'A Quiet Revolution?' Discursive Representations of Non-Heteronormative Sexuality

Lead Research Organisation: CARDIFF UNIVERSITY
Department Name: Journalism Media and Cultural Studies


Building on the PI's leadership in post-Soviet non-heteronormative sexuality (NHS), this project will examine the range of available discourses on NHS in post-Soviet Russia (1999-2019). It will bring together grassroots, semi- and official media discourses in order to understand the formation of what some have called a 'quiet revolution'.
Within Putin's conservative nation-building agenda, the Russian mediascape excludes or marginalises alternative sexualities' voices from official discourse. However, certain manifestations of NHS infiltrate public space through convergent traditional and new media (Jenkins, 2006) and the performativity of NHS in popular culture (Estrada, internet memes, Eurovision Song Contest entries), which can potentially challenge, inform or authenticate establishment discourse.
While there is an emerging interest in reconceptualising alternative sexual identities in the post-Soviet region (Mole, 2011; Pietilä, 2010; Tereskinas, 2009) and Russia (Baer, 2009; Healey, 2001; Kon, 2010; Stella, 2015), there is insufficient research on media representations of NHS in Russia. My pilot project (2014) indicated an urgent need for this research. This study is also particularly timely in light of recent broader trends in global discourse: the rising 'traditional, conservative values' rhetoric in the USA, some parts of Western and Eastern Europe.
This study brings together approaches from Cultural, Gender, Media and Area Studies to produce the first interdisciplinary account of how convergent media amalgamates discourses on NHS into distinct (nation-specific) representational systems in Russia. There are three main research questions: (RQ1) How is NHS constructed in post-Soviet Russia? (RQ2) What is the role of mainstream and alternative media in this process? (RQ3) How have discursive representations of NHS in Russia evolved over time?
The project will explore the last 20 years of NHS mediation in Russia (1999-2019) and will account for discursive representations at three different levels (grassroots, semi-official and state media). It will employ a Laclauan model of hegemony (1985) adapted for the post-Soviet context, and an interpretative framework by Barbero (1992) on how media texts relate to social and cultural practices. It will demonstrate how the meanings related to NHS change during the process of circulation between official and grassroots levels (challenging, subverting and attenuating mainstream media discourse). The project will also account for the intercultural dialogue dimension, as 'western' NHS codes are re-translated in the Russian cultural context.
This will be the first substantive interdisciplinary study of discursive representations of NHS in the Russian context resulting in the online database (DB), a vital contribution to the knowledge in the absence of any systematic work on the topic and the peripheral status of Gender studied in the region. The exploration of the NHS in official and the semi-official convergent media will be supplemented with the grassroots responses (interviews with the public to explore how different audiences engage with and respond to discourses of NHS in media) and cross-referenced with official engagement (policy). The research will focus on media texts, reoccurring static and moving images, voices, tropes, etc. The Russia case study will inform comparable or related studies in the UK.
Research beneficiaries will include academics, media practitioners, policy-makers, human rights organisations, LGBT networks, and the general public. A series of events in the UK and Russia will gather interim feedback from these groups to inform the DB development. Impacts will include recommendations for media and policy-makers and broader discussions on the role of culture in social cohesion and inclusion. A new Post-Soviet Sexualities Forum will be established, to provide a sustained collaborative space for areas of research and impact after the project is completed.

Planned Impact

The project's progress will be monitored and guided by the advisory board (see Case for Support). Emergent findings will be shared and discussed through ongoing consultation with stakeholders throughout the research. Findings and recommendations will be disseminated through a number of academic and non-academic, publicly-accessible outputs and events, outlined in the Academic Beneficiaries and Pathways to Impact sections.

The research will: i) monitor, document and publicise post-Soviet media representations of non-mainstream sexuality, to problematize rhetoric on non-heteronormative sexuality (NHS) and challenge grassroots homophobic culture; ii) involve media monitoring agencies, policy-makers and media industry leaders, particularly during data analysis and dissemination stages; iii) create a Post-Soviet Sexualities Forum (PSSF) to provide informed insights and feed into national and regional public policy on media coverage of NHS.

Who Will Benefit?

