Skip to main content

Mobile applications as a tool of public participation in the context of political crisis in contemporary Russia

politics & society
8 Mai 14:15 - 14:45
30 Minuten


According to my hypothesis, the politically engaged russian developers are “translating” public demands into a technical language finding an immediate technical solution based on the capacity of users to create and share content, stay vigilant and control the functionning of public domain. Inspired by the concept of technical democracy of Michel Callon and influenced by the pragmatist philosophical tradition of John Dewey, I am trying to understand how these new technical devices transform the traditional forms of public participation and restructure official public services. I consider the interactive format of this presentation very important because it corresponds to the atmosphere in which the applications are created, the collective creative work of "problem definition" and collaborative research of technical solutions of societal challenges.



My presentation is a mix of an interactive workshop and a talk based on my research. The research I would like to present is a work in progress which I am doing as a part of my PhD thesis in the Center of Sociology of Innovation at the Mines ParisTech, France. I focus my analysis on the new practices of usage of mobile technologies in contemporary Russia. Since the beginning of the movement against the falsification of elections in 2011, the efficacy of public services in Russia seems to be discredited. A need of “direct democracy” and of a “desintermediated” participation in the political and social life is reclaimed by citizens. It is in this context of crisis of democratic institutions that a number of mobile applications have been developed by young engineers that are designed to facilitate the citizen control over the governmental institutions, to furnish a “counter-expertise” and to find collective solutions of public problems.
I give you only two examples of these applications. The first one is "Rossyama", an app that helps the car drivers, bikers and simple pedestrians to detect the holes or other type of damage on the road surfaces, to take the GPS of the hole, the app analyses the type of damage and sends it to the server that creates an account and a number for the hole and generates a text of the complaint in pdf that can be sent to the municipalities or to the road police who must react and repair the road in 35 days. Another example is an app that was largely used during the presidential elections, to help the observers to detect, register, film and analyze the cases of falsifications. The examples are very numerous and rich, and I think that they will be interesting for the audience of re:publica as they attest the russian creativity in the very difficult context of dysfunctioning of public services.
My research is based on a fieldwork that I've been doing in Russia since 2011 which consists of interviews with the developers of these “social” mobile applications, young entrepreneurs engaged in different “digital social projects”, and active users. I've also used the method of non-participant observation during the “hackathons” (2-day “social coding marathons” that take place in different regions of Russia and bring together local populations concerned by a problem, the developers and the local government).
I would like to transform my talk into a simulation of a hackathon, interacting with audience and discussing their experiences of similar applications in their countries as well as sharing their ideas of useful citizen apps (brainstorm and generation of ideas) that can be developped in Russia or in Europe.