Research

PEER-REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS:

“Russia’s Post-Soviet Ideological Terrain: Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and Debates on Authority, Agency, and Authenticity.” Slavic Review 77, no. 4 (2018): 998-1024. (with Wengle, Susanne and Christy Monet)

Much of the literature on post-Soviet ideology interprets ideology as the content of state-sponsored doctrines or measures it via persistent strands in public opinion. This paper relies on a different notion: we think of societal and state perspectives as engaged with each other in a contentious dialogue that is constitutive of ideology. With this dialogic conception of ideology, this paper provides a map of Russia’s ideological terrain through an analysis of the debates surrounding Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2014 film Leviathan. We show that the film and the debates it provoked engaged with state-sponsored narratives and highlight three key themes of ideational contestation in contemporary Russian politics: authority, agency, and authenticity. An examination of these ideational battles in which provocative and resonant societal critiques challenge dominant narratives provides an original account of ideology in contemporary Russia. It also speaks to debates on civil society that have increasingly become interested in ideational politics.

“War of words: the impact of Russian state television on the Russian Internet.” Nationalities papers 43, no. 4 (2015): 533-555. (with Christina Cottiero, Katherine Kucharskia, and Robert W. Orttung)

How effective is Russian state television in framing the conflict in Ukraine that began with the Euromaidan protests and what is its impact on Russian Internet users? We carried out a content analysis of Dmitrii Kiselev’s“News of the Week”show, which allowed us to identify the two key frames he used to explain the conflict–WorldWar II-era fascism and anti-Americanism. Since Kiselev often reduces these frames to buzzwords, we were able to track the impact of these words on Internet users by examining search query histories on Yandex and Google and by developing quantitative data to complement our qualitative analysis. Our findings show that much of what state media produces is not effective, but that the“fascist”and anti-American frames have had lasting impacts on Russian Internet users. We argue that it does not make sense to speak of competition between a“television party”and an“Internet party”in Russia since state television has a strong impact in setting the agenda for the Internet and society as a whole. Ultimately, the relationship between television and the Internet in Russia is a continual loop, with each affecting the other.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

What is the effect of Personnel Transitional Justice on Crime?” (with Genevieve Bates, Ipek Cinar, Monika Nalepa, and Evgenia Olimpieva)

What is the effect of transitional justice on crime in post-authoritarian states? An implicit assumption in the transitional justice literature is that by dealing with the hu- man rights abuses committed by the previous regime, new democracies can improve the quality of human rights practices in the future. Personnel transitional justice, like most forms of transitional justice, should advance respect for human rights and lower crime levels. This should in particular apply to post-authoritarian purges, which re- move staff of former authoritarian agencies, including agents of repression, from in- stitutions of the state. But what happens when entire organizations of the old regime apparatus are purged? Using novel data on transitional justice, we argue that this par- ticular transitional justice process—what we call a thorough purge—can actually hurt human rights practices in the countries that have implemented it. We suggest that by removing entire networks of former authoritarian state officials from office, thorough purges can help lay foundations for the establishment of clandestine criminal organi- zations, which can, paradoxically, increase crime levels, contrary to the intentions of policymakers in new democracies.

“Forcing Their Dirty Fingers into National Wounds: Strategies of Russia Today on YouTube and their Consequences for Political Polarization” (with Geneva Cole and Ipek Cinar)

States invest money in media designed to reach an international audience to shape public opinion abroad. How does the messaging of state-funded media outlets differ from independent media sources in their coverage of topics, and what are their effects on domestic politics? This paper explores the choice of topics covered by Russia Today (RT) on YouTube and how framing and coverage of topics affect the viewership of the channel and the consequences these strategies have for political polarization in the United States. Using a unique dataset of all the videos published by RT on YouTube between 2015 and 2018, we employ both unsupervised learning techniques and qualitative content analysis of key videos. We find that RT focuses on the issues that are anti-institutional and polarizing in nature and invest their limited resources into coverage of countries’ major sources of polarization (or “national wounds”). The paper focuses on American audiences and on a topic directly addressing one such national wound: police brutality. RT covers police disproportionately more than other broadcasters with international audiences, and coverage of police is among the most popular content put forth by RT. This is important for polarization in American politics along both racial and partisan lines. We demonstrate that investing in covering painful and divisive subjects pays off as it drives the viewership of RT on YouTube. However, increased viewership implies increased exposure to polarizing content. This has negative consequences for polarization as previous research has demonstrated that exposure of an already polarized society to a biased media can result in even deeper polarization.