Category Archives: reading

Summer reading: Douglas Blum on globalisation and post-Soviet youth culture

Absorbing some final reading this summer as I plough through writing two and a half thesis chapters. My focus right now is on globalisation, particularly as it relates to youth culture. Douglas Blum’s ‘National Identity & Globalization: Youth, State & Society in Post-Soviet Eurasia’ is proving to be invaluable. Blum points out the usefulness of youth culture as a proxy for wider national identity, both because of the tendency of young people to have their fingers on the global pulse, and also because the activities of young people are (politically) seen to be a representation of a country’s future. This leads to some interesting ambiguities in the ways that state actors read youth activity: on the one hand, the ability to “be modern” and be effective in a global marketplace is seen as hugely important. On the other, cultural flows from outside must be carefully filtered so as not to erode indigenous narratives.

This is a neat theory to apply to internet use and videogame consumption, because all of the ambiguity that Blum sees in wider social discourse about youth activity is magnified in discussions about online activity. A broad survey of mainstream media discourse about gaming in Russia shows a lot of fears about anti-social activity, violence and a declining interest in literature and “real art,” concerns which have been echoed by Orthodox church spokesmen, politicians and even my own survey participants. Despite this, the Russian government has been quick – well, quick in bureaucratic terms – to subsidise the domestic game industry and encourage proficiency in gaming technology. There’s an obvious economic benefit in pushing domestic production, but the discourse surrounding videogames also has a strong ideological element to it. Just as Blum notes in the wider cultural field, the Russian authorities reconcile the divide between pernicious Western influence and the appeal of modernity by positioning their support of the Russian game industry as a protective measure. In encouraging Russian creators to produce games which portray positive elements of Russian history and mythology, the authorities suggest that their young people can learn to use computing technology and exercise their creative faculties by becoming producers themselves, without falling victim to Western messages of excess, consumerism and anti-Russian sentiment.

Filtering new media and trends in this way is a strategy which stretches back to the Soviet era, a new way of dressing up the old model of youth as “constructors of communism.” In the case of videogames, though, the authorities are drawing upon a neoliberal rhetoric of choice and personal (sometimes professional) development. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, it seems that my survey participants are far more interested in game quality than game message…

Resources: 20th February

Three good pieces today, all related to Russian media practices.

Media Piracy in Emerging Economies

This bilingual report frames media piracy as “a failure of affordable access to media in legal markets”, an assertion which gels nicely with the fieldwork responses I’m receiving from Russian gamers. The authors pick up on themes of education, local markets and comparative economic power across six different regions, drawing upon regional specialists who do a great job of contextualising the findings in the appropriate historical and social background. There’s not much on Russian videogames, sadly: a brief note on p160 is about all, but the information on internet and computer penetration is up to date and smartly dissected. As a bonus, the chapters all have hyperlinked sections via some kind of computer wizardry so you can bounce around quite easily and save yourself some scrolling.

 

Tomsk State University’s ‘Digital Humanities’ e-journal

Russian-speakers only for this one. Tomsk State University has an e-journal focusing on the digital humanities which has yielded some gems. It looks like all of the submissions are from within the university but I’ve found D.V. Galkin’s ‘Computer Games as a Phenomenon of Modern Culture‘ useful. Other topics: chat robots for language learning purposes, anthropological aspects of information societies, the psychology of ‘cybersportsmen’, cyber-ethics.

 

Peasant Muse: ‘Textual Dualism & Augmented Reality in the Russian Empire

Jeremy’s been writing some fascinating posts about the long written history of ‘digital dualism’; this post is a really nice round-up of some of his ideas. In particular he discusses strategies used by Russian peasants to escape restrictive bureaucratic definitions of their identities. It’s worth following the links in this post too – he takes a historically grounded view of digital media development and plays with the relationship between analogue and digital in some smart ways.

Highlights from the Royal Society’s archive

The Royal Society has recently made available 60,000 historical scientific papers from the past 350 years, sorted by date to 1887 here and thereafter divided into A (mathematics, physics, engineering) and B (biological and life sciences). If those pages are a little daunting, you can digest it all as a historical timeline here. Unfortunately I don’t have about five consecutive years to sit and read everything and the STEM papers definitely sail about six feet over my head, but I’ve spent a few hours reading through the scans of some of the older contributions. There’s a gruesome fascination in reading about experiments from the 1600s: descriptions of deformed animals, accounts of experimental blood transfusions in sheep and a rather useful paragraph on how to kill a rattlesnake.

Anyway, grotesque science aside I found some real treasures in the archives, and there are probably dozens more I skimmed over. Here are the highlights of my little adventure into historical science:

Dr. Harvey, “An Extract of the Anatomical Account, Written and Left by the Famous Dr. Harvey, Concerning Thomas Parre, Who Died in London at the Age of 152 Years and 9 Moneths“, 1668.

An Extract of a Letter from a Learned French Gentleman, Concerning a Way of Making Sea-Water Sweet“, 1670.

Rob. Gourdon, “A Receipt to Cure Mad Dogs, or Men or Beasts Bitten by Mad Dogs“, 1686.

Of the Posture-Master“, 1698.

J. Breintal, “A Letter from Mr. J. Breintal to Mr. Peter Collinson, F. R. S. Containing an Account of What He Felt after Being Bit by a Rattle-Snake“, 1746.

Peter Camper, “Account of the Organs of Speech of the Orang Outang“, 1779.

Also in the archives are Michael Faraday’s “Experimental Researches in Electricity” (which start in 1832 and are published in almost every edition until around 1839) and early work by  Charles Darwin.

See anything else interesting? Tell me in the comments!

Issue 6 of Digital Icons: transmediality, new digital phenomena in Russia

The new issue of Digital Icons is up, with a focus on transmediality and new digital phenomena in the Russian-speaking sphere. If you’re not familiar with Digital Icons, it’s a twice-yearly online journal dedicated to new media in Russia, Eurasia and Central Europe. All of the articles are available online in a combination of English, German and Russian.

They’re also launching a new project, Digital Memoirs. The latter promises a “collaborative historical narrative that would define use of digital media, including digital gadgets, digital forms of communication and digital practices, in a post-communist, post-totalitarian space”.

I’ve yet to read the articles in depth but two look particularly promising: Tine Roesen’s piece on the elite social network Snob.ru and Ellen Rutten’s exploration of the culture and news portal Openspace.ru.