Today’s Russia is a hostile environment for genuine political activity, and especially for movements that aim at changing the current power structure. This is due to the factually limited manoeuvre space of oppositional actors who face obstacles in the form of repression, surveillance and restricted access to the public sphere. Moreover, society is largely apolitical, with political activity often considered futile, immoral, or dangerous. In this profile, we portray the electoral campaign of the opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who built a popular movement around his bid to participate in the 2018 presidential elections. Although the campaign failed to build up sufficient pressure for Navalny to be granted access to the elections, and despite the strong hierarchy inside his campaign, we argue that it contributed to the politicization of parts of the younger generation in the country’s provinces – which may have greater long-term effects than any concrete projects envisioned or controlled by the campaign’s strategists.
This paper develops Bourdieusian notions of habitus, capital and field, along with the allied concepts of hysteresis and homology, to examine routes into public activism in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on a neighbourhood campaign against construction projects in the Moscow district of Izmailovo, we argue that mobilization was driven by activists whose formative years took place during the Soviet period, and this resultant Soviet habitus enabled them to sustain their mobilization, despite the unpropitious circumstances. Our data shows that activists’ engagement was first triggered by perceived discrepancies between Soviet ideals and post-Soviet realities (hysteresis), and then supported by the mutual recognition of actors whose grievances echoed similarities in their structural positions (homologies). However, although mobilization gained momentum, it was unable to achieve definitive success in the face of negative social capital, or what Russians call administrativniy resurs: the arbitrary use of public office power that characterizes a number of social fields in post-Soviet Russia. We argue that understanding post-Soviet mobilization requires an understanding of the continued significance of Soviet ideals, as well of the role of the intergenerational transfer of civic ideals amid Bourdieusian ‘class struggle’.
An interactive approach to social movements highlights time dynamics in ways more correlational approaches do not, in that interaction and outcomes unfold in sequences as players react to one another. Some aspects of these engagements are shaped by institutional schedules, while others leave discretion to the players. Some institutional schedules, meanwhile, may be reshaped by strategic interactions. By examining the implicit trade-offs and explicit dilemmas that pervade strategic interaction, we see how some are tightly linked to time whereas others more closely reflect ongoing structural situations. Analyzing the case of participatory budgeting in New York City, we focus on two trade-offs, ‘being there’ and ‘powerful allies’, that appear when social movements attempt to institutionalize new policies and processes. These time-based strategic trade-offs complicate activists’ efforts to secure lasting gains.