Margarita Kuleva and Natalia Samutina

The Right to Be Creative

Date 3/30/20

Affiliation National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow


Participatory cultures, as defined by Henry Jenkins back in 1990th, are diverse and active communities, fans and enthusiasts, poachers and creators, whose practices are mostly connected to the underworld of publicly unrecognized amateur cultural production. This has been changing slowly - for example, the biggest fan fiction archive AO3 has been nominated for the Hugo Awards in 2019; comics conventions and anime festivals are big commercial enterprises in many countries; sometimes anonymous graffiti writers attract public attention with their politically motivated works, etc. In Russia, with its elitist culture and politically appropriated media, participatory cultures quite rarely become visible for the general public and elder generations – they remain something that is usually presented as marginal (although thousands participate), youth-related (although some practices are cross-generational), low and insignificant (for whom?).

Natalia Samutina has been researching Russian participatory cultures for many years, writing actively about fan fiction communities, graffiti and street art, manga enthusiasts and publishers, etc. She is going to talk about the scope and main characteristics of Russian participatory cultures and pose some questions related to our knowledge of this underrepresented cultural layer. What are we missing in the general picture of contemporary Russian culture when we omit participatory cultures from it and concentrate only on the production recognized by cultural elites? What kind of invisible practices participatory cultures perform? How should we talk about social and cultural value of their production? What is important to know about people involved into different online communities, participating in creative battles, leaning languages while translating manga illegally and discussing censorship in relation to amateur porn texts? While showing unusual and maybe unexpected Russia, Natalia Samutina hopes to provoke a broader discussion about the role of amateur (fan) creative cultures in contemporary world.

Margarita Kuleva considers: what is fair in contemporary society, and how do people negotiate fairness when there is a lack of clarity and governmental regulation? This question urgently needs to be answered in our time of uncertainty that is blighted by economic austerity and severe political crises. The answer can be found in the regimes of fairness devised by highly innovative social groups as digital creative sectors in Post-Soviet countries as Russia. New generation of the YouTube revolutionists holds numerous records of cultural innovation and excellence in animation, video games, music. For instance, the Russian cartoon series Masha and the Bear has set a new world record as the most watched animated movie with over three billion views. At the same time, existing policies of culture and creativity in Russia neglect these achievements and impose constraints on digital sectors of artistic production. Digital producers are limited not only because of censorship, but also of conservative understanding of creativity as ‘high culture’ only. Having the right to be creative contested, this bright and talented social group seeks for alternative ways for social inclusion by revising notions of profession, social contract and solidarity.


Natalia Samutina is Head of the Research Centre for Contemporary Culture at the Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Her fields of research are diverse and include sociological and cultural analysis of fan fiction and Russian fan communities, manga and anime reception in Russia, street art and the multiple contexts of contemporary urban changes. She has published two books in Russian and numerous articles in Russian and in English (in Continuum, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Digital Icons, Urban History) and is currently working on a book on participatory cultures in the Russian context.

Margarita Kuleva, PhD, Sociology, received her BA in Liberal Arts fromSmolnyCollege, the jointprogram of St Petersburg State University,Russia and Bard College, NY. She graduated with an MA in Sociology from the Higher School of Economics. Currently she works as a senior lecturer at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, where she holds the position of chair of the Department of Design and Contemporary Art. She also is a fellow of the Centre for German and European Studies at St. Petersburg State University–University of Bielefeld and the Centre for Art, Design and Social Research (CAD+SR). Kuleva has collaborated as a researcher and curator with a number of Russian and international cultural institutions, including Manifesta Biennale, Garage MoCA, Goethe Institute, Street Art Museum, Ural Industrial Biennale and New Holland St. Petersburg. One of her main research interests is creative labour. She also adopts a network approach and feminist theory to the sociology of the art sand clothing consumption/fashion production. In 2012-2016, she studied post-Soviet creativity, looking at the example of the careers and professional identities of young cultural workers in the hybrid cultural economy in Russia. Some findings from these studies are presented in recent journal publications for example, Cultural Studies and International Journal of Cultural Studies.

-- As of 3/30/20