Nothing more to see: contestations of belonging and visibility in Russian media
Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the role of visibility in the production and contestation of belonging to political communities. On the basis of an empirical enquiry of Russian media during the 2010s, a theoretical conceptualization of the relation between visibility and belonging is suggested, starting in the idea that what becomes visible to publics and how, and what is rendered invisible, are the objects of constant political regulation and contestation. The suggested theory seeks to move beyond both an exclusively speech-oriented approach to belonging, and a binary view on visibility as either emancipatory or repressive. In three case studies, the thesis explores aspects of the problem of belonging and visibility. In all cases – each of which focuses on a specific project of belonging as enacted in contemporary Russian media – gendered, sexualized and ethnicized conceptions of community are at the center of the contestations. First, by analyzing narratives in Russian media about the 2013 ban on “homosexual propaganda”, the thesis shows that as projects of belonging produce specific gendered and sexualized conceptions of community, they seek to regulate the visibility of undesired, non-normative subjectivities. However, those regulatory efforts contain tensions that may serve as starting points for contestation. Second, by studying media narratives about the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the thesis shows that spectacular media events may serve to depoliticize particular notions of community by making them hypervisible and producing them as natural and inevitable, but such events may also serve as sites of repoliticization. Third, by analyzing how the Russian state-promoted narrative on the war in Ukraine 2014-15 was challenged, by Russian internet satire and by the media exposure of how Russian soldiers who had died in Ukraine were secretly buried, the thesis shows that contestations of dominant projects of belonging draw on invisibility, and often have an ambivalent, inside/outside relation to dominant narratives. The central claim of the thesis is that projects of belonging, aimed at (re)constituting political communities and their boundaries, seek to produce particular arrangements of visibility regulating what can be seen and how it can be seen in the public sphere, and what cannot be seen. Moreover, as visibility cannot be fixed entirely, precisely those arrangements become the target of political contestation. On a more analytically useful level, it is suggested that politics of belonging involves efforts to contain, amplify and contest visibility.
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