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May. 14th, 2010

New media and cultural deterritorialization: brainstorming in Manchester

Is a deterritorialized culture possible, or is the local stubborn and resilient? What are the many cultural spaces in which deterritorialization finds expression, even if in constant tension with the territorial? These were the central questions dealt with by 6 panels at the last in the CEELBAS workshop series, this time in the University of Manchester, May 7-8, 2010.

While all the presentations are worthy of separate write-ups, of interest to readers of this blog are the papers on new media/the internet.

Mischa Gabowitsch (Princeton) did a thought-provoking presentation about the anti-fascist youth culture in provincial Russia and the manner in which it borrows its vocabulary from western anti-fascist youth movements accessed through the internet, even as it stresses its local moorings.

Adi Kuntsman (Manchester), our very loyal blog reader, followed it up with a compelling discussion of the 'diaspora space' on the internet, inhabited by a spectrum of 'local' and 'dispersed' groups debating the recent Israeli invasion of Gaza. Although the blogs she analyzes are both pro and anti-Israel, the bloggers constitute an affective community brought together by the emotion of hate, mobilized by the war.

In a lively presentation of the resilience of local linguistic cultures in the face of globalization, Jan Culik showed us a couple of bizarre You Tube videos made by the Czech right-wing to get young people to persuade their grandparents to NOT vote for the left! These videos, however, are based on similar clips made in the US to get people to vote for hope, and Obama.

In a fascinating look at how enthusiasts of Boris Akunin's work use the internet, Elisa Coati (Manchester) talked about how users of the site post visuals of places in his stories and textual descriptions of the context of his narratives. These online practices supplement Akunin's detective stories, adding temporal and spatial dimensions to the original work.

Nicholas Boston (CUNY/Cambridge) gave us a lot to think about in his presentation about Polish migrants and desire; he dwelt on their use of cyberspace both to communicate their desire to migrate as well as to explore the possibility of inter-racial sex.

In my own paper the concept of deterritorialization was implicit as I dealt with how the audience in the web forum for a makeover television show uses the space to appropriate the show's sartorial discourse and rearticulate its terms of engagement. This kind of practice, I argue, is illustrative of cultural citizenship and demonstrates a far from passive public.

There was a lot to think about, much was shared, new ideas mooted, plenty of coffee was had and a general ambience of good cheer prevailed. We did not have pat answers all the time but we all had plenty of questions - the mark of a productive workshop.

Clearly, deterritorialization is not a finite process with a neat beginning and end. Instead, it seems more useful to talk of localization/deterritorialization as a dynamic or site of tension, where the local and global/ popular and high culture/ public opinion and cultural intermediaries constantly negotiate each other, contest each other, make room for each other or overcome one another. To what degree this happens or to what degree one prevails over the other is contingent on various power equations and shifting cultural contexts.


Apr. 14th, 2010

Russian and Belorussian Bloggers at re:publica (Berlin)

Starting today in Berlin, re:publica - with about 2.500 participants one of the biggest conferences and multi-media events with a special focus on social media - offers lots of inspiring talks, presentations and roundtables. Some of the events are available as live streams. Two panels are devoted to the Russian and Belorussian Blogospheres, with bloggers Viktor Malishevsky (Minsk), Alexander Plushev and Rustem Adagamow (both Moscow) taking part in the discussions. As to the press announcements, the focus will mainly be a political one, investigating the democratic potentials of social media platforms:

Especially against the background of their ailing classical media landscapes the vibrancy and growth of Russian and Belarusian blogospheres stands out. Blogs provide alternative spaces, free of the political and economic restrictions that apply to the classical media spheres of the two countries. The reactions of both countries, as much as they may differ, demonstrate the importance politicians ascribe to the blogosphere: The new Belarusian law on internet-censorship shows insecurity and fear. In Russia, in contrast, some politicians (the most prominent of them being President Medvedev) try to ride the wave by using the social web themselves.

And thus matches perfectly with our small discussion here in the blog whether social media are worth attention (and praise) only if fulfilling (the correct) political aims.


Apr. 7th, 2010

"Don't let President Bakiev leave the country" #freekg

This is a tweet by a Kyrgyz activist (I've paraphrased it) amidst the unfolding political crisis in Bishkek and other cities. The hashtag (#) followed by freekg accompanies all tweets about the confrontation between the opposition-backed protesters on the streets  and the government. 

