Grassroot public spheres and activism in Russian federal cities

Project coordinator: Dr. Tatiana Golova

Supporters of leading Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Novosibirsk in May 2017. © Tatiana Golova.

The project explores how the civic engagement and public mobilizations in large cities are influenced by communication processes which are embedded in everyday life and horizontally organized. Three dimensions are analyzed:

  • Everyday life: How and where does communication occur between the members of different socio-cultural milieus, including those persons who depend on the allocation of resources by state actors? How does this process complement the role as the audience of mass-media outlets? Which collective interpretive frames are being (re-)constructed here?
  • Mobilization: How do mobilized publics, i.e. networks which are oriented towards collective action for specific causes, emerge? The project considers, among others, pragmatic, conservative, and loyalist campaigns.
  • Hybridization: How are different offline and online arenas for the public communication of meanings connected?

The project focuses on large federal cities, which hold a double position in the centre-periphery hierarchy of Russia`s social structure. Representing the periphery when compared to Moscow, major cities still concentrate human, financial, and administrative resources. They are characterized by a diverse population but also a more manageable number of local public spaces and arenas. They allow for communication networks within and between different social and cultural milieus to be traced. Novosibirsk and Samara have been selected for in-depth case studies.

The empirical research uses different methods and data in order to provide a variety of perspectives on the development of public groups in the cities. First, as part of the fieldwork, group discussions with political and social activists and members of different socio-cultural milieus will be conducted. The documentary method of analysis will be used to reconstruct the participants' shared knowledge, which serves as an orientation for social action. The discussions will be analyzed in relation to both the topics discussed and the framework used to deal with these. Second, the analysis of online communication will focus on local discussions and mobilizations, including issues ranging from the local to the global level. Computer-aided retrieval and pre-selection of data will be used to identify areas of intensive communication, followed by a qualitative analysis focusing on the shared interpretive orientations and patterns of interaction. Third, expert interviews will be used to explore the wider contexts of both cases.