1. Academics will gain a greater understanding of how NHS is represented in the post-Soviet context; how convergent media amalgamates discourses on NHS into nation-specific representational systems and how the discourses on NHS have evolved over time (via the new online database, the PSSF, etc.).
2. Media practitioners and journalism students will gain a greater awareness of the nature and dynamic of media coverage of NHS in contemporary Russia.
3. Media monitoring agencies (e.g. SOVA in Russia), media outlets and professional bodies (e.g. journalist unions) will benefit from systematic feedback on representations of sexuality-related matters. It will enable a more precise lobbying around representations of NHS and the role of media in this process.
4. Think tanks such as Chatham House will gain access to rigorous evidence about media practice on NHS, feeding into complex debates around media discourse, sexuality, culture and human rights.
5. General public can learn more about the interrelationship between NHS and media.
4. Policy makers will get access to a systematised catalogue of data and deepen their understanding of the media's role in representing NHS.
5. Human rights and LGBT activists will have access to the findings, to support their campaigns on tackling homophobia and, thus, improve LGBT citizens' quality of life.

How They Will Benefit?

The project will:
1. Provide a novel perspective on studying the culture and representation of sexuality. It will encourage strategic thinking among early career academics on how meanings are transferred across mediascapes, between official and grassroots discourses.
2. Provide a new online database which documents media representations of NHS, contributing to a more connected community and providing a useful resource for research, teaching and policy activities.
3. The Post-Soviet Sexualities Forum (PSSF) will provide a collaborative space to inform new areas of research.
4. Enhance public knowledge about the dynamic of mediation of NHS in Russia, thus fostering community cohesion and respect for sexual minorities
5. Engage with, and feed into, national and regional public debate, to inform policy initiatives and enhance public service provision for NHS individuals.
6. Increases national media effectiveness in dealing with NHS matters via briefings on trends uncovered; informs about the mediation of NHS (in the post-Soviet context) and ensure balanced reporting on Russia by other countries' media (BBC, etc.).
8. Challenge the perception of an overwhelming, homogeneous control over state media in Russia, raising awareness about media transformations and potential for comparative studies in the UK and elsewhere.
9. Bring to light an overlooked issue of the complex flow of meanings on NHS between western and post-Soviet culture, to open new avenues for intercultural dialogue and exchange (e.g. music entertainment industry, the Eurovision Song Contest).


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Description Despite a so-called 'gay propaganda' Russian legislation (2013) and a trend for a silencing and/or a rigid framing of alternative sexualities in the state media, the study uncovered a multitude of 'permissible' representations both in the official media and popular entertainment culture. A merger between new and traditional media also enables a multiplicity of voices and provides alternative spaces for discourses on non-heteronormative sexualities. So, a 'quiet revolution' can be seen in the proliferation of alternative non-heterosexual subcultures, which can potentially inform and/or challenge the establishment discourse.
The findings are informed by both quantitative and qualitative insights in the last 20 years (1999-2019) of mediation of alternative sexualities in Russia.
Exploitation Route The findings challenge the perception of an overwhelming, homogeneous control over state media in Russia. It will inform various policy making initiatives and diplomatic strategies.

The findings will benefit the academics, general public, LGBTQ community and media monitoring agencies, as the project creates a systematised account of how alternative sexuality is represented in Russia.

