This research examines the geopolitical perceptions of Russian citizens and how these perceptions are tied to their collective sense of national identity and Russia's sphere of influence. While much is known about the geopolitical attitudes and ideologies of Russian elites, less is known about the views of ordinary Russians. Entirely absent from the literature is the "meta-geography" or the regional and global mental maps of ordinary Russians. This doctoral dissertation research project will map the perceptual geography of Russians in order to understand how they regard and conceive of the Russian geopolitical spheres and how these territorial domains relate to their perceptions of Russian national identity. A large, representative, nation-wide survey (sample size of 1200) conducted across Russia in 202 sampling points will gauge opinions on various geopolitical and national issues, as well as measure socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents. Using regression analysis, the survey data will be used to account for the variation in nationalist beliefs and geopolitical mental maps. Because the sample is large, comparison of the mental maps of national groups in Russia, as well as difference by ideology, gender, income, age, occupation, religion, education and region of residence, can be carried out. It is expected that Russian citizens will have varying perceptions and conceptions of territory that parallel those of Russian elites, but they will have a more practical sense of the importance of territorial/national issues and the limitations of Russia in the framework of the difficult economic transition.
This doctoral dissertation research seeks to make an impact on four broad areas of research. First, it expands the use of mental mapping within political geography beyond textual analysis or small sampling of particular groups. By expanding the use of cognitive mapping techniques to large groups of ordinary citizens, this research will provide a framework for future work using mental maps beyond this research's focus on Russian nationalism and geopolitics. Second, this research engages the gaps and similarities between ordinary Russians and Russian elites on contemporary political matters and attitudes. The geopolitical conceptions and territorial perceptions of Russians has not been examined thoroughly and in a democratizing society, these attitudes increasingly matter. Third, the new geopolitical relationship between Russia and the West in the post-September 11th world depends on the popular support of the Putin Administration's rapprochement with the US. This study will indicate if the new pro-West positioning matches the beliefs of the average Russian. Fourth, the strength of ordinary Russians' feelings towards the Russian near abroad (the countries of the former Soviet Union) is necessary for understanding the long-term prospects of Russian-U.S. cooperation or potential conflict in Eurasia, particularly in the Trans-Caucasus region and in Central Asia. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.