Democracy as pothole repair: Civic applications and cyber-empowerment in Russia

Vol.8,No.3(2014)
Special issue: New Media and Democracy

Abstract
The article examines the phenomenon of so-called civic apps, applications for smartphones and web largely used by Russian social movements in their fight against corruption, roads in poor condition, street faults and other public problems. Developed by independent programmers and anti-Putin activists, these applications become a means of collective action and empowerment, redefining traditional repertoires of contention. They help citizens participate in public life by mapping, documenting and photographing different urban problems and hence enable citizen expertise and facilitate citizen control. The aim of this article is thus to understand how such small-scaled actions as pothole reporting or mapping street faults can become a means of empowerment and counter-democracy tools. The article is based on two years of field research and focuses on four cases of civic applications. Analyzing technical aspects, the genesis and design of these apps, the author provides an account of new repertoires of contention and new forms of citizenship created with the help of these tools.

Keywords:
empowerment; ICT; contention; civic applications; Russia
Author biography

Ksenia Ermoshina

Author photo Ksenia Ermoshina is a PhD candidate at the Center for Sociology of Innovation, at Mines Paris Tech, France. She specializes in sociology of innovation and political sociology and is researching the civic hacking movement and uses of new ICTs by contemporary social movements. Her PhD thesis focuses on mobile technologies and smartphone applications as new tools of civic participation in Russia and France.
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