- Blogging Strategies and Political Tactics in Runet: Introduction to the Special Issue
The idea for this special issue emerged at the international seminar “Digital Diaries: Resistance, Self-Representation and Civic Journalism in the Russian-Language Internet,” which took place at the Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies on April 29, 2016 with the financial support of the Uppsala Forum for Democracy, Peace and Justice. This seminar brought together area specialists from various disciplines: cultural studies, political science, sociology, philosophy, and intellectual history. Participants approached blogging in the Russian-language Internet (Runet) from a perspective that transcended the obvious disciplinary borders of media studies, offering instead a broader vision of writing “digital diaries” as a cultural practice. This practice has roots in the history of Russia as well as relevance to the present day political situation in this country.1 This collection of five articles examines various kinds of blogs, taken as a cross-section of Russian political culture: blogs of grassroots public opinion leaders, political parody blogs, academics’ blogs, Orthodox priests’ blogs, and opera stars’ blogs. The articles provide five glimpses into a variety of digital landscapes, in which people and politics meet. The new rules of the game in the digital age fundamentally challenge the traditional relations between the private, the public and the political, while at the same time, the Russian historical and cultural legacy make blogging in Runet specific in many meaningful ways.
The interconnection of de-politicization and re-politicization in the Russian-language blogosphere has become especially visible in recent years, as the pendulum of Russian history has swung decisively toward yet another paroxysm of authoritarianism and crackdown on opposition during [End Page 3] Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term.2 Digital media have become the main outlet for supplying Russians with perspectives and interpretations that dissent from those aired on the state-controlled TV channels. At the same time, the “commanding heights” of digitized social networking have been commandeered by pro-government or politically neutral (but essentially compliant with the “official line”) lifestyle blogs and social media accounts. Moreover, the Internet increases dissenters’ visibility, but the flipside is that this visibility gives the policing institutions free rein to prosecute virtually any active “netizen” whose statements could be construed as “spreading extremist ideas.”3
If the late Soviet dissident intelligentsia’s desire exerted cultural hegemony though it lacked access to the political discourse, today’s digital intelligentsia has unlimited access to the discourse, but it no longer possesses the qualities of a cultural hegemon.4 This means that their strategies of self-presentation online are only tactics of resistance, of making their voice loud and their status important. All in all, the central question for the collection of papers is whether digital diaries can, to borrow from Gramsci, dig “digital trenches” of sorts in the context of a war for independence, human dignity and civic rights.
The ubiquity of social networking in today’s world nurtures practices of “caring for the Self,”5 managing images of the Self, and personalization of otherwise formal relations. However, the opposite process of making the Self public is likewise ongoing, and it prompts users to instrumentalize their formal status and offline cultural capital for the purpose of online individuation. Papers by Galina Zvereva, Mikhail Suslov and Irina Kotkina document this tendency, showing how Russian academics, Orthodox priests, and opera singers shape their digital personae by heavily leaning upon their offline status. For example, Galina Zvereva demonstrates how blogging academics tend to speak ex cathedra, reproducing the professional hierarchy in the non-professional digital environment. Similarly, Irina Kotkina’s paper illuminates the processes of transformation of the community of digital aficionados of opera stars, making it clear that, at the end of the day, digital fandom remains nothing but fandom. The ideal of a networked society of “prosumers” (that is consumers who are simultaneously producers and vice versa) remains by and large a pie in the [End Page 4] sky dream, whereas in “reality” audiences can at best create fan-science, fan-religion, fan-art. Thus, digital practices of self-presentation maintain old hierarchies in the fields of scientific knowledge, religion and high culture. The pervasive leadership...