Apropos my last post and query about why social media must always be politically agitational for it to be seen as fulfilling its promise (and thanks, Ellen, for your comment :-) ), here are some details of how Twitter is helping the Kyrgyz opposition. 

Activists protesting outside the White House have been tweeting non-stop for almost 2 days, reporting on the unfolding events on the square. Edil Baisalov (twitter handle @baisalov) is among the most active on twitter. His activist friends have been in the frontline of the protests and have been tweeting video updates and photographs.

Video posted on Twitter by @baisalov

These activists were naturally the first to tweet about how teargas was used to dispel protesters and to report that there may be some casualties, even as I write this. 

Yesterday there was also a digital blackout and I don't know if that still holds; tweeple in Kz were finding it hard to access popular political blog platforms, apparently. However, on livejournal Elena Skochilo, neweurasia's former country editor for Kyrgyzstan, has posted a timeline of events and several images and videos. 

On Twitter there is also a government official who's helping sift rumour from fact but I won't make the mistake of assuming his political stance without knowing anything about him! He seems to be trying to find a political middle-ground between the opposition/activists protesting and the official point of view, from what I can gather from the exchanges between him and his followers. But increasingly, tweets sent his way are vitriolic, promising retribution.

Neweurasia.net is reporting an information blockade. So Twitter will have to step in and do its bit to inform people, like it's doing now,

While I don't believe social media must necessarily perform a political role for it to fulfil its 'promise', I imagine the use of Twitter by activists in KG will make some people happy that it has this week.


Apr. 6th, 2010

Tolstaia/Lebedev on New Media: Podcast

Lebedev and Tolstaia during the interview (picture Eugene Gorny)

Last Saturday, Columbia University´s New Modes of Communication Group invited both writer-cum-talkshow host Tat´iana Tolstaia and her son Artemii Lebedev - designer and one of Russia's most renowned bloggers - for a double interview at the Harriman Institute. Our colleague Eugene Gornyi blogged about the event, adding photographs and a podcast of the entire interview. The latter can be found here. For the scholar or student of Russian new media, the mp3 file is well worth listening for the full 1,5 hour: it brims with intriguing (and, as was to be expected from the Tolstaia-Lebedev tandem, provocative) comments on the Russian-speaking blogosphere, social media, and the RuNet at large. A video file of the event might become available in the coming days; if it does, we'll keep you posted here.

UPDATE 08.04.2010: the video file mentioned above is now available online. A quick glance suggests that the quality of the recording is more than OK. Enjoy!


Mar. 31st, 2010


Things are changing on Turkmenet, or is it a case of 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'?
Read this blog post on the arrival of 3G in Turkmenistan:

Tags: ,

Mar. 29th, 2010

#metro29 #Moscow

There's some provocative commentary I've heard today about the 'disappointing' role of social media in reporting on the tragic terror strike in Moscow. The lament is that the usual flood of tweets mainly constitutes re-tweets of mainstream news reports. However, while daytime progammes have continued to air undeterred by the news coming in, it is the internet that has served as the refuge of those with things to report and those keen to be kept abreast of goings-on.

I've been reading Russian twitterati, and everyone is tweeting about what they've seen, what they've heard, how the emergency services responded and how to distinguish between rumour and fact. Much of the anger on Runet right now is bring directed at Moscow cabbies who appear to be fleecing passengers afraid to use the metro, but some of it is also aimed at the seeming unpreparedness of the security forces who are otherwise omnipresent in the city. Tweets to do with the incident can be tracked by searching for all posts with '# metro 29' or '#Moscow', the latter being one of the trending topics of the day.

I'd say that pessimistic accounts of how Runetchiki are responding to the day's events are premature and rather prejudiced.

Besides, must social media perform a pronounced political role for it to be seen as fulfilling its potential as a popular platform? (alliteration unintended!) 


P.S. Apparently one over-zealous tweeter, ru_medvedev, has been pretending to be Medvedev issuing 'official reactions' to the incident; authorities are looking to trace this person! 



