Online Only – Russian towns defy scholarly projections

By Noah Miller

University of British Columbia political science assistant professor Dr. Lisa McIntosh Sundstrum appeared on campus on Tuesday as a part of a political science speaker series.

McIntosh Sundstrum delivered a preliminary version of her research findings to 11 graduate students and faculty members on Western Aid and State-Society relations in Russia.

“This is the process of finding and solving a puzzle,” said McIntosh Sundstrum. “I am seeking alternative explanations to this puzzle during the process of conducting research.”

Her puzzle is the analysis of two Russian cities, Novgorod and Khabarovsk, and how their civil society’s trajectory seems to defy scholars’ and Western donors’ expectations.

Novgorod was once well known for its progressive regional government and active non-governmental organizations in the 1990s, while Khabarovsk was ruled by a governor with little tolerance for critical voices. By 2006, the NGO community in Novgorod was fragmented and dependent on regional government, but NGOs in Khabarovsk were more successful and autonomous.

“While none of these students here specifically researched Russia, this was constructive for the graduate students who are researching democracy and NGOs,” said U of C political science assistant professor Dr. Susan Franceschet.

McIntosh Sundstrum began her academic career at the University of Victoria, majoring in political science.

“I started my undergrad in the era of perestroika, so it was very easy to be interested in Russia and Russian politics,” she said.

Soon after, McIntosh Sundstrum immersed herself in the Russian language and after a study abroad program in Moscow everything Russian captivated her interest.

“UBC happened to be offering a job right as I finished grad school at Stanford,” said McIntosh Sundstrum.

She now researches Russian women’s and human rights organizations, democratization and foreign democracy assistance.

“I hope to gain understanding as Russia seems to be developing into an authoritarian nation, what society is going to look like,” she said.

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