The Methodology of Studying “Spontaneous” Street Activism (Russian Protests and Street Camps, December 2011–July 2012)

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Alexander Bikbov


This article considers some methodological problems that arose while studying the street protest movement in Russia in 2011–2012. This research was conducted from December 2011 on by the Independent Research Initiative NII mitingov, whose members interviewed participants of street actions such as demonstrations, marches, and street camps. The article engages with a number of key issues in research on mass-scale street activism. The “double engagement” position of the researcher and research group, who must negotiate their positionalities between academic and activist logics, is discussed and problematized. I also discuss whether in situ interviewing during a protest is an acceptable methodology. Additionally, the article problematizes media interpretations of the social make-up and the political homogeneity of protestors, which have formed the “instantaneous” horizon of meaning for subsequent sociological inquiries; considers questions of the legality of street actions and the apposite issue of demonstrators’ compliance with the law; lays the groundwork for an analytical model of the emotional dynamics of the protest, where anger and irony emerge not as instances of spontaneous affect on the part of participants but rather as parts of a sequence generated through practices of virtual communication. Finally, I briefly consider the possibilities for further analysis of street activism, including its less evident social consequences beyond the domain of electoral practices. In Russian, extended summary in English.


Russia, Social Movements, Protests, Elections, Mobilization, Interviews, "Okkupai" Movement, Mass Media, Social Structure, Political Representation

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