Challenges of Participatory Culture conference, 12-13 May, Moscow, Russia

Last week, following a kind invitation from pop culture researchers Alexandra Kolesnikand Natalia Samutina, I visited the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow for a special interdisciplinary conference called Challenges of Participatory Culture: Methodologies and Perspectives of Research.

The event was staged by the university’s Research Centre for Contemporary Culture, a unit based at the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies.
Challenges of Participatory Culture drew together a truly international range of scholars to discuss popular media cultures, post-Soviet society, and creative re-workings of the city. After Abigail De Kosnik of UC Berkeley presented a first paper on traces of re-use in analogue and digital media, the two day conference covered a variety of topics, including fanfic, graffiti, music cultures, fashion blogging, Soviet sci-fi, shared experiences of riding on urban transport, and various kinds of community protest.
Photo: Alexander Makhov

My own contribution considered how soul fans used their passion for Curtis Mayfield to encourage widespread protests following the August 2014 shooting in Ferguson of the black teenager Michael Brown. Although the paper was about racism in the USA, I knew that it had parallels with attitudes that are, unfortunately, held in many other places. 

Photo: Alexander Makhov

Natalia told me to treat the event just like one held in any other big European city, so I did. I had come on a humanitarian visa to talk in one of the most liberal spaces of the Russian academy and my hosts could not have been more welcoming. After the event they took us on a tour of the Kremlin and Red Square.

All in all, it was a fascinating trip. I’d highly recommend Moscow to anyone who gets the chance to visit. The city is marked by a unique history that has seen through changes wrought by both communism and capitalism. It is larger than London and plays host to a rich array of world class arts and culture, including the famous Bolshoi ballet. 

Moscow’s academic contribution to cultural studies is now emerging on a global stage. It was super to see how enthusiastically and insightfully our colleagues in Russia are embracing debates about fandom, adding their voices to the international discussion. 

We still know too little about the experiences of popular music fans in both the Soviet and post-Soviet era. Given that connections have now been made, perhaps the time is right to start investigating.

… Thanks again to Natalia, Alexandra, Boris, Oksana, other colleagues and students in Moscow, to the Higher School of Economics, and to fellow conference participants. One day I hope we get the chance to do it again.