The mapping of representation of alternative sexuality in Russian popular culture opens new avenues for intercultural dialogue and exchange (e.g. the Eurovision Song Contest). This finding will be useful for a creative cultural industry and communication sector.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description A workshop, Chatham House, London (01/05/2019)
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The workshop at Chatham House was initiated and organised by the PI; a number of academics, legal and NGO practitioners were invited to provide evidence of the rights of the LGBTQ+and their representation in Russia. Several members from the audience (which included diplomates, media practitioners, etc.) note the timeliness of the event and admitted that it was very informative. As a result they changed their attitudes towards the issue and acknowledged that the situation is much more complex and nuanced than it was previously considered. After the event the head of Russia and Eurasia programme suggested to write up the relevant project's findings in the form of policy paper. The draft of this policy paper is now in preparation.
URL https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/sexual-politics-and-lgbtq-issues-russia
Description The PI led a master class on Activism and Modes of Resistance in Russia, Tampere University, Helsinki (November 2019)
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The participants of the masterclass are international (European) postgraduate students, creative industry practitioners (bloggers, etc.), community activists and media practitioners. The formal feedback after the masterclass indicated that the participants (i) changed their attitudes; (II) became aware of various region-related issues, agents and institutions, which they are going to refer to in there future activity (educational, NGO, journalism, grassroots activism, etc.). Some of the participant are members of LGBTQ+ communities, who (during the course of the masterclass) were introduced to a wider network of relevant NGO centres and activists in Russia (via Skype). During the formal feedback (among other things), the participants stated that they will use the knowledge, skills and contacts obtained to improve well-being of various minority groups they are involved with.
URL https://research.uta.fi/tarc/masterclass-2019/meet-the-teachers-of-tarcs-master-class-2019/
Title Database 
Description The Project Database systematises available representations of alternative sexualities in the mainstream media in Russia (1999-2019). This is the first substantive database of media representations of LGBTQ issues in Russia. The representations were selected in line with several parameters: timeframe (1999-2019), genre (the study looks at TV programmes, online memes, print and online ads, cinematography, festivals and pop music, etc.), relevance (in line with the definition of the AS) and prominence (popularity). The RA on the project was primarily responsible for the database. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database will be finalised and made available to the general public in summer 2021 
Description A collaboration with the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki (Finland) 
Organisation University of Helsinki
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My expertise, access to professional networks and intellectual input have informed the future research trajectory of this partner. My previous work on the topic and research training have informed our grant application (see the details below). Access to Cardiff University's equipment and facilities during the visit of the Finnish scholar (Sep-Nov 2018).
Collaborator Contribution My partner's expertise, contacts and intellectual input in the grant application. Access to the University of Helsinki's equipment, resources and facilities during my week-long visit in December 2018 and another week-long visit in August 2019.
Impact There were two exchange visits between the PI and a Finnish collaborator -Saara Ratilainen-funded by the University of Helsinki in 2018. A joint grant application on a related topic of the mediations of feminism using the case Russia was submitted in February 2019 to the University of Helsinki. Another grant application to KONE foundation (Finland) was submitted later on in 2019.
Start Year 2018
Description BASEES study group (UK) and Russian Media lab (Finland) 
Organisation University of Helsinki
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I bring my contacts, resources and expertise. The key contribution here is my established reputation as a proactive convener of BASEES study group called (Digital) Media and Cultures from 2016-to date.
Collaborator Contribution The Media lab will draw on their networks and expertise. They will draw on their own funding in case of any UK-based events.
Impact From 2019 BASEES study group (Digital) Media and Cultures started a strategic partnership with the Russian Media Lab. This will enable us to enlarge our European networks and more effectively feed into policy and public initiatives regarding Russian Media.
Start Year 2019
Description BASEES study group_(Digital) Media and Cultures 
Organisation British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution I have initiated this study group in 2016. I have contributed my expertise, intellectual resources, time, access to professional networks (going beyond academia) and initiative.
Collaborator Contribution I co-convene the group with Dr Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds), who has contributed his expertise, resources and access to relevant networks. In 2018 BASEES competition round, our study group was awarded 800 pounds for two events (an academic workshop and a network building meeting). Thanks to BASEES funding, the study group has steadily expanded its network, which has been reflected in the BASEES 2019 annual convention programme (12-14 April 2019).
Impact BASEES Digital Media and Culture study group, formed in 2016, is responsible for a number of successful research activities. These include (i) two research workshops, one of which was organised by young researchers (these events were partially funded by BASEES); (ii) a special issue of Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media (www.digitalicons.org) which focuses on women and technology (2018), (iii) a special issue of Europe Asia Studies (the proposal is under consideration). Thanks to BASEES funding, the study group has steadily expanded its network, which has been reflected in the BASEES 2019 annual convention programme (12-14 April 2019). It includes a large number of panels and round tables that look at media and digital culture in the countries of the region (http://www.suzy-howes.co.uk/basees/programme.pdf).
Start Year 2016
Description Queer Archives_Transnational Network 
Organisation Ohio State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have initiated an informal network of scholars working on queer post/Soviet archives (based in the USA, Germany, Ireland and UK) with the view to enable a cross-cultural collaboration, exchange of expertise including their own databases. Preservation of existing records and accumulation of archives will be vital in light of Russian invasion in Ukraine in February 2022 and subsequent ongoing communication and media isolation. I cannot seem to add other partners in this form.
Collaborator Contribution The informal network will enable exchanges of accumulated data on the subject. The partners will also bring their expertise, intellectual input and expertise now how to use search tools and available online facilities for queer data archiving.
Impact Exchange of archives, creation of informal network accessible to both non- and academics interested in queer archives.
Start Year 2021
Description Tampere University 
Organisation University of Tampere
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have shared my expertise and knowledge with the staff and students at Tampere University. I have also advised on the possible themes for next year's masterclass.
Collaborator Contribution The staff at Tampere University provided access to the relevant networks, facilities and equipment during the masterclass.
Impact A set of teaching and learning materials was developed for this masterclass. These materials (as well as the feedback from the participants) will be used to develop a course at Cardiff University in 2020/2021.
Start Year 2019
Description 'Queer Art in Contemporary Russia' I have chaired and hosted a talk by V. Strukov, Pushkin House, London, 02/05/2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I chaired and hosted a talk by V. Stukov for a general audience interested in the subject. The members of the audience (of various age, country of origin and educational and professional background) attended as they were interested in Russia's queer art and representations of alternative sexualities.

