Set within the broader landscape of the mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin that swept Moscow beginning in 2011, my dissertation was an ethnography of micro-conflicts among protesters. Rather than analyze the “failure” of the protests to unseat Putin, I instead examined the mass mobilization as a site of self-transformation and contentious solidarity-building, drawing on research I conducted with young feminist, LGBT, and leftist activists in Moscow. Situating my ethnographic data in the context of international shifts in power, including the withdrawal of Western development aid and the Kremlin’s attempt to construct itself as a global power in opposition to Western liberalism, I argued for an understanding of deliberate conflict as a productive, but risky strategy for marginalized social groups for whom authoritarianism and repression are everyday experiences.
In the first half of the dissertation, I showed how the nationalist rhetoric and biopolitical policies that are often assumed to help legitimize the Russian state, such as its vocal defense of “traditional values” and its pro-natalism, in fact prompt dissent and unruliness among those whose experience of life falls short of what government guarantees promised. The second half of the dissertation turned to an event-focused analysis of the contentious strategies feminist and LGBT activists use as they struggle for recognition and belonging on Russia’s left and in the broader opposition. Their work transforms “apolitical” opposition actions into opportunities to cultivate unruliness, feminism, and tolerance for queerness, along with strengthened senses of agency and social connection, among their fellow citizens.
Access my dissertation on ProQuest. Don’t have access to an expensive academic database? Send me an email at jfmason () gmail () com for a copy!