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Regular version of the site

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:

Library Night at HSE: Shakespeare, Museums and Quests

Almost 40 teams took part in the ‘Through the pages of Basmania’ quest, organized by the Higher School of Economics as part of an annual citywide event, Library Night. Event participants also staged passages from Romeo and Juliet and attended lectures about theatre at HSE library.

How Equality Started in Research

Legally, the 1917 revolution solved the gender issue in the Russian academic community. The doors to the profession opened for women, but a ‘glass ceiling’ remained. Ekaterina Streltsova and Evgenia Dolgova studied who it affected and why. This study is the first to present a socio-demographic analysis of the female academic community in Moscow and Leningrad during the early Soviet era.

Post-Doctoral Fellow Discusses Research on Soviet-Era Citizenship and Language Policy

Dr Anna Whittington is currently a Research Fellow at The International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences through the end of August 2019. She recently spoke with the HSE News Service about her work on changes in Soviet-era language policy, her thoughts on life in Moscow and how the city has changed, and much more.

Exploring Political and Cultural Space of St Petersburg through the Summer School 'Topography of Imperial Power'

On a grey autumn day, it is always nice to warm up by reliving memories of summer adventures. This year, the balmy weather did not leave our city till mid-October, and a summer mood also lingered at HSE University – St Petersburg with the IV International Summer School 'The Topography of Imperial Power: Political and Cultural Space of Saint Petersburg' which ran from September 11 till October 2, 2018.

LSE and HSE University – St Petersburg Support Russian Historians

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and HSE University – St Petersburg launch the Paulsen Programme, funded by the Dr Frederik Paulsen Foundation, in order to support historians in Russia who have been working on the period from the mid 17th century to 1918.

Researching Modern Music

Alexandra Kolesnik, Junior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at HSE’s Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities recently completed her post graduate studies in History and successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Historical representations in British popular musical culture of the 1960-1980s’. Here, Alexandra talks about her research into modern pop-culture.

Post-Doc Fellow from USA Studies Russian and Soviet Film and Photography

Jessica Werneke, who completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa and her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, joined the International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences as a Research Fellow in 2016. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she has spent a considerable amount of time living internationally – in both the UK and Latvia – and following her post-doc plans to start a new position as a Newton International Fellow of the British Academy at Loughborough University, where she will continue her research on Soviet photography clubs and amateur photographers in the RSFSR and the Baltic Republics.

The Soviet Film Revolution

The October Revolution created a new cinema. At first, 'the most important of all arts' struggled to keep up with social transformations and was not yet used as a weapon in the fight for a communist culture. But the mid-1920s, an innovative, cutting-edge film industry had emerged from sources such as theatre, street performance, posters, poetry and circus shows. This industry was able to do what the politicians had failed to achieve, namely trigger a world revolution.

Recent Lecture Addresses Reflections on Empire, Russia and Historical Comparison

On October 11, Professor Dominic Lieven of the University of Cambridge, where he serves as Senior Research Fellow, Trinity College, gave a public lecture at HSE St Petersburg entitled ‘Reflections on empire, Russia and historical comparison’. The event was organized by the Center for Historical Research.

Overcoming the Revolution

A hundred years has passed since the October Revolution of 1917, but this event still hasn’t reached its logical conclusion. Its consequences are still crucial in defining the political system in Russia today and fostering divisions in society, believes Andrey Medushevsky, Professor at the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, political scientist, historian and author of the book A Political History of the Russian Revolution: Norms, Institutions and Forms of Social Mobilization in the 20th Century.