudes are serious barriers for increasing civic and political participation of citizens, trust to judicial, law-enforcement and political institutions intended to enhance the stability of political system.
• The research uncovered new areas and issues where more empirical data and theoretical conclusions are required. The sources and formation mechanism of perceptions of people about fairness are still an open question. Another issue which requires further attention and study is the relations of attitudes toward fairness and behavior of people, readiness to participation in establishing fairness and mitigating unfairness.
Full report about the results of this survey in Russian can be found HERE