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

Special issue: New Media and Democracy

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.

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.

Akrich, M. (1988). Les utilisateurs, acteurs de l'innovation [Users, actors of innovation]. Education permanente, 134, 78-89.

Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & McKenna, K. Y. A., & Tal, S. A. (2008). E-empowerment: Empowerment by the Internet. Journal of Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1776-1789.

Asmolov, G. (2014). Crowdsourcing as an activity System: Online platforms as mediating artifacts. A conceptual framework for the comparative analysis of crowdsourcing in emergencies. In M. Poblet, P. Noriega, & E. Plaza (Eds.). Proceedings of the Sintelnet WG5 Workshop on Crowd Intelligence: Foundations, Methods and Practices (pp. 24-42). Barcelona, Catalonia.

Badouard, R. (2014). La mise en technologie des projets politiques. Une approche « orient ée design » de la participation en ligne [Putting political projects in technology. Design-oriented approach to online participation]. Participations, 8, 31-54.

Bogdanova, E. (2013). Complaining to Putin: A paradox of the hybrid regime. Retrieved from:

Boltanski, L., & Thévenot, L. (1991). De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur [On justification. The economy of worth]. Paris: Gallimard.

Castells, M. (2007). Communication, power and counter-power in the network society. International Journal of Communication, 1, 238-266.

Chateauraynaud, F. (2008). Les lanceurs d’alerte dans l’espace politique. Réflexions sur la trajectoire d’une cause collective [The alert raisers within political space. Reflections on trajectory of a collective cause]. Retrieved from:

Chateauraynaud, F., & Torny, D. (2013). Les sombres précurseurs. Une sociologie pragmatique d'alerte et du risque [The dark forerunners: Pragmatic sociology of alert and risk]. Paris: Éditions de l'EHESS.

Costanza-Chock, S. (2003, December). Mapping the repertoire of electronic contention. Paper presented at the World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva, Switzerland.

Dewey, H. W., & Kleimola, A. M., (1970). Suretyship and collective responsibility in pre-petrine Russia. Jarbrucher fur Geschicte Osteuropas, 18, 337-354.

Eyler-Werve, K., & Carlson, V. (2012). Civic apps competition handbook. O'Reilly Media.

Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory: Embodied space and locative media. New York: Routledge.

Greenfield, A. (2006). Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. New Riders Press.

Lambert, N. (1985). Whistleblowing in the Soviel Union. Complaints and abuses under state socialism. Londres et Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lessig, L. (2000). Code is law – On liberty in cyberspace. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from:

McAdam, D., & Tarrow, S., & Tilly, C. (2001). Dynamics of contention. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Oudshoorn, N., & Pinch, T. (2005). How users matter: The co-construction of users and technology. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Randeria, S., (2007). De-politicization of democracy and judicialization of politics. Theory, Culture & Society, 24, 38-44.

Rolfe, B., (2005). Building an electronic repertoire of contention. Social Movements Studies, 4, