Foundational Plot of Russian Culture as a Context for Administrative Decision-Making

Ludmila Logunova

Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Public Administration, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia.

Address: 27/4 Lomonosovsky Ave, Moscow, 119992, Russia.

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Abstract: The article views the foundational plot of Russian culture as the core of a thematic space in which social projects are developed and carried out and administrative decisions are made. Culture is seen as a symbolic form of life, as communal production of meaning. This production is achieved through translating the foundational myth into the language of modernity. The foundational myth itself is considered as a culture’s genome, ensuring its survival and replication. The author examines the concepts through which the cultural chronotop is formed, the basic cultural plot is recreated and played out, value choices are made, and in which the cultural hero acts. It is shown that the efficiency of the administrative technologies is directly related to the semiotics of culture. The author’s methodology is a transdisciplinary one, uniting the principles of natural, social sciences, and humanities.

Key words: transdisciplinarian methodology, semiotics of culture, foundational myth, cultural chronotop, Russia, will to meaning, foundational plot, cultural code.

Received at January 09, 2019.

How to cite: Logunova, Ludmila (2019). Foundational Plot of Russian Culture as a Context for Administrative Decision-Making. Researcher. European Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences. 2 (2), 47–56.


Copyright © 2019 Authors retain the copyright of this article. This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The modern society faces a new global challenge and exists in a state of revising the existing response methodology, of a constant search for new governance strategies. A crisis becomes the structural foundation of social life, defines it, and changes the traditional semantic orientation. Science and technology as a response to historical challenges do not provide an adequate response to the modern crisis, on the contrary, in many ways they are its source and its driving force. This situation is reflected in a special way in social sciences and administrative practice. The science-based administrative technologies imported to Russia create an illusion of a justification for governance models. In Russian conditions, though, they are either ineffective, or lead to unpredictable results which only deepen the existing crisis. In these circumstances expert evaluation of various administrative technologies becomes not just a theoretical problem, but a practical necessity. One of the key traits, and key advantages, of the modern society is its dynamic nature, its drive towards innovation and the speed of changes happening within it.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the new social reality cannot be governed using the old methods, which are turning into factors of disruption for ideas of proper governance, its resources and methods, the personal traits of government agents. In the age of technological paradigm shift caused by the fourth technological revolution, the society, its institutions and managers have to be ready for change: “The fundamental and global nature of this revolution means it will become an integral part of society for all countries, economic systems, industries and people” (Schwab 2016, p. 9).

In these circumstances the efficiency of the modern administration on every level of government is determined largely by the possibility of developing new administrative technologies based on the new science of administration, taking into account both positive and negative administrative experience, as well as the important tasks of modern administration (Logunova 2018).

The new administrative science is a form of project knowledge, based on trans-disciplinary synthesis, which changes the status of science, its cognitive and socio-cultural aspirations. The modernization of production, financial, economic, social and administrative practices requires deep understanding of the foundations of modernization and a steady, responsible application of the scientific knowledge.

The new circumstances demand a reorganization of Russian state, one with a solid theoretical foundation, using the full scale of current scientific achievements and methodologies. But, the famous lines of Tutchev “Who would grasp Russia with the mind? <...> By faith alone appreciated” had become not just a popular slogan but a decisive argument in discussion of both the country’s past and its future. Russia is thus transferred from the realm of a rational study and analysis to the ideological space, and “appreciating Russia by faith alone” becomes a multiple-meaning epistemological construct of an impressive emotional energy, the alpha and omega of any discussion.

But today the need to understand Russia rationally becomes more and more urgent for the theoretical thinkers and especially for practitioners of administration in various areas of public life and on various levels. The problem is equally important for individual and public consciousness in terms of identity. Understanding Russia rationally becomes all the more important within the context of a growing divide between ideas of globalism and objective demands of preserving ethnic identity and national sovereignty. The global projects of “Westernising” provoke resistance and explosion of national consciousness and growing interest in national roots, the sources of national identity. Culturally this resistance manifests as a confrontation between ethnicity and mass society standards, politically ― as separatism.

In modern Russia these processes are especially visible due to both its ethnic and religious variety and the extremely ideological perception of history, which has always served as a source of justification for each new political direction. Such justifications, however, should be based on a foundation of solid research, on a trans-disciplinary synthesis, uniting the modern scientific disciplines and overcoming the divide between natural and social sciences, between science and philosophy. Such an approach could resolve the conflict between science and ideology, provide a scientific explanation for basic cultural myths, the national character, the psychohistory of Russia, its potential and possibilities.

Basic Concepts of Russian Culture

History, politics and ideology are impossible to understand without addressing the fundamental symbols and myths, the cultural practices and the collective behavior stereotypes which manifest themselves in ethno-political history of Russia. Without taking those into account any theoretically attractive reform projects are doomed to failure. Russia is a supercomplex object of study, and analyzing it requires an appropriate methodology. A transdisciplinary approach can be useful for that purpose. Transdisciplinary methodology is understood here as a constructive interdisciplinary research project aimed at controlling and directing supercomplex systems. Russia is exactly such a system.

Philosophy can be the unifying foundation of such a research project, providing a core hypothesis, a speculative and reflexive model of Russian culture allowing examining the meaning of specific historical phenomena and cultural artifacts.

Understanding culture as a symbolic form of life, basic myths as its genome and its survival as a standard for cultural evolution can serve as such a core hypothesis. But that requires taking a decisive step towards scientific interpretation of everyday experience, towards a systemic approach to cultural artifacts in view of the core hypothesis, towards clarifying the meaning of cultural phenomena which will lead to understanding Russia rationally.

Cultural studies often leave the psychological component of society, its soul, the sphere of meaning, out of area of examination. Understanding culture requires deciphering cultural codes and exploring the deep, archetypal structures of a cultural organism which define the meaning of cultural forms and the behavioral patterns of its actors. Cultural studies thus become a form of hermeneutics of meaning, and culture is regarded as a higher, symbolic form of life, as a communal production of meaning. Any cultural construct contains such meanings, overtly or discreetly, translating cultural archetypes into contemporary languages. Psychoanalyzing a culture reveals basic proto-meanings of culture behind modern cultural artifacts.

The importance of cultural artifacts in everyday life is hard to overestimate. They supply the key requirement of a person within a culture, the requirement for values and cultural identity. Searching for meaning is a cultural instinct and an instinctive response to cultural crises. The energy, the “will to power” transforms on cultural level into a “will to meaning”. The specifics of culture as a symbolic lifeform is defined through the “will to meaning”, the difference between cultures ― through its relative strength. In the space of cultural sense the energy of the culture’s response to historical challenges is accumulated. The direct consequence of loss of “will to meaning” is degradation of culture, collapse of social connections, inability to create a mobilizing social project, inefficiency of even the most well-founded theoretically administrative decisions and practices.

The meanings of an era accumulate and direct society’s energy uniting individuals in a social project. Cultural meanings are not defined in a clear-cut fashion, they underline the whole symbolic system of a culture and motivate individual choice, and so communal goals are perceived as individual ones. The essence of all value revolutions is criticizing the old social projects and proposing new ones, as well as new strategies and new identities.

To understand the nature of a crisis in any area of social life and to provide adequate administrative response, it is, therefore, necessary to look into the archetypical level of culture which sets the basic model of cultural identity, defines historical meanings and behavioral motivations.

Cultural archetypes contain the essence of experience of birth and development of a specific culture, its unique, primal sociality, the experience of overcoming the animalistic unity with nature; they set the foundations of modes of cultural production. Primal sociality and foundational cultural meanings determine the plotlines of cultural life. A perfect, clear plot is never played out fully in an individual cultural work, act or a historic event. But it does set the meaning of such events, the relations of phenomena, the causes and the resolutions of basic conflicts.

Through the basic conflict the key cultural plot is transferred to the mythological level, revealing importance of the anthropic factor in history, and history reveals its psychological side. Pre-notional and non-rational “sphere of meaning” within a culture, containing the base elements and primary symbols, is created and functions before the subject-object divide and represents a specific kind of reality, the subconscious in culture, manifesting in every aspect of human activity in the shape of signs and symbols.

Deep archaic levels of collective psyche define the worldview and identity. In the semiotic sphere of culture the chronotop, the cultural space-time shows itself — a unique space, in which culture exists and which it cannot escape. Primal meanings of any culture are the ideas of space, time and man. They determine the “roadmap” of a culture, its “idea”, destiny, its cultural hero, its way of life, the established pathways within the chronotop. Thought forms, mythologems of collective perceptions become a cultural “program” of social and individual life. An individual accepts the meanings of culture as self-evident reality. It is impossible to avoid a mythologem, it is the culture’s genome, its style. The actual content of the subconscious layer of culture can be traced in objectifications, behavior models and functions of cultural forms which form the cultural code allowing the deciphering of primal meanings. The myth allows reality to be understood in its fullness and diversity.

A myth is a living and acting reality given a certain living name. Within it and for it there always exists a correlation with self and with everything else <...> the myth is the most real and full understanding of reality (Losev 1999, р. 176).

A Cultural Archetype as a Foundation of Identity

The core of a person’s meaning-of-life orientation is identity, through which self-preservation is achieved, both for a person “in general” and in a specific capacity ― as a scientist, as a philosopher, a Christian, a Russian, etc. The formula of identity “if you want to be yourself, you have to act in a specific way” presents a categorical imperative of life ― preserve yourself. Basic cultural identity is established through the oppositions of “me — other”, “us — them”, which determines how an individual establishes themselves within a particular group and is recognized and accepted by it. “Self” is a method of self-preservation, protection, care, a safe space. “Other” is a counter-action imperative, resistance to an adversary aggressively invading “our” territory. The archaic identity is based on the opposition to “other”. “Other” is a “bundle” of negative, forbidden choices and interferences (Yakimets 2003, рp. 30–31).

The basic proto-symbol of a culture fixates the experience of a group’s primal sociality, of “being together” and “co-being”. The purpose of culture is to define the concepts of “Me”, “Us” and “Them” (Yakimovich 2003, p. 52). The strongest vital link between individuals, that of mother and child, is symbolized in culture by behavioral patterns of “family”, “home” and “kinship”. This basic communication sets the community’s structure, the specifics of social roles, their distribution, execution and control. “Home” becomes the symbol of cooperation, providing the individual with psychological comfort and the need for it. A discourse, through which the strategic purpose of culture— producing life— is achieved, is constructed. “Home” attains a sacred and sacralizing meaning, separating “us” from “them” and becomes the structural principle of the cultural chronotop. Family and kin deities separate and protect it from outside invasion. A family with its way of life and hierarchy sets the Space of culture: the environment, reality, nature and world shape a specific type of individual — and individual-collective subject. The conditions of “Home” being created define the specifics of the proto-symbol, the myth and they can be seen in all the later cultural life, shaping the basic plot of the culture, its ways of establishing an identity.

The specifics of Russian identity are determined by a traumatic infantile myth, a transitional situation of losing one’s own basic cultural myth, a divide between an individual and life. Forced Christianization, experienced as a psychological trauma, reveals the nature of the crisis of infantile identity. The formula for Russian cultural myth is “God is dead, and They killed him”. The enemy is defined, but there is no “us”, “we” are dead, and the other is ours now.  Otherness directs later cultural orientation, creating a conscious drive towards European. Two myths are in action, two value identities, and two cultures: the old one (ours) = bad and the new one (theirs) = good. The new culture establishes itself by a knowing defamation of the old one. Neither of the two is a “safe zone”. There are no unquestionable “us”, everybody is (potentially) “them”. This infantile traumatic experience significantly affects the perception of historical origins, of motherland, of life itself (Logunova 2005, р. 118). The transitional situation of death of family gods creates a new psyche-rational Space, its topology defining the individual life, the individual motivations and meanings.

