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Attentive publics: Infrastructuring the Frontier of Russian Anti-war Movements

CBEES Advanced Seminar with Svetlana Chuikina, PhD Candidate at the Department Media, Communication and Geography, Karlstad University

Speaker: Svetlana Chuikina, PhD Candidate at the Department Media, Communication and Geography, Karlstad University

Discussant: Zhanna Kravchenko, Associate Professor in Sociology, School of Social Sciences, and Director of Center for the Study of Political Organisation, Södertörn University

Chair: Yulia Gradskova, Associate Professor in History, Senior Researcher at the Department of Gender Studies, Södertörn University, and Research Leader at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies CBEES

Venue: F11 - the big meeting room (F-building, 11th floor)

Abstract: In the wake of ongoing Russian warfare in Ukraine, many among the politically active youth have left the country and become part of a (re)construction of Russian anti-war movements. I recognise the process of movement constitution as a continuum unfolding in time and space and in accordance with media practices of everyday life. I treat the Russian anti-war movements, as “networks of informal relations” (Della Porta & Mattoni, 2014), emerging as an overlap between publics (so-called followers) and the core activists, those who for years were in contention (Tilly, 2008), involved in parties, organizations and other informal forms of citizen solidarity.
Against this background, the primary interest of this study is to examine how the communicative space in between is bridging activists and publics in the process of ‘politicisation’ (Erpyleva, 2018), organised within infrastructures.
There are earlier and more technologically oriented studies on digital audience participation in political action, many based on the ‘network’ metaphor (Castells, 2007), or on the concept of ‘connective action’ (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012), explicitly focused on mobilisation of ‘crowds’ (Kavada, 2018) in event time. The technological approach, however, has been criticised for overemphasising the role of platform connectivity (Poell & Van Dijck, 2015), while overlooking the role of broader audience and publics which contribute to the sense of “collective” (Bakardjieva, 2015) via communicative interaction of everyday life.
Drawing from the “ecological approach”, which points towards studying media as “dynamic systems” (Treré & Mattoni, 2016), and by understanding them as systems of affordances (Hutchby, 2001; Ingold, 2018; Jansson, 2022). I call for the recognition of the overlap between publics and activists as a process of frontier infrastructuring. I argue, along with others (Larkin, 2013; Knox, 2017); Grön et al., 2023), for treating infrastructures as part of social relations that become “infrastructure in relation to organized practices” (Star & Ruhleder, 1994), and as “vehicles oriented to addressees” (Larkin, 2013).
Going beyond platform infrastructures, the research is driven by the empirical question of how activists have been disentangling the pro-war consensus by renegotiating the use of existing infrastructures for (re)orienting publics and organising a space of attention. This leads us to take a closer look at the phenomenology of attention which is intertwined with technological infrastructures, social practices and imagination.
My understanding of the frontier aligns with Chantal Mouffe’s radical democracy perspective, where she calls for “agonistic politics” (Mouffe, 2005). Unlike in western democracies that Mouffe refers to, the context of Russian autocracy entails a severely eroded public space, where the government holds a ‘hybrid’ (Chadwick, 2017) control over all communicative space. The constitution of the frontier in Russian contexts means an ‘agonistic pluralism’ of adversaries: political organisations, civic initiatives and even smaller groups and individuals that represent often contradictory political agendas; and identification against the other is what constitutes a ‘frontier’ (Neumayer & Svensson, 2016). In a Russian context publics’ attention becomes a source for legitimacy, which reasserts frontier constitution, the frontier overlapping and relying on ‘publicness’. I argue as such for an understanding of frontier constitution as socio-technical process of infrastructuring as a way to embrace and restore public attention towards political struggle.

Svetlana Chuikina is a Ph.D. candidate of the Department of Geography, Media and Communication at Karlstad University, Sweden. She studies ‘transformative publicity’ in the time of deep-mediatization when the private and public are increasingly intertwined. Her research project seeks to understand the emergence of anti-war environments and agency in the intersection of activist action, public attention and media infrastructures in a Russian context of autoritarianism and war.

Prior to her P.h.D. at Karlstad university, Svetlana was involved in the research project Information Inequality in a Global perspective at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication at Stockholm University. She holds a master’s degree in Media and Communication studies from Södertörn University, Sweden. Before that she worked as a news correspondent, editor and producer for independent media in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. Her research interests include media theory, audience studies and a phenomenological approach to studying media.

Time and place

04 March 2024, 13:00-14:30

Higher seminar

F11 - the big meeting room (F-building; 11th floor), find us


Arranged by

Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES)



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