Moving Russia(ns): Intergenerational Transmission of Memories Abroad and at Home (MoveMeRU)

Moving Russia(ns): Intergenerational Transmission of Memories Abroad and at Home (MoveMeRU)

Russian migrants in Berlin commemorating the end of the Second World War. IMAGO / Olaf Wagner

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement number 101042339. Project start is 1 September 2022.

Project description

Children of migrants are exposed to two national histories: those told in their country of residence and those relating to their family’s homeland. However, it is unclear how the intergenerational transmission of historical views shapes the relationships migrants cultivate with ‘here’ and ‘there’.

Applying theories of intergenerational transmission and second-generation transnationalism, MoveMeRU addresses this urgent gap and compares the historical memories of migrants and non-migrants across two generations. It studies Russian migrant populations in favourable, hostile, and neutral reception contexts, looking at Germany, Estonia, and Canada, respectively. Like many other autocracies, Russia uses historical memories to appeal to the emotions of citizens at home and abroad and strengthen their sense of belonging to Russia.

MoveMeRU brings together several research approaches:

  1. parent-child opinion surveys on views of history among migrant communities and non-migrant nationals in the three destination countries and Russia;
  2. cross-generational focus groups in the same countries; and
  3. analysis of historical narratives in the media targeting Russian speakers abroad.

The project will refine our understanding of differences and similarities in the intergenerational transmission of memories in migrant and non-migrant families, offering important insights into the drivers of and obstacles to integration. The results will have major implications for political decision-making in destination countries and for public awareness of intergenerational shifts within migrant communities.

Key questions

  • To what extent do young adults in migrant and non-migrant families identify with their parents’ countries of origin and their historical setting?
  • Under what conditions do the historical memories and political attitudes of young adults in migrant and non-migrant families converge with, or diverge from, those of their parents?
  • What kinds of historical memories are conducive to solidarity and pluralist political attitudes or, conversely, to indifference and intolerance?

Work package 1: intergenerational surveys

The defining impact of the family on the ways individuals think about history and become politically involved is well established in the literature. Building on this research, this project emphasises the family as a unit of analysis for understanding historical memories as a foundation for a sense of belonging and political views. Together with one postdoctoral researcher, the principal investigator (PI) will design and coordinate four original online surveys with parent-child dyads about their views on history, political attitudes, and social values.

The surveys will explore questions about the meaning respondents attribute to historical events in an intergenerational comparative research project. The survey questions will illustrate, for instance, what respondents make of controversial historical figures like Joseph Stalin or Felix Dzerzhinsky and historical events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union or World War II. The surveys will also gauge respondents’ historical knowledge through a quiz and their political and social values – attitudes to democracy, gender, ethnicity, multiculturalism, liberalism, patriotism, and so on – with the aim to relate the views on history with political attitudes vis-à-vis the community and outsiders.

Analysis of survey data reveals how specific individual variables interact. However, when researching historical attitudes and political values, one must consider the social effects that relate to the communities and countries in which young adults grew up. MoveMeRU therefore integrates qualitative data to identify the social dynamics surrounding the views on history and develops a genuinely mixed-methods approach to the topic.

Work package 2: intergenerational focus groups

The PI and one postdoctoral researcher will design and coordinate focus groups in Germany, Estonia, Canada, and Russia. Qualitative research is crucial for understanding the deeper dynamics in the process of intergenerational value transmission. Focus groups uniquely capture the social embedding of values and can be triangulated to gain a deeper understanding of survey data, even though they do not aim at generalisation. The groups will be assembled according to a theoretically informed and symmetrical research design, including three stages of discussions, each with a different generational make-up.

Work package 3: media analysis

Like several other autocracies with sizeable numbers of nationals living abroad, Russia tries to influence the historical worldview of Russian speakers in other countries through transnational media outlets. Such media include not only prominent channels like Sputnik or RT but also a myriad of social media pages and organisations such as the Strategic Culture Foundation or platforms like New Eastern Outlook and the Canadian Global Reach.

Analysis of the media environment to which Russians abroad are exposed can make a major contribution to understanding the logics of transnational media spheres, their audiences, and their actors. The media that migrant communities consume are key to understanding the origins of those communities’ views on history. MoveMeRU will undertake case studies of the Russian media encountered in Germany as a major target of Russian disinformation.

Head of Project