At the time of the global meltdown, the ‘Russian winter’ was hugely anticipated but never accurately predicted. Equally, the revolutionary events of 2011-12, just like those of 1989-91, have problematized existing theories of social engagement, political dissent and cultural production. While there has been some critical engagement with the political events, digital media and social and cultural change, this is the first large scale reflection of the phenomenon. The issue contains 250 pages of original research and over 100 visuals that document the Russian political process of 2011-12 and its engagement with new media and assess the overall social and cultural impact.
We release this issue with an acute awareness and some degree of nervousness about the fact that our readers might anticipate some definitive answer concerning the political situation in theRussian Federationand new media. In fact we know that pessimists will argue for the failure of the Russian internet and popular uprising in contrast with the Arab Spring. Optimists will claim victory over the phantoms of the Russian recent past, including the break of societal links, rule of mafia and political inertia. Essentialists will use the events to support their argument in favour of the unique Russian way, no matter if the above-mentioned optimistic or pessimistic scenarios are acted out.
To echo Frederic Jameson’s stance (Jameson ‘A Singular Modernity’, 2001), the authors of this issue agree that the narrative of (Russian) modernity is being written on the squares of Moscow and other cities in the country and abroad, on the screens of computers and mobile phones, and most importantly in the minds of those people who have participated—either by voicing their opinion publicly or by reflecting on the events privately—in the debate about the future of their nation. This future will show whether the events will pave the way for a ‘singular modernity’ (Jameson 2001), or will collapse into a postmodern pastiche of participatory democracy, or in fact will break the very logic of post/modernity by imposing the stagnant framework of Putin’s statist regime. We hope, however, that the political events in Russia and their mediation on the global scale will provoke debates about the nature, function and parameters of democracy as a constitutive part of capitalist modernity (loosely, viewing the Russian winter as part of the global crisis of capitalism and global movement of political dissent which is taking the form of the appropriation of public spaces and, by extension, of the public domain of exchange of meaning and values).
We hope to contribute to this large-scale discussion by exploring the link between the transformation in Russian society and culture and digital media. Our main arguments are 1) as far as media are concerned, Russia has fully entered the post-broadcast era, which calls for a new theory of media and activism for contexts that embrace the living memory of communism; 2) political agency is no longer structured according to the principles of the political centre and periphery / opposition; rather, it displays qualities of continuous and spontaneous mobilisation, and 3) while capital in its monetary sense has not been at the centre of the political discussion in Russia (unlike in the 1980s and later in the 1990s), issues surrounding distribution of wealth have generated the discussion of the capital of values, with new mechanisms of converting symbolic capital into volumes of power already in place. As a result, the discussion in Issue 7 focuses on the Russian transformation from broadcast to post-broadcast era, on networked units of political dissent, on cultural production and its political potency, and on constructing a new narrative of Russian nationhood.
The issue was in the making for six months, and to some extent, it carries the augmented logic of some of new media research: while observing and reflecting on contemporaneous events, the authors aspire to provide conceptual analysis and broad frameworks for thinking about protest movements and digital media. Therefore, on the one hand, the issue critically documents the events, and on the other, it theorizes digital media in the era of global dissent culture.
The issue consists of three district sections.
The first section offers some theoretical considerations of emergent Russian dissent movements . Yuri Misnikov (7.1) examines Habermasian theory of participation. Misnikov analyses online debates among ‘ordinary’ people who discuss current affairs and he shows that the very conversational nature of online discussions might be their main value as a manifestation of active citizenship from below. Elena Morenkova (7.2) analyses the role of the Soviet past in the construction of post-Soviet Russian identity. The article argues that, while a positive, mythologized memory or a ‘patriotic interpretation’ of history in digital communities emphasizes an actual requirement of positive re-evaluation of Soviet history in Russian society, it is constructed in opposition to the dominating discourse and state memory politics, bringing out a desire to form a space of counter history and memory.
The second section of the issue contains two interviews with media practitioners. In his interview with Roman Dobrokhotov (slon.ru), Arsenii Khitrov (7.3) questions the role of the portal in facilitating political discussions among Russian publics. Roman Dobrokhotov, a journalist and political activist, who works for Slon.ru, elaborates on the Russian media scene, Russian internet news portals and innovative journalistic principles of Slon.ru. Zoya Trunova and Vlad Strukov (7.4) discuss the role of the BBC and user-generated content in the era of global information flows and multilingual cultural exchange. They focus on new aspects of news production, such as data visualisation, deterritorialized news gathering practices and other aspects of visual media production for global consumption.
The third section entitled ‘Russian 2011-12 Elections and Digital Media’ contains nine essays (7.5.1-7.5.9) that interrogate the political process in contemporaryRussia in its relation to the networked mediascape. The authors present a wide range of approaches to the phenomenon of digital protests and they trace developments diachronically as well as synchronically, at the level of macro theories and micro events, as evolving in the Russian capital and regions, from within the political movement as well as at a distance by reflecting on the mediation of the events in popular media in Russia and abroad. The authors support their argument by utilising statistical data, harvested during the elections, as well as by relying on data generated by internet practitioners. They assess the role ofRussia’s politicians as well as internet memes and they contest existing assumptions about the nature of the current regime and its political opponents.
The discussion continues in ‘Reports and Commentaries’ section. Mischa Gabowitsch (7.6.1) informs the readers of his collaborative project on social media, mobilization and protest slogans inMoscowand beyond. Vlad Strukov (7.6.2) analyses the digital practice of Alexey Beliayev-Guintovt, an artist who is famous for his eurasianist stance, and who produces digital art in order to project imperial loops of Moscow-centric identity. Anastasia Sheveleva (7.6.3) writes about a conference on networked city culture that took place inMoscowin spring 2012.
Two book reviews (7.7.1-7.7.2)—‘Emerging Practices in Cyberculture and Social Networking’ (by Daniel Riha and Anna Maj, eds. Rodopi, 2010) reviewed by Valentina Gueorguieva, and ‘Newsgames: Journalism at Play’ (by Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer. MIT Press, 2010) reviewed by Amanda Wowk—complement the discussion in the issue by situating it in a wider theoretical and cultural context and focusing on issues of digital mobilisation and digital journalism.
The idea of the cluster on ‘Russian 2011-12 Elections and Digital Media’ was conceived by Natalia Sokolova and Vlad Strukov.
The issue was prepared by Sudha Rajagopalan, Ellen Rutten, Henrike Schmidt, Natalia Sokolova and Vlad Strukov, with editorial support from Pedro Hernandez, Kristen Meredith and Amanda Wowk.
Vlad Strukov, Editor.
London, June 2012.