The 2011-12 Protest Movement in Russia re-defined the country and the Russian-speaking community worldwide politically, socially and culturally. It began as a response to the 2011 Russian legislative election process, and it eventually grew to include various forms of opposition, dissent, political debate, cultural production and mediation. In spring 2012 Digital Icons published a special issue entitled ‘Russian Elections and Digital Media (issue 7), which was the first large-scale reflection on the phenomenon of Russian Protest Movement in the western academia. The issue documented the Russian political process of 2011-12 and its engagement with new media and assessed the overall social and cultural impact. Since the publication of the issue our understanding of the Protest Movement and its reliance on new media has developed, and our spring 2013 issue of Digital Icons re-visits the turbulent events and re-considers our approaches to the study of the phenomenon. The issue specifically examines the connection between the Protest Movement and digital media but evaluating the general context of Russian dissent and by focusing on one case study, Pussy Riot.
The issue consists of two distinct parts. The first comprises three externally peer-reviewed articles which explore practice-led and theoretical issues of mobilisation and mediatisation and related issues of community building by means of new media and especially social media. In her ‘Tweeting the Russian Protests’ (9.1) Galina Nikiporets-Takigawa situates the Russian dissent movement in the wider context of protest movement worldwide and she maps the movement by analysing hashtags and tweets written during three protest rallies. She puts forward a methodological framework based on an understanding of the protest movement as a complex and constantly evolving media event.
Rolf Fredheim continues the discussion regarding the applicability of quantifying methods of social media research in his article entitled ‘Quantifying Polarisation in Media Coverage of the 2011-12 Protests in Russia’ (9.2). He uses polarisation and mobilisation indicators in order to measure the tone of the debate in the media. He attempts to quantify patterns in pronoun incidence to measure the tone of media texts. His research showcases how mobilisation worked thanks to the practice of ‘othering’, that is of self-identification by means of negative identification of the other. The result of this process is an identity-forming rhetoric, and Fredheim’s findings suggest that pro-Kremlin media coverage of the protests converged in tone with the oppositional blogosphere activity.
Oksana Morgunova ‘Russians in the City – “Patriots” with a Touch of Spleen’ (9.3) uses qualitative methods to argue for an emergence of new identity and social connectivity in Russian-speaking migrant communities in the United Kingdom. Her discussion speaks to the concerns of the migrants’ internet communications as well as to the agenda of the diaspora debates. Morgunova argues that community building and the accumulation of social capital are connected to technological developments. The internet and digital communications in general played a key role in the coining of a ‘Russian in Britain’ self-identification; at the same time these technologies had little impact on the construction of off-line communities.
Morgunova’s article contrasts the articles by Nikiporets-Takigawa and Fredheim in that it demonstrates the limitations of social media technologies in their ability to mobilise people offline as well as to ascribe identities beyond the digital realm. The three articles argue for the primacy of social and political context in which mobilisation occurs and for the instrumental role of digital technologies. While de-technologising the protest movement, the authors emphasise the technological nature of communication and political dissent in contemporary Russia and the Russian-speaking community abroad.
The second part of the issue consists of a special cluster entitled ‘How Pussy Riot Rocked Russia and the World’. Peer-reviewed essays collected in this cluster were originally presented at a round table at the national convention of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (Cambridge, April 2013). The essays focus on Pussy Riot as a key element of the Russian dissent movement and consider it from three main perspectives, a) artistic, by examining the art group’s music and fashion styles; b) religious, by considering ethical and legal connotations of Pussy Riot performances and their mediation on the internet; and c) media, by treating Pussy Riot phenomenon as an event indicative of Russia’s transition into the post-broadcast era.
Olga Voronina’s essay ‘Pussy Riot Steal the Stage in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: Punk Prayer on Trial Online and in Court’ (9.4) looks at the Pussy Riot punk prayer in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of several of its members. Voronina focuses on three public arenas for Pussy Riot’s performance, which also serve as sites for its interpretation: a Moscow court of law, an Orthodox Cathedral and the internet. She considers not only the mediatisation of Pussy Riot performances but also the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church online and views the collision between the art group, the Church and the state as a means to control the mediascape.
Vlad Strukov extends this argument in his essay ‘Pussy Riot: From Local Appropriation to Global Documentation, or Contesting the Media System’ (9.5) where he discusses the logic of Pussy Riot as a global meme and its impact on our understanding of the media system in Russia. He demonstrates how the performances of Pussy Riot have become part of the global protest movement, which utilises appropriation as its main means of expression. His essay identifies the internet as a new platform of performative appropriation, and it analyses Pussy Riot as an example of global networked media. Strukov considers Pussy Riot in the context of media typology, media archaeology and transition from one media context to another, evidencing that Pussy Riot exemplifies the next stage in the development of the post-broadcast era whereby audiences (re-)produce original content and enable the emergence of a new type of user subjectivity.
Polly McMichael and Claire Shaw examine two aspects of Pussy Riot performances, music and fashion, respectively. McMichael’s essay ‘Defining Pussy Riot Musically: Performance and Authenticity in New Media’ (9.6) questions the musical affiliation of the art group; in a similar way Shaw’s essay ‘”Fashion Attack”: The Style of Pussy Riot’ (9.7) challenges our assumption about the style of the art group and the genealogy of protest fashion in Russia and elsewhere. McMichael’s essay seeks to reinstate the centrality of music to the Pussy Riot project, in order to establish what it was about Pussy Riot’s aural and visual representation that invited doubt about its musical credentials, and even, subsequently, its authenticity in relation to its political agenda. And Shaw’s essay, by using images of Pussy Riot’s performances and the group’s own commentary on their style, which have been circulated on social media, traces Pussy Riot’s fashion aesthetic as part of a complex and evolving Russian tradition of clothes as rebellion. Both of the authors analyse the role of the internet as a platform and environment for Pussy Riots performances from the point of view of music and fashion, and they demonstrate the centrality of digital media for the advancement, and perhaps even the very existence, of Pussy Riot as a cultural phenomenon. McMichael and Shaw demonstrate how Pussy Riot challenge and ‘complicate’ the protest movement globally by utilising mediation that undermines the ideology of musical authenticity and by engaging with fashion as part of the political protest and staging dissent beyond the catwalk and internet.
The issue concludes with three book reviews (9.8.1-9.8.2). Gassan Guseinov reviews ‘Teletechnologies, Place, and Community’ (Rowan Wilken, Routledge, 2011); Colin R. Alexander reviews ‘Branding Post-Communist Nations: Marketizing National Identities in the “New” Europe’ (edited by Nadia Kaneva, Routledge, 2012); and Thomas Bruns reviews ‘Looking Back into the Future. Samizdat, the Internet and Freedom of Speech’ (edited by Manfred Sapper, Volker Weichsel and Wolfgang Eichwede, Osteuropa, 2010). The selection of the books for review accounts for three concerns of Digital Icons and the new media debate in general; these are a) use of technologies in contemporary culture and society; b) new forms of identification and mediatisation of the Eurasian region, or what used to be called the Eastern Bloc; and c) the socialist traditions of media production and their long lasting impact on media and culture.
The special cluster on Pussy Riot was guest-edited by Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds, UK).
The issue was prepared by Sudha Rajagopalan, Ellen Rutten, Henrike Schmidt and Vlad Strukov, with editorial support from Pedro Hernandez.
London, England; June 2013.