48% of techno-optimists discovered in Russian society

In 2016 the Russian Venture Сompany, together with the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. conducted a research project on the behavioral and institutional foundations of innovations in Russia. The analysis was based on a number of international surveys which allowed the comparison of data from Russia with secondary data sources from other European countries. Furthermore, primary data, both qualitative and quantitative (a survey of 6000 individuals from 10 regions of the Russian Federation), was collected regarding the attitudes of Russian citizens towards technologies, their individual economic practices, and their levels of institutional trust. Here are some results of this project.

Victor Vakhshtayn

PhD in Sociology, ISS professor, Head of the RANEPA Department of Theoretical Sociology and Epistemology, Head of the SPP Center for Sociological Research, Honorary fellow University of Manchester

Pavel Stepantsov

MA (Master of Arts) in Sociology, Senior Research Fellow at the SPP Center for Sociological Research

Aleksey Gusev

Director for Innovative Ecosystem Development of Russian Venture Company, MSc in Comprehensive Social Analysis

Abstract I

The data analysis yielded two dimensions of the economic strategies of Russia’s population.

The first one is level of activity: strategies of searching for supplementary income for sustaining or improving the living standards the respondents were accustomed to. An active strategy presupposes a significant increase of the working hours, an expansion of the network of everyday contacts, and a change in the ‘horizon of planning’ as well as taking up additional work-related responsibilities. Conversely, a passive strategy is linked to a decrease in spending and a refusal to expand one’s economic mobility.

The second level is performativity: the willingness of the population to ‘play with the rules themselves’ and to ‘play around the rules’. A performative strategy is typical for entrepreneurs: opening a new business venture, finding unexplored niches in the market and new technological solutions. Due to the institutional context in contemporary Russia, this strategy may also be accompanied by detrimental phenomena such as partial transitions into economic ‘grey zones’, tax evasion and informal dealings.”

Abstract II

A cluster analysis of the economic activity of citizens of the Russian Federation yielded three distinct population groups, termed Homo Economicus, Homo Institutius and Homo Iners respectively. These groups are distinguished by their levels of economic activity and their willingness to employ innovative (i.e. performative) strategies in their everyday conduct.

Homo Iners (49%) do not employ innovative strategies in the economic sphere. Representatives of this subgroup rarely put forward ideas for improving the work effectiveness of their organization. Furthermore, they do not engage in entrepreneurial activity and have no plans to do so in the future.

Homo Institutius (32%) employs ‘active’ strategies of economic conduct within existing social institutions. That is, representatives of this subgroup play by the established rules. They suggest ways of optimizing the work within their organization; oftentimes, these suggestions are implemented. However, people belonging to this subgroup rarely have any plans to become entrepreneurs in the future.

Homo Economicus (19%) actively implements innovative strategies of the performative type. That is, this group is willing to modify existing rules. They either engage in entrepreneurial activity or plan to do so in the near future.

At the same time, the Homo Economicus group displays the highest level of distrust in institutions. For this reason, they are more often willing to circumvent formal ‘rules of the game’, engaging in informal relations (e.g. corrupt deals) and justifying their own tax evasion, bribery etc.

Abstract III

There is a correlation between technological and economic innovativeness. People who are more positively disposed towards scientific and technological progress, and who are more readily willing to use innovative technological products in their everyday life (i.e. techno-optimists), employ innovative economic strategies with a greater frequency. There is a 9% overlap between the ‘techno-optimist’ group and Homo Economicus, forming a group that we tentatively describe as ‘potential technological entrepreneurs’ (the ‘potential’ modifier denoting social attitudes and not a lack of competencies).

In this section of Russian society, there is a ‘culture of wealth’, as opposed to a ‘culture of earnings’: people from this group prefer a large level of income over guarantees to maintain a stable level of earnings in the future. Furthermore, this group displays a significantly higher level of social capital, allowing its members to achieve their individual objectives through the circumvention of formal institutions. This, in many ways, explains why this group also displays the lowest level of institutional trust across all population groups of the Russian Federation. A high level of economic capital decreases the necessity to employ formal institutions for the achievement of one’s economic goals. Figuratively speaking, members of this group prefer to ‘come to an agreement’ using ‘connections’ rather than ‘playing by the rules’.


