Penitentiaries, E-Governance, Post-Soviet Studies, Uneven Modernity, Modernization Theories, Nation-State, Communications Technology, History of the Internet
The aim of this introduction and the ensuing discussion is to explore the role of the Internet in postsocialist Russian penitentiary practice and the social economy of punishment. The Internet has multiple functions in modern societies, as an information resource, communication tool, and instrument of government. This introductory essay is based on what could be called a digital phenomenology of the Russian Internet, supplemented by interviews with experts and a small selection of photographs from the personal archive of Ol’ga Romanova. As such, it provides only an outline of questions, with few tentative answers, which suggest how one might problematize the social significance of Internet-based services that have been offered in Russian penitentiaries since 2009 alongside the growth of the Internet as a medium of information exchange on penitentiaries. In sharp contrast to the language of modernization that governments and corporations tend to apply when they introduce digital technologies, their practical implementation in penitentiaries suggests at best uneven levels of modernity. Looking at the Russian case through the way it presents itself on the Internet, this essay and the following contributions by Judith Pallot and Yvonne Jewkes invite future studies to apply theories of “uneven modernity” and “normalization” in order to lay out critical perspectives for understanding the Russian case in comparative and diachronic perspective. In English.