“In the District”: Youth Solidarities on the Urban Periphery
The article presents the results of a pilot survey1 devoted to the behavior of young people in the public places of residential districts in St. Petersburg. These places are viewed as the spaces of potential interaction among the various urban publics in which the processes of self-identification and the establishment of social differences take place, and also where the foundations for the formation of solidarities are laid down.
This article focuses on the meanings of search work in Russia, i.e. the search for and identification of the unburied remains of Soviet soldiers who perished in WW2. These meanings are constructed not only by the participants of expeditions (or poiskoviki, as they call themselves), but also by the Russian authorities, who actively support this movement. To reconstruct these meanings, we rely on several different sources: the addresses of Russia’s presidents to the search movement, participant observations as part of expeditions, interviews with their members and texts by the searchers themselves in the form of books, stories, songs and blog posts in social media. The rhetoric of the state authorities as regards the movement is filled with elevated sentiments like “patriotism”, “heroism”, “education”, “pride for the Fatherland”, and “national consolidation”. They tend to discursively embed it in the patriotic education of Russian citizens, formulating the meanings of the search in the context of militarized patriotism. The search work is presented by the president as a demonstration of “genuine patriotism”, which consists in defending the country with arms and self-sacrifice. Searchers’ statements about their work are colored with motives of a different tone, such as the sense of unfairness towards the soldiers who have remained unburied for decades. Some members of the movement reject the patriotic rhetoric and critically contest the educational effect of their work. The desire to restore fairness by burying the remains and informing the relatives about the fate of missing soldiers is the basic meaning of the searches according to the participants. A successful search is thought to contribute to the understanding of the tragedy of a family that lost loved ones in the war. The problematization of the war in the searchers’ experiences is discursively and explicitly contrasted with the authorities’ militaristic rhetoric.
St. Petersburg is home to the discussion club Polit-Gramota. The club sees itself as an alternative public space that offers young people the opportunity to discuss politics and society freely. At the same time, they acquire the skills needed for a career in journalism, civil society, and politics. Even at the height of the political polarisation that accompanied the mass protests against election fraudin the winter of 2011-12, Polit-Gramota was able to maintain its neutrality and guarantee pluralism. This protects free spaces for expression in an authoritarian state and lets young people, who are ignored in mainstream politics, be heard.
The chapter represents the results of a study of new youth solidarities based on the research of the discussion club ‘Polit-gramota’ in St Petersburg, Russia. The club is analysed as an alternative public space of young people that provides the members with opportunities for professional socialisation as politicians, journalists and activists. It also can be viewed as a collective strategy of overcoming the barriers on the entry to ‘adult’ politics and journalism. By creating this alternative space the ‘Polit-gramota’ members reinterpret the traditional political institutions and make the voice of the youth be heard, whereas in the dominating discourse young people are not actively represented and are viewed as passive subjects of policies.
During the last two decades a lot of new cultural institutions have emerged in St. Petersburg. Being both modern cultural centers and spaces for work and living of the “creative class”, such institutions are not only oriented on exhibition and educational activities (lectures, workshops, etc), but also follow entertainment purposes (including cafes, bars, shops). These organizations are similar in forms of institutionalization, in products and in strategies they choose. However, many differences between them can be found. Our aim was to investigate the process of cultural production in St. Petersburg. Our study is based on data, collected by the research group: “Creative city”. The questions we are answering are: (1) what is the aim of these institutions? (2) What are elements of process of cultural production? (3) How can the entertainment projects be mixed with cultural production? What audience do they focus on?
The review highlights the significance of the anthropological perspective to the contemporary Russian city developed by the authors of the book. Describing the city through the lenses of the groups whose role in shaping the cityscape changed dramatically in last two decades, the book attracts attention to the new agents such as migrants, queer coomunities, youth subcultures contributing to the formation of new conventions and new practices of urban life. This perspective is important for understanding the urban life in Russia as shaped by everyday practices and interactions.
Urban public space continues to be the focus of debate regarding its conceptualization and how it is designed, (re)produced and managed. Nowadays public spaces are facing new challenges conceptually and practically. This book focuses on two of them: mobility and aestheticization. Mobility and flows are considered to be key characteristics of the post-modern era. While for some scholars it means the «end of place», others are trying to re-conceptualize it by bringing together notions of space, place, mobility and identity. Still surprisingly few authors address the concept of public space in this respect. Principles of aesthetic and diverse forms of aestheticization seem to have affected urban space and culture throughout Modernity, forming a dimension where power and conflict around urban space are performed. In this book nine authors with social science and arts backgrounds from six countries discuss how these processes shape the life of modern cities, and where the social sciences should move for a better understanding of them.