Abstract IV

The findings show that in Russia attitudes towards science and technologies are considerably more positive and optimistic compared to the European Union in general. For instance, the proportion of Russians who think that “With the help of science and technology, humanity will be able to unlock all of nature’s secrets in the future” and that “scientific and technological advances can solve all problems” is twice as high compared to citizens of the European Union (50% in Russia compared to 27% in the EU).

Abstract V

It is worth noting that the distribution of techno-optimist attitudes is heterogeneous throughout Europe. People living in Eastern Europe are more positively inclined towards technologies compared to people living in Western Europe. The data shows that attitudes of techno-optimism are more prevalent in countries where people rarely encounter innovative technologies in everyday life. Examples include Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Lithuania. Conversely, countries where innovative technologies are more widespread and, consequently, more frequently encountered in everyday practice, display a markedly lower faith in the transformative potential of scientific and technological progress.

Abstract VI

The research yielded three hypotheses that could explain this paradox:

Hypothesis 1: The prevalence of positive attitudes towards technologies among Russian citizens, as well as people living in Eastern Europe, can be explained through ‘techno-paternalism’: confidence in technological progress replaces confidence in one’s own abilities, whilst at the same time not being connected to any actual readiness to employ these technical innovations in everyday life. From this point of view, technological progress in these countries is seen by the population as a substitution to social and institutional progress. This explanation could be interrelated with the peculiarities of recent political history in Eastern Europe and the former USSR.

Hypothesis 2: The influence of Soviet-era technocentric education. This hypothesis was invented specifically for Russia, however, to a lesser degree it could be relevant the countries that were under Soviet ideological influence. The belief of Russian citizens, along with the older generation of people living in Eastern Europe, in scientific and technological progress have become a force of habit. Positive attitudes towards technologies are an ‘artifact’ of a positivistic educational system created in the times of the Soviet Union.

Hypothesis 3: ‘Declarative techno-optimism’: compared to citizens of Western Europe, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks and Lithuanians rarely encounter the actual implementation of technologies in their everyday life. Thus, their belief in the transformative potential of science and technology is of a speculative, theoretical nature unsupported by real practices.

Abstract VII

Additionally, through a cluster analysis, the investigation revealed three distinct population groups based on their attitudes towards science and technologies in Russia:

  1. Techno-optimists (48%) believe in the potential of scientific and technological advances. They believe that science and technologies can resolve the social and economic challenges of society.

  2. Technophobes (24%) believe that technological and scientific advances pose a threat to humanity in the long term.

  3. Technosceptics (28%) do not believe that these advances can solve people’s problems. They do not believe that technological innovations have any effect on their everyday life and deny that science and technology is capable of generating any fundamentally new knowledge.


Among the techno-optimists the level of trust in governmental institutions is almost two times lower than among the technophobes. In other words, the former perceive technologies as potential substitutes for what is – in their opinion – an ineffective institutional order. Most Russians with positive attitudes towards technologies, have a correlating negative attitude relating to social and political systems.

Despite the widespread belief in the opportunities granted by technological and scientific advances (i.e. techo-optimism), most citizens of the Russian Federation are not willing to embrace concrete innovations in their everyday life. For instance, only 36% of Russians are open to the idea of driverless cars, compared to 51% of citizens of the European Union. Thus, Russian techno-optimism is frequently of a declarative nature: the larger part of the population supports scientific and technological progress in theory but not in practice.

Abstract VIII

This fact permits the following inference: the population group of ‘techno-optimists’ is not homogenous. The data shows that it can be subdivided into the following groups:

— The techno-optimist ‘core’: the people who believe in the opportunities afforded by innovation per se. They are positively disposed towards the development of science and technologies and the deployment of new technologies in everyday life.

— The techno-optimist periphery: the part of the population whose techno-optimism is largely declarative. This group has contradictory attitudes. Based on their survey responses, they drift towards either the techno-sceptics, claiming – despite their generally positive attitude towards technologies – that science and technology change peoples’ lives at an overly rapid pace, or towards the technophobes, claiming that the advances of science and technologies can be dangerous in the long term.

The techno-optimist periphery is well-disposed towards technologies because they believe that institutions are less effective than innovative technologies. Their techno-optimism is, in a way, substitutive: technology, according to the respondents, may be able to replace ineffective institutions in the future. So far, we see that institutional trust and attitudes towards science and technologies are tightly connected. The core of report and following paper will investigate interrelations between “techno-optimism”, institutional trust and other crucial factors that influence the social perception of science and technologies.


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