Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Boris Gladarev (Center for Independent Social Research, Russia)

Kapitolina Fedorova (European University, Russia)

Aleksandra Kasatkina (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russia)

Panel abstract: Public Muteness Syndrome : Problems of Public Debates in Russia

Due to many reasons, public debates were always problematical in Russia. There were several, and mostly unsuccessful, attempts to impose this genre on the Russian society from above (e.g. the Legislative Commission organized by Catherine the Great) but even nowadays most public discussions face the same interrelated problems: weakness of civil society institutions and lack of the language suitable for use in the public sphere.

The proposed panel aims to investigate this "linguistic aspect" of public debates in modern Russia hampering further development of the civil society. Schematically the situation can be described as follows: there are two extremely separated discourses, the so called "official language" (or "langue de bois" in Patrick Seriot's terms), inherited from the Soviet times, and the "private language" used in friendly communication. The first one is heavily loaded with bureaucratic clichés and rigid formulas, and it is strongly associated with desemantization and imitation of speech typical in the Soviet public discourse rather than with proper referential use. The second one is absolutely informal, filled with syntactic ellipsis and other features of colloquial speech which limits its use to interpersonal communication. In real-life situations when a group of people unacquainted with each other tries to come to some common decision on a certain question (be it, e.g., an installment of water meters in the condominium or organizing of protest activities against demolition of historical buildings) it usually ends up in two different ways: either the meeting is conducted officially, with all decisions made beforehand by authorities, and the audience being merely informed on them; or, if the real discussion starts, it soon turns into complete disorder with everyone shouting and not listening to others. There is lack of a proper communicative tool for public discussions, the language which could be at the same time impersonalized but not senseless and artificial. As a result, public debates are not seen by most Russian people as necessary part of public life; they are not involved in the process of decision-making.

In the proposed panel we aim to analyze different cases of public debates in Russia focusing on the problems of public language and the strategies that can be used to make public communication more successful. As their material panelists will use records of various public events: meetings of political opposition leaders and Putin's supporters, meetings of city activists' groups and members of "dacha" cooperatives. These different cases demonstrate both difficulties people have to confront in public communication and new ways and strategies for organizing public discussions which can be used to overcome the "public muteness syndrome". Panelist, representing different academic disciplines, will approach the problem from their respective angle – sociological, anthropological, and linguistic.