30 people attended the event (which was ticketed). I have moderated the discussion.

The event also triggered a lot of interest in my project and I had a number of requests to access the data (including the project's database).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.pushkinhouse.org/events/2019/3/4/queer-art-in-contemporary-russia-hard-to-find-and-easy-...
Description A network meeting held at JOMEC, Cardiff Uni (January 2019). 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A network event was devoted to the dissemination of the preliminary findings of the project and was followed by a Q&A session. The audience included PhD and postdoctorate researchers, senior academics and representatives of the local LGBT community.
The audience's feedback was extremely helpful in identifying any gaps, potential beneficiaries and engagements beyond academia in Cardiff, Wales. The second part of the meeting was focused on networking. One of the immediate meeting's outcome was a reinvigorated network of scholars studying Eastern and Central Europe at Cardiff University (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/research/explore/research-units/central-and-east-european-research-group).
Several artists linked to the local LGBT community were identified with the view to engage them during the key project event (symposium) to be held at the School of Journalism, Media, and Culture, Cardiff University in September 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description A project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The project website, which was launched in 2018, was continuously publicised during all previous conference engagements by the PI.
It is used to promote project's events and keep the audience interested in the project informed about its progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019,2020
URL https://www.quiet-revolution.org
Description An invited guest speaker for an event held by European Documentation Centre, Cardiff Uni (November 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As a guest speaker I gave a talk on the role of Russian media (using broadcaster RT as an example) and commented on how the concept of disinformation is perceived in the post-Soviet world. The project's preliminary findings have informed my talk (e.g. how LGBT issues are used as a soft power tool by RT) and ensured a diverse audience's engagement. The talk was followed by a lively Q&A session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/european-documentation-centre/2018/12/03/fake-news-and-disinformation-in-...
Description I have initiated and organised an opening plenary with three prominent scholars at ECREA 2021 conference. The plenary is called De-colonising the curriculum: How can we contribute to the debate? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The plenary session offered a timely intervention on the disconcerting dominance of western paradigms in the field, hierarchies of knowledge production and overlapping structures of dominance (questioning the privileged white male Eurocentric gaze, the colonial legacies in Europe and beyond including the Global South), ask what de-colonial methodologies and de-centring approaches we can use in our research and teaching activities, touch on the gender and racial disparities in academic citations, publications and employment.
The premise is that a highly interdisciplinary nature of communication and media studies provides a unique opportunity for this decolonising work and constitute a vantage point for highlighting how decolonial thinking can make certain previously overlooked academic and societal issues more visible.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ecrea.eu/Newsletter/10661868
Description Project Symposium, 19/09/2019, JOMEC, Cardiff University, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This one-day key project event was held in September, at Cardiff University. It attracted an international audience including academics, PhDs and postgraduate students, creative industry and media practitioners, as well as LGBTQ+ organisations.

The best papers from the event will form an edited volume (under contract, to be published in 2021), Routledge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/events/view/1534375-quiet-revolution-alternative-sexualities-taking-place-...