Amsterdam School for Regional, Transnational and European Studies

Participatory cultures: post-socialist new media practices

We are interested in the emergent phenomenon of participatory culture, the realm of cultural practices that has grown and continues to grow around new media technology and the platforms it enables. The term “participatory culture”, which is widely associated with the works of Henry Jenkins, means for us not only shared knowledges in the new media realm, but also the emphasis on the creative production and equally creative reception of diverse cultural products by contemporary online communities.

Coordinator: Dr Sudha Rajagopalan


External members

  • Dr Natalia Samutina, National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow) - leading research fellow, Head of the Research Centre for Contemporary Culture
  • Dr Boris Stepanov, National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow) - leading research fellow
  • Dr Oksana Zaporozhets, National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow) - leading research fellow
  • Aleksandra Kolesnik, National Research University Higher School of Economics - research intern

UvA members

  • Dr Sudha Rajagopalan, Europese Studies, University of Amsterdam
  • Dr Ellen Rutten, Professor of Slavonic Literatures & Cultures (UvA)
  • Mykola Makhortykh, PhD candidate, Department of Slavonic Languages and Literatures (UvA)

Participatory cultures: post-socialist new media practices

In the post-socialist period, countries in the former East bloc have seen a wealth of such practices emerge as new media technologies have spread. They range from social networking, blogging, vlogging, tweeting, remixing to fan fiction writing, participation in collective online games, organisation of fan-cons, etc.  Numerous works have come out by now about Twitter during the Ukrainian protests, Bulgarian digital memory sites, Russian fandoms, Polish digital games; the list grows.

This remains, however, a small field. For too long emphasis  has continued to be on a top-down approach, especially in societies such as these that have histories of authoritarian rule. This stems from the fact that it has largely been political scientists who have engaged with the question of institutional mechanisms of power in post-socialist spaces, with occasional forays into studies of voting behaviour. The focus, therefore, has remained stubbornly on what is done to people  (the ways in which state policy affects individuals and publics) rather than on what people do themselves (how they take up cultural resources to enact their own histories). In an age where digital technologies have democratised cultural production and expanded the mediascape as a stage for popular participation, this oversight is glaring.

By creating an international, inter-disciplinary research group for this topic, with such a specific focus on the post-socialist region, we hope to create an intellectual hub in UvA for this underexplored area of research.  The fact that it is inter-disciplinary allows us to draw on UvA specialists across departments – specifically, from cultural studies, anthropology and media studies. We will build upon this UvA research base in the coming years.

Points of inquiry:

  • Participatory culture as sites of sociability and identity formation
  • Grass roots new media practices as politically dis/empowering strategies
  • Acts of participation as transgressive and transformative
  • Transformations in aesthetic and other canons of cultural production in the hands of producers
  • The impact of official cultures and/or national cultures on the practices of participatory cultures
  • The cross-pollination of global and local influences in the emergence of transnational practices
  • The centrality of media convergence in the enabling of popular creativity
  • Methodologies in studying participatory cultures

Envisaged results

The impetus for creating this group was the international conference on post-post-socialist cultures, ‘Past the post-Soviet: popular culture and new media’, organised by Sudha Rajagopalan (European Studies) and Stephen Amico (Media Studies) in June 2015 in Amsterdam.  

Our goal is to sustain these efforts and hold an international workshop, organize a conference, bring out a volume of essays, and create a digital directory of (related) scholars and their works. We will also put in an application for external funding. These plans will be realised in the next four years.

 Work plan and time schedule

Some immediate plans include the following:

September 2015 - February 2016: Start of the project, organisation of the international research network, specification of the research questions and methodology, discussion of each other's work online and during offline meetings (the first one will take place in November 2015 in Amsterdam)

May 2016 - International conference on participatory culture in Moscow, Higher School of Economics

June 2016 - December 2016 joint work on series of articles on participatory culture in Russian and international journals (in Russian and English).

January 2017-December 2017. Collective editing of a volume of essays.

Plans for the period following 2017 will crystallise over the following years.

Societal relevance

There is now a ‘new cold war’ that pervades popular imagination, and it is a thoroughly mediatised construct in which roles have been long cast. Russia continues to be the inexplicable other, intrinsically incapable of sharing a vocabulary with the west, and trapped in its repressive history. At the same time, in academic studies of democratic transitions and political change in the former East bloc, perspectives remain state-centred and therefore largely sceptical with regard to the nature, strength and endurance of public opinion, participation and engagement in these countries. These views filter up to the institutional level and contribute to the constant othering of not only Russia but many other former communist countries, which no doubt influences varieties of public policy as well. The research that the group proposes to do will give shape to a body of work that corrects this short-sighted and incomplete vision of the post-socialist region and put its people, their agency and their creative potential firmly in focus. 

Published by  Amsterdam School for Regional, Transnational and European Studies

Paul Koopman

12 October 2016