All the non-problematic self-evident meanings of everyday life become problematic, the consciousness and the practice both change accordingly, and symbolic programs of everyday life crumble (Kirilenko 2018). The loss of values is experienced on individual level as a loss of reality, a psychological trauma leading to a collapse of values in society. Cultural symbols become ambivalent; the divide goes through the whole cultural system changing its very nature. An artificial cultural complex is formed and a specific cultural discourse merges — the cultural bilingualism. Self and other are no longer distinguished, the relativisation of values corrupts the self-preservation instinct, the cultural archetypes of family and home is lost, as well as the natural feeling of kinship, the identity through belonging. “Homelessness” becomes the structural principle of Russian cultural space, setting the behavioral pattern of escape, of searching for safety. The basic primal sociality, the point of reference and the agent of socialization is now a peer group, a purely mechanical unity lacking structure with an ambivalent stratification. In this situation acquiring and performing a social role is largely determined by accidental circumstances and force. Losing the organic protection of “home” leads to freedom, independence, loneliness and the emergence of different safety mechanisms (Logunova 2006, р. 10).

Identity based on the relativisation of values creates the situation of a-normality, anomity. There are legitimate sets of meanings which are expressed “freely”, unpredictably and are justified by “greater ideas”. Values and social connections fluctuate and become contradictory leading to various forms of deviant behavior, aggravating the collective consciousness crisis. Anomy reveals the crisis of identity, social institutions and cultural inheritance.

The Basic Plot of Russian Culture

Thematic threads of the basic plot of Russian culture, the thematic arrangement оf the “stray complex” are especially obvious in Russian literature and philosophy of the XIX–XX centuries, in artistic biographies of Russian writers and philosophers. The lives of many of them are variations on the basic cultural plot, of the fate of Russia itself. Their core concept is freedom, understood as an escape from the world, a rebellion. Their lives and their writings express the soul of Russia, its cultural hero and their philosophy reveals the Russian logos, the cultural project, drastically different from the Western one.

“Russia is a country of grassroots freedom, unknown to the developed peoples of the West, constrained by bourgeois norms” (Berdyaev 1992, p. 309). The Russian cultural hero is a wanderer. It is an image with a clear existential connotation. The Wanderer has no need for order, order is seen as a barrier for freedom, as a threat to identity. The need for freedom is the motivation for escape as an individual survival practice. Even those who have never left their place of birth are wanderers. Russians are sedentary people with a nomadic mentality. Accordingly, goal-oriented administrative technologies aimed to establish and expand order are perceived as a threat to survival, as another loss of identity.


Wanderers create a specific culture, a culture of the road, escape, defining the creation of meaning and its application in an appropriate way ― in a utopia. S. L. Frank called utopianism, dreaminess and constructing the future the mental sickness of the Russian intellectuals.

Current situation is alike to the one a hundred years ago, to the worldview crisis of the early XX century, which was experienced as a fall of many idols of Russian intellectual space.

In all the social and human life surrounding us, we can no longer find point of argument, nor solid ground on which we can reliably stand. We are hanging in the air in some fog which we do not understand, we can no longer distinguish the insubstantial waves threatening to drown us from the shore where we could possibly find shelter. We are forced to look for courage and faith only within ourselves (Frank 1924, p. 51).

It seems that this might be the cause of failure of projects of westernization. They were caused by a clash of two cultures ― the “culture of home” (strength, order) and the “culture of the road” (escape), of the demiurgic meaning of power and the existential meaning of freedom. Demiurgic administrative practices face utopian existential strategies. Realizing that and taking that into account is a necessary condition and basis for modern administration on any level. Thus, exploring our own cultural matrix (Nikonov 2014) in times of a global historical challenge of modernity is a necessary precondition for any adequate response and the foundation on which Russia has to build its future. The “Russian house” project should make the specific cultural traits a civilization advantage. This should be the primary goal of both theoretical and practical studies.



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