Blog communities as a part of civil society in Russia
Blogs as a personal online easy-to-use publishing tool enable ordinary people to express their opinions, share news, but also openly criticize authorities. This features make blogging a part of any media system. In some societies this alternative channel of information seems to be vital in the face of press freedom restrictions. Blogging and blog communities are claimed to be extremely popular in the Russian language segment of the Internet (colloquially Runet) and are often seen as one of the most vivid spaces of political debate. On the other hand, according to some estimation, the movement has been failing the expectation of mobilizing the relatively weak Russian civil society. The focus of this research is blogging as an alternative public forum in a specific political environment of modern Russia. In general, I am looking for an answer to a broad question: what does political debate in the blogosphere mean for civic engagement and, as a result, for Russian civil society? As the subject of the research I have chosen the most populated and active blog platform of Runet – the Russian language element of LiveJournal.com, which includes several dozen political communities involving thousands of bloggers. The research implies an interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on the concepts of civic engagement, civil society, participatory media and the role of media in different societies. I use the mixed methods paradigm: quantitative analysis of factors that affect bloggers’ participatory action and qualitative discourse analysis of attitudes and meanings that political debate in blogs has for Russian civil society. The first part of the research is based on a questionnaire survey among bloggers of political discussions (June 2009), and the second part will be based on a series of interviews with active bloggers and media experts (2010). In my view, the current development of the blogosphere, and the Russian language element of LiveJournal in particular, resembles an intellectual discussion club with no serious effect on real life and is obviously harmless for political system. Though, we might expect changes in this respect as a result of the ongoing economic recession and growing social discontent.