Mar. 23rd, 2010

Traktorist Vanja and the Internet - Russia's new media paradox continued

"Did you ever wonder why the Kremlin does not control the Internet as China does?", asks popular Gazeta.ru-observer Julia Latynina in one of her recent reviews. A question that resonated quite often among the RuNet researcher community. Only some weeks ago Ellen Rutten referred to "Russia's new media paradox" that according to Maksim Trudolyubov from Vedomosti consists in the unability of the digital public sphere to inspire real action in the sense of offline political activities. Latynina's answer is slightly different, as she argues with regard to the supposedly apathetic nature of the Russian population. In her words, of "tractor driver Vanja" who drowns his discontent in vodka:

[...] тракторист Ваня вряд ли восстанет. В глубине души он понимает, что ничего, кроме водки, он не заслуживает.
Для китайской компартии страшен не журналист, не блогер, не сектант, получивший доступ к СМИ, а народ, воспламененный их идеями. Для Путина не страшно ничего: он знает, что никакие бури, бушующие в интернете по поводу расстрелов ментами людей на улицах или количества мошенников и педерастов в «Единой России», не способны послужить детонатором социального взрыва.

A rather stereotypical argument, but most of her readers and commentators in the lively discussion following the publication of the article do agree.


Mar. 17th, 2010

Job Announcement: Researcher position @ U of Bergen

Remember my earlier post about the new research project "Web Wars: Digital Diasporas and the Language of Memory"? The project will soon officially kick off, and we are now inviting applications for a Researcher position at the University of Bergen. This will be a two-year parttime position (50%) which starts June 1, 2010.

Aside from producing written output (scholarly and popular articles, and possibly a monograph), the applicant will be invited to (co-)organize an international conference and (co-)produce a documentary - both project-related, ofcourse. You would work in close cooperation with me, and with the Cambridge team which coordinates (under guidance of Dr Alexander Etkind) "Memory at War", the transinstitutional research project of which the Bergen project is a pendant.

I'm keeping it brief here, but you'll find much more information in the actual job ad, and on the site which describes the "Web Wars" project in more detail. Do they still leave you with questions? Feel free to contact me for more details - my 'koordinaty' are in the ad.


NB I am not regularly online these days, but don't be put off by an out-of-office message: I'll make sure to check my mail every now and then and will not leave questions about the post unanswered for long.

Feb. 24th, 2010

Digital villagers and "De(a)d Moroz"

Do you think this winter is too cold and lasts much too long? Then you might want to cheer yourself up with a look into some of the Russian village blogs that give daily reports of zero degrees and actual snow depths. You'll find a lot more of interesting, curious and funny information from the Russian countryside there - and some amazing pics as well (Мелкие деревенские радости):

yakudza_spb plans to buy a horse for next winter's season as actually it is almost impossible to reach the nearest town by car

vkpar lost some newborn lambs because of deadly "ded moroz"

[info]dimkin  melts snow on a hot plate because it's too cold to reach the water pump.

The latter one - Dmitrij Gorchev -  reports as well on a most interesting discussion on the RuNet concerning life in the village as a form of "downshifting." And decidedly rejects this terminology and notion with regard to his own way of living in the countryside. While at the same time predicting the emergence of a new topically related social network:

"Ну что ж, будем, значит ждать вскорости появления нового информационного ресурса, где видные дауншифтеры будут делиться рецептами успешного прозябания и приятного нищебродства."

As often, life exceeds expectations: such a LiveJournal community already exists. So if you plan to ruralize yourself, whether in Russia or elsewhere, you might want to take a look: ru_downshift.


Feb. 23rd, 2010

Interesting Research Project


I'm involved in not one, but two,  research projects on the Russian blogosphere - one for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and one for Morningside Analytics.   MA actually created the software that Berkman is using.  Some information about this can be found here cyber.law.harvard.edu/getinvolved/internships/russia

The projects are similar in that they both involve visualizations of the Russian language blogosphere.  And both use human coders to augment the automated software, and provide additional analysis to the data that the software generates.   

I am looking for native Russian speakers with strong English ability and good analytical skills to read blogs and complete an online survey about them.   There is minor compensation for this - about $10/hr.   There is also the potential for information sharing etc.  

If you are interested, or know people who are, please email me directly at: kva2001@columbia.edu

Thank you!


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