The Illiberal Public Sphere: Media in Polarized Societies

The Illiberal Public Sphere: Media in Polarized Societies

Co-authored by Václav Štětka and Sabina Mihelj, this book provides the first systematic analysis of the role of the media in the rise of illiberalism, based on an original theoretical framework and extensive empirical research in Eastern Europe – a region that serves as a key battleground in the global advance of illiberalism. Liberal democracies across the world are facing a range of challenges, from the growing influence of illiberal leaders and parties to deepening polarization and declining trust in political elites and mainstream media. Although these developments attracted significant scholarly attention, the factors that contribute to the spreading of illiberalism remain poorly understood, and the communication perspective on illiberalism is particularly underdeveloped.

Štětka and Mihelj address this gap by introducing the concept of the illiberal public sphere, identifying the key stages in its development, and explaining what makes illiberalism distinct from related phenomena such as populism. Their analysis reveals how and why the changing communication environment facilitates selective exposure to ideologically and politically homogeneous sources, fosters changes in normative assumptions that guide media trust, increases vulnerability to disinformation, and goes hand in hand with growing hostility to immigration and LGBTQ+ rights. The findings challenge widespread assumptions about digital platforms as key channels of illiberalism and suggest that their role shifts as the illiberal sphere progresses.

The arguments presented in this book have important implications for future research on challenges to liberal democracy, as well as for journalists, media regulators and other professionals committed to rebuilding media trust and containing the forces of polarization.                 

The book is open access and is available here:

https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-031-54489-7

Read More  
Decolonizing the Transnational, Transnationalizing the Decolonial: Russian Studies at the Crossroads

Decolonizing the Transnational, Transnationalizing the Decolonial: Russian Studies at the Crossroads

In this article, co-authored with Andy Byford and Connor Doak, Stephen Hutchings revisits their co-edited volume Transnational Russian Studies (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020) in light of the recent developments after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The article appeared online first in the journal Forum for Modern Language Studies. It is available via the link:
https://academic.oup.com/fmls/advance-article/doi/10.1093/fmls/cqae038/7685259?login=false

Read More  
When Monument Battles Go Digital: Russian–Ukrainian Conflicts over Material Heritage on Telegram

When Monument Battles Go Digital: Russian–Ukrainian Conflicts over Material Heritage on Telegram

The article, co-authored by Anastasiya Pshenychnykh, Alena Pfoser, and Sabina Mihelj, appeared in the journal Social Media + Society online first. In the context of increasing conflicts over material heritage around the world, this article examines the role digital media play in battles over monuments. The rise of digital media brought significant changes to the cultural dynamics of heritage conflicts, which have not been adequately addressed in existing literature. Bringing together work on monuments, (digital) memory conflicts, and digital activism, we identify three key dimensions of monument battles in which the impact of digital media is most clearly visible: (a) participation, democratization, and deterritorialization; (b) reframing and contestation; and (c) mobilization and the online-offline movement of heritage battles. We illustrate these arguments drawing on a critical discourse analysis of monument battles on the messaging application Telegram in the context of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, using a sample of 940 posts from both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian channels. We demonstrate that despite potentially providing space for alternative memory interpretations, online memory contestations over heritage contributed to the construction of polarized and mutually exclusive worlds.

The article is open access and available via the link:
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/20563051241242788

Read More  
(Mis)Translating Deceit: A New Perspective on Disinformation

(Mis)Translating Deceit: A New Perspective on Disinformation

This short article, authored by Stephen Hutchings, appeared in the Russia Program Journal. It outlines some of the key ideas and ambitions of our project.

