Metaknowledge Perspective on Russian Studies

What is Russian studies?

While we admit that the label “post-Soviet studies” represents more well-recognized communities compared with Russian studies, in this project, due to the limited scope of our expertise, we confine our attention to papers taking Russia as their main empirical or theoretical focus. We believe that, even with this limited scope, we obtained a dataset that produced significant results given that a focus on Russia has dominated published research dealing with post-Soviet area studies.

Studies of Russia and other post-Soviet countries have institutionalized communities of researchers, as evidenced by the existence of specialized departments, research centers, positions at universities, the holding of regular conferences, and the publication of specialized journals. However, many researchers who publish papers based on Russian materials frame the results as of interest to their discipline rather to area studies. Moreover, after the era of Sovietology and the period of transitology, authors with a focus on Russia have continued to gravitate to disciplinary identities rather than to area studies. Consequently, we designed a sophisticated search query to provide comprehensive coverage of Russian studies located not only in area studies journals but across various disciplinary outlets, encompassing both the social sciences and the humanities. This allows us to include papers written by authors whose research enrich our knowledge and understanding of Russia but who do not recognize themselves as “experts in Russia.”

Dataset overview

To create the main dataset, we employed diverse bibliometric methods for the identification of papers with a focus on Russia. The process of data collection included seeding a pilot dataset for keywords, selection of keywords, storing the primary dataset, selection of papers by experts and the scrubbing of affiliation information. The use of 1,300 keywords relevant to Russia resulted in 25,851 articles stored on the Web of Science database for the period 1990 – 2020.
The final publication dataset dealing with research on Russia includes quantitative data on:

the time trend of the publication output, overall and by specific research areas


the quantity and impact of academic publications by research area, authorship, institution, and country


the distribution of articles by the journals where publications were published and journals which cited the primary dataset


network data with the following nodes: scientific publications, scientific journals, researchers, organizations, countries, and keywords


the title, abstract and key words making it possible to analyze the evolution and relative importance of specific research questions

Global Ranking of Expertise in Russia

The one of important results of the project is the bibliometric-based ranking that focuses exclusively on the performance of organizations whose research enriches our knowledge of Russia. In other words, bibliometric data provides opportunities to rank organizations by to what degree the organization is a source of impactful knowledge about Russia. The Global Ranking of Expertise in Russia is a unique initiative given the lack of attempts to rank organizations in “distributed” areas that exist across disciplinary boundaries. We aim to offer this as a service to anyone with an interest in identifying organizations which provide evidence-based research on Russia, including researchers, policy makers, administrators, and journalists.

In methodology, we closely follow the approach of the Leiden Ranking, which is the most prominent global university ranking based exclusively on bibliometric data. The Leiden Ranking overcomes several methodological problems in other global rankings (such as the ARWU or THE rankings) including relying on data supplied by the universities themselves and combining global performance in a single aggregate indicator. The Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) proposed a solution to these methodological problems involving restricting a ranking to a single dimension of scientific performance based on bibliometric data from the Web of Science database. The other important advantage associated with the Leiden Ranking’s methodology is transparency in how the ranking is produced — the methodology is explained in sufficient detail that allows us to follow the best guidelines in the bibliometric community.

We relied on the principles developed by CWTS that were created to guide the responsible production and use of university rankings. For example, it is important to provide the possibility to select the type of bibliometric indicators used, which makes the results of the ranking more transparent, rather than relying on a single aggregated indicator. We also provide analysis of scientific performance by size-independent and size-dependent indicators (from absolute or relative perspectives — for example, we give both the number of publications and the share of publications in the overall output).

Reflection on Russian studies

Since the era of Sovietology, the conditions for producing knowledge in area studies have been the focus of deep reflection, which has resulted in several views of the development of the field. One question is whether studies of Russia and other post-Soviet countries face a decrease in interest or if, rather, area studies is thriving. Big-picture analysis of the quantity and impact of academic publications by research area and time period will provide evidence on which view is more accurate.

Another prevalent view suggests that decreased distance between Russian researchers and the academic communities of Western countries (this is more relevant for the 1990s and early 2000s) has affected the study of Russia in the West and also the study of Russia in Russia. The popular narrative considers Russian researchers as a useful resource due to their access to local data and cultural identity while international researchers receive more symbolical recognition as they develop and present hegemonic intellectual narratives based on the knowledge of locals. The empirical data provides answers to the following questions: Is it true that the dominance of Western European and North American academic institutions persists in knowledge production about Russia or has this imprint of center-periphery relations been overcome? What is the role of local expertise, expressed through an institutional or linguistic connection with Russia?

The third observation is related to the status of Russian studies compared to traditional disciplines. A common perception is that area studies focuses on geographical objects and while area studies researchers apply theories from other disciplines to study geographical objects, they rarely contribute to those disciplines in return. Bibliometric data allows us to study in detail the relationships of import and export between Russian studies and traditional disciplines. Has Russian studies increasingly differentiated itself from other fields? What are the patterns of “localization” and “delocalization” in the strategic positioning of papers published in different types of journals? Do papers have different patterns in the naming of articles and the positioning of empirical materials in abstracts? These and other research questions are the subject of our interest.