Social problems in transition : perceptions of influential groups in Estonia, Russia and Finland
The thesis examines influential groups' perceptions of social problems in Estonia, Russia and Finland. The context of the study is the ongoing "Eastern transition" in Estonia and Russia and the "Western transformation" in Finland. Each is changing the accustomed ways to define and treat social problems. The focus is on comparing definitions of social problems, including the causes and solutions suggested by the influential groups. The main assumption is that the framework of defining social problems is changing in all three countries: the state's role as the body responsible for people's welfare is diminishing, while more emphasis is being placed on the role of individuals, the market and civil society. Theoretically, the approach is close to social constructionism, according to which social problems are products of collective definition processes. Furthermore, I assume that the influential groups, formed of journalists, administrators and business people, have the power and the possibility to influence the course of social change. The data consists of focus group interviews conducted in Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Helsinki in 1995-1996. The thesis suggests that, for all three countries, the determining factor behind the definitions of social problems is the heavy social costs of the transition and transformation. According to the interviewees, Estonia and Russia are now afflicted with vicious circles of social problems, centered around the problems of crime, poverty, housing, poor health and environmental pollution. In Finland, unemployment and poverty were regarded as the most serious social problems. Mainly due to the severe social problems, the interviewees were not willing to transfer the responsibility for people's welfare from the state to the market or civil society. The changes in the framework of defining social problems thus turned out to be much less dramatic than expected. Altogether, the results indicate that the welfare systems created during the post-war era are now being partly dismantled in all three countries. However, in the opinion of the influential groups, there is no overall disillusionment with big state solutions to social problems.