The research project “Social and Cultural Capital in Serbia” was realized in 2010-2011 with the financial support of the Regional Research Promotion Programme in the Western Balkans (RRPP). It was focused on the investigation of the structure of the distribution of various types and sub-types of capital – which represent the immanent structure of society in Serbia – and of the strategies of individuals and social groups based on different combinations of these resources. We were especially interested in studying the use of social and cultural resources in shaping the strategies of individuals in everyday life and the social and symbolic struggles of their holders, who are trying to introduce different types of closure/exclusion mechanisms, based on those capitals which work best to their advantage.

Our goals were to ascertain how different classes and social groups in Serbia differ in terms of resources (economic and, in particular, social and cultural capital),which was accomplished through the construction of social space on the basis of survey data; to reconstruct the strategies which the citizens of Serbia use in everyday life, principally on the basis of data collected through focus groups and in-depth interviews; and to analyze the social and symbolic struggles of the holders of different types of capital in everyday life in Serbian society and at the institutional level, on the basis of focus groups, interviews, and analyses of secondary sources.

Our main goal in the first year of the project was the identification of the volume and types of capital which social classes and other social groups in Serbia have at their disposal. In the period from October to March 2011, we realized a telephone survey on a national proportional probability sample of 1000 respondents, in which we surveyed a total of 889 respondents (response rate 88.9%). In the analysis of the survey data we relied on Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA), the method developed by a group of French mathematicians and statisticians led by J-P Benzecri and made famous by Bourdieu in his seminal work “Distinction”.

The key findings obtained are that the two key dimensions of social space in Serbia, as in Bourdieu’s model, are the total volume of capital and the composition of capital of the respondents. However, unlike in Bourdieu’s model, in the social space we constructed, Axis 2 does not separate indicators of economic capital and cultural capital. Instead, it separates indicators of cultural capital (in the upper regions of the map) and of social capital (in the lower regions of the map). Further, there is a differentiation of indicators of economic capital: high values of indicators of cultural capital are followed by high indicators of respondent income and, in the part of the map where high values of social capital indices are located, high indicators of affluence/ownership of respondents are also located (house/apartment). What follows is that the two basic types of capital among carriers of which struggles are waged to establish the “dominant principle of domination” in Serbian society are social and cultural capital.

In the second step of our research project, among the survey respondents, using possibilities provided by the software SPAD 7.3., we extrapolated 75 respondents, of whom 25 agreed to be interviewed. The interviews lasted between 40 minutes and one hour. We asked questions aimed at enabling us to learn the strategies which these individuals relied on in the area of education (how they were educated and how their children are/were educated), the area of the labor market (how they found employment), in health care (where and how they acquire access to health care), strategies in the marriage market (how they got married) and friendship strategies (with whom and why they are friends). Through the analysis of the statements of interviewed respondents about their behaviors in these fields, four groups of strategies were identified that are used by individuals in Serbian society: 1) individualistic reactive strategies; 2) collectivistic reactive strategies; 3) individualistic active strategies; and 4) collectivistic active strategies.

Finally, within the first year of the project, eight focus group discussions were organized in four Serbian cities and towns (Novi Sad, Belgrade, Niš, and Novi Pazar). In each of the cities, two groups were set up, one consisting of people with secondary education or less, the other of participants with college degrees and higher education. The number of participants was 5-9 per group, 57 altogether (30 men and 27 women).

The analysis based on the data obtained in the focus groups has shown that: a) the general ‘market’ for capitals has been seriously disturbed in Serbia: it is characterized by instability, fluctuation, and insecurity; as a consequence, it is very difficult for individuals to develop rational strategies of investment in certain capitals with a view of reaping a reasonable payoff in the future; b) citizens are highly critical of the conditions in this ‘market’, as well as of what they perceive as the dominant principles of classification – the extant classifications are seen as overpowering, but not legitimate; c) although denying legitimacy to dominant classifications, citizens are quite reluctant to engage themselves in classification struggles: almost invariably, they insist on the absence or meaninglessness of socially, that is, capital based boundaries between social groups; instead, they offer a highly moralized discourse of how society is, and how it should be, pointing to the huge gap between the factual and the normative, and making distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’, largely in ethical terms; d) while our respondents see the political sphere as radically disconnected from ordinary people’s concerns and the state’s current performance as extremely poor and deplorable, there is no suggestion of a developing alternative in the sense of an independent grassroots politics of NGOs, civic associations, and citizen initiatives. The state is viewed as the main source of problems, but also as the solution – the only agency that may be looked upon for an effective betterment in the future. These points suggest that the level of everyday life has lost to a considerable extent its role as the arena for daily classification struggles among ordinary people. This, in turn, makes it all the more important to study classification discourses at the other levels of social life – especially the public discourses produced in and by social institutions, political and cultural elites, and the media.

In general, the analyses of social space revealed that the practices of social actors in Serbia are not random, but socially structured, i.e. that certain types of strategies and everyday practices are more likely in some parts of social space than in others. Secondly, that strategies and everyday practices are shaped by the interplay between the actual combination of resources at agents’ disposal and their embodied habituses (having in mind their gender, age, national, and religious determination, as well). Finally, that social strategies and practices are relational – that they are established and defined in relations of cooperation and struggle with Others – those who are positioned in other parts of social space. What the focus groups, however, showed us is that the symbolic struggles in everyday life are largely indeterminate, fluid, and confused.

As a result, in the second year of the project we devoted ourselves to the study of classification discourses at the other levels of social life – especially the public discourses produced in and by social institutions, political and cultural elites, and the media. In order to look more deeply into these processes, in its second year the project focused on the analysis of: 1) public discourse (political discourse produced by state officials, politicians, and parties, media discourse generated by mass media as relatively independent agents in the public arena, expert discourse, academic discourse, etc.), and 2) elite discourse – views of society, both factual and normative, held by members of political and cultural elites.

As part of the project, the conference “Social and Cultural Capital in Western Balkans Societies” was organized in June 2011 by the Centre for Empirical Cultural Studies of South-East Europe, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade and Centre for Southeast Europe of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.