The article is available at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/65937120/6/

Read More  
'Truth with a Z: disinformation, war in Ukraine, and Russia’s contradictory discourse of imperial identity'

'Truth with a Z: disinformation, war in Ukraine, and Russia’s contradictory discourse of imperial identity'

This article by Vera Tolz and Stephen Hutchings offers a qualitative analysis of how, by adopting identity-related discourses whose meanings resonate within a given culture, Russian state propaganda strives to bolster “the truth status” of its Ukraine war claims. These discourses, we argue, have long historical lineages and thus are expected to be familiar to audiences. We identify three such discourses common in many contexts but with specific resonances in Russia, those of colonialism/decolonization, imperialism, and the imaginary West. The article demonstrates that these same discourses also inform war-related coverage in Russophone oppositional media. Russian state-affiliated and oppositional actors further share “floating signifiers,” particularly “the Russian people,” “historical Russia,” “the Russian world,” “Ukraine,” “fascism/Nazism,” and “genocide,” while according them radically different meanings. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of studying how state propaganda works at the level of discourses, and the acutely dialogical processes by which disinformation and counter-disinformation efforts are produced and consumed.

Available via Open Access at: 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2023.2202581

Read More  
Projecting Russia in a Mediatized World: Recursive Nationhood

Projecting Russia in a Mediatized World: Recursive Nationhood

The book by Stephen Hutchings presents a new perspective on how Russia projects itself to the world. Distancing itself from familiar, agency-driven International Relations accounts that focus on what ‘the Kremlin’ is up to and why, it argues for the need to pay attention to deeper, trans-state processes over which the Kremlin exerts much less control. Especially important in this context is mediatization, defined as the process by which contemporary social and political practices adopt a media form and follow media-driven logics. In particular, the book emphasizes the logic of the feedback loop or ‘recursion’, showing how it drives multiple Russian performances of national belonging and nation projection in the digital era. It applies this theory to recent issues, events, and scandals that have played out in international arenas ranging from television, through theatre, film, and performance art, to warfare. The first three chapters relate directly to disinformation.


For further details, see: https://www.routledge.com/Projecting-Russia-in-a-Mediatized-World-Recursive-Nationhood/Hutchings/p/book/9780367263904

This book is now available via Open Access at: https://www.routledge.com/Projecting-Russia-in-a-Mediatized-World-Recursive-Nationhood/Hutchings/p/book/9781032201221#

Read More  
‘(Mis)Translating Deceit: Disinformation’s Hidden Translingual, Journey’

‘(Mis)Translating Deceit: Disinformation’s Hidden Translingual, Journey’

This short introductory piece, authored by Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz, appeared on the Modern Languages Research Blog hosted by the Institute for Advanced Study in London on October 6, 2021. It is available at: https://modernlanguagesresearch.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2021/10/06/mistranslating-deceit-disinformations-hidden-translingual-journey/

Read More  
‘Performing Disinformation: a Muddled History and its Consequences’

‘Performing Disinformation: a Muddled History and its Consequences’

This brief introduction to the history of uses of the term, disinformation, was authored by Vera Tolz and Stephen Hutchings. It appeared on the LSE Politics Blog (Media@LSE Blog) on 10 August, 2021. It is available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/medialse/2021/10/08/performing-disinformation-a-muddled-history-and-its-consequences/

Read More  
Fragmented Narrative: Telling and Interpreting Stories in the Twitter Age

Fragmented Narrative: Telling and Interpreting Stories in the Twitter Age

With the rise and rise of social media, today’s communication practices are significantly different from those of even the recent past. A key change has been a shift to very small units, exemplified by Twitter and its strict 280-character limit on individual posts. Consequently, highly fragmented communication has become the norm in many contexts. In his book Neil Sadler sets out to explore the production and reception of fragmentary stories, analysing the Twitter-based narrative practices of Donald Trump, the Spanish political movement Podemos, and Egyptian activists writing in the context of the 2013 military intervention in Egypt. Sadler draws on narrative theory and hermeneutics to argue that narrative remains a vital means for understanding, allowing fragmentary content to be grasped together as part of significant wholes.

For further details see: https://www.routledge.com/Fragmented-Narrative-Telling-and-Interpreting-Stories-in-the-Twitter-Age/Sadler/p/book/9781032036762

Read More