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  • Exploring Global Politics, Culture, Art and Propaganda in the Social Media Age

Exploring Global Politics, Culture, Art and Propaganda in the Social Media Age

Today, we have moved from the political concept of panem et circenses (bread and circuses) to keep the masses happy to the dangers of culture driven by spectacle and politics driven by algorithms. Post-war theoreticians of the crowd had personal experience of fascism, and today contemporary artists are attempting to address similar problems. During the XX April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, scheduled this year for April 9-12 at the Higher School of Economics, Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, will explore some of these issues in her presentation 'Culture and Emigration, Crowds and Power.'

Her paper draws on recent events involving the rise of populism in the West, as well as Russian and Chinese influence in today’s global political and cultural environment. Ahead of the conference, Wilson spoke briefly with the HSE News Service about her conference presentation, her impressions of Russian art, and plans for ongoing collaboration with HSE colleagues.

— At a high level, what are the main findings in your paper that you will cover during your presentation?

— The history of the study of crowds, which immediately fed into the 19th century military complex, is playing out in the world of contemporary politics today in a world ruled by social media and algorithms. This is fascinating and of course dangerous!

— In the abstract to your presentation, you wrote ‘propaganda has moved from walls to phones: the problem of “mind rape” remains.’ Could you say a little more about this thesis? 

— Serge Tchakotine's book in 1939 examined what he called 'the rape of the crowds by political propaganda' in a world where propaganda was essentially paper-based (books, posters, etc.) and radio-based (Hitler's voice on the radio). Fine art was important enough for huge government investment -  by the USSR, Nazi Germany even Republican Spain. Today, the power of the internet and the phone are paramount: the calculations of appeal to the 'lowest common denominator' make mass 'dumbing down' part of a lamentable political strategy worldwide, in conjunction with  the cooption of already semi-literate or illiterate masses. 

The very concept of 'mind' is surely morphing as the world becomes paradoxically imperilled by its technologies.

— Are you planning any joint programmes with HSE in the future?  

— I was invited to run an MA at HSE Moscow and am eager to relaunch negotiations.   

— Is there any modern Russian art that you find particularly interesting? Do you have any special plans to visit certain museums or galleries in Moscow while at the conference?

— I am passionately interested in all Russian/Soviet modern and contemporary art as it traverses 20th and 21st century history — art historically, politically and ethnographically. I shall endeavour to see as much as possible, thanks to my well-informed friends, while in Moscow. I have seen the art landscape change immeasurably since my first visit with personnel from the Centre Pompidou way back in 1981!

See also:

‘I Have Always Respected the University’s Comprehensiveness and Inclusiveness’

Throughout July, students of the HSE International Summer University are studying Russian History and Behavioural Economics. The courses are taking place in an online format—something that seemed unthinkable for a summer programme before the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent years have shown that online learning is a unique opportunity for students from all over the world to study with leading HSE University professors from the comfort of their own homes.

Funny Pictures of Difficult Era

The first major Soviet publisher of children's literature, Raduga, was established a century ago and featured the debuts of many authors who would later go on to become famous, as well as illustrations by prominent artists. Based on a research paper by Marina Sazonenko, graduate of the HSE Doctoral School of Art and Design, IQ.HSE examines how — and why — the illustrations in Soviet periodicals for children changed over time.

‘There Is Something Inherently Interesting in People Who Break the Mainstream Norm’

This December, HSE University’s Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities hosted Professor Juliane Fürst, from Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History, who gave a lecture about Soviet hippies and the Soviet Flower Power. In an interview with HSE News Service, Professor Fürst spoke about her interest in Soviet subcultures and her research plans.

‘Boundaries of History’ Seminar Starts New Season of Meetings

On September 30, Stephen Riegg, Assistant Professor of History of the Texas A&M University, presented his book Russia’s Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914 at the first seminar of this year’s Boundaries of History series.We spoke with Professor Alexander Semyonov, the seminar chair and the Director of the HSE Centre for Historical Research, about the goals of the seminar and to Stephen Riegg about his research.

European Values: From the Discovery of America to the First World War

The English-language course ‘Europe and the World, ca. 1500 to 1914’ has launched on Coursera. Its author, Andrey Iserov, Deputy Dean for International Affairs at the HSE Faculty of Humanities, examines a historical span of four centuries during which European states reached the peak of their economic, military, and political power. Students of the course will learn how the independence of Hispanic America by the mid-1820s influenced China, what caused the religious schism in Western Christianity in the 16th century, and how European colonial policy developed.

‘The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past’

This summer, the HSE Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences was reorganized to become the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Oleg Budnitskii, Doctor of Historical Sciences, head of the Centre and director of the Institute, talked to the HSE News Service about the new division.

Exploring the History of Places and Environment in Russia

The collective volume Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, co-edited by David Moon, Nicholas B. Breyfogle, and HSE researcher Alexandra Bekasova, was recently presented at a seminar of the Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History of the Centre for Historical Research at HSE – St. Petersburg. The book is one of the fruits of a networking project carried out in 2013-2016 with active participation of HSE researchers.

Conference Brings Together New Perspectives on the Russian Far East

On March 28-31, 2021, the HSE International Laboratory ‘Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective’ held an international conference ‘The Russian Far East: Regional and Transnational Perspectives (19th -21st cent.)’. The event was jointly organized by the Laboratory with the German Historical Institute Moscow, Indiana University Bloomington (USA), and the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East FEB RAS (Vladivostok).

Studying the Middle Ages Is Fascinating

The recently launched Master's Programme in Medieval Studies is the only Master’s degree in Russia fully dedicated to medieval studies. HSE News Service spoke with Juan Sota, a second-year student of the programme, about its unique features, interacting with professors, and his research interests and aspirations.

British Scholar on Exploring Russian History

On February 9, the HSE International Laboratory 'Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective' hosted Janet Hartley (London School of Economics), who presented her recent monograph The Volga: A History of Russia’s Greatest River. The presentation was part of a joint lecture series between the Laboratory and The Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. HSE news service spoke with Janet Hartley about her interest in Russia, her experience travelling and doing research in Russia, and the books she has written on Russia.