Innovations in Youth Research

pp 210-228

Positionality and Difference in Cross-Cultural Youth Research: Being ‘Other’ in the Former Soviet Union

  • Charlie Walker


The Eastern European revolutions of 1989 and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 opened up new possibilities for comparative research in countries which had previously been all but closed off to Western academics. Youth research in particular has begun to flourish in the post-socialist period (Walker and Stephenson, 2010), as researchers have been able to conduct ethnographic and qualitative fieldwork with young people whose lives had previously been viewed from afar. As in Western youth research, the adoption of such methodologies has provided a more nuanced and sympathetic understanding of different aspects of young people’s lives — in particular youth cultural practice and transitions to adulthood — than that provided by the more mainstream, survey-based approaches, which continue to dominate in this part of the world. While being able to draw upon an existing set of methodological practices, however, ethnographic research with young people in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union poses a range of problems for the Western researcher, both in terms of the practical difficulties of navigating less familiar environments, institutions and languages, and in regard to the issues of power and positionality that invariably arise when researching ‘across difference’ (Heath et al., 2009). This chapter explores the ways in which such problems emerged in a series of case studies addressing the changing nature of transitions to adulthood among working-class youth in the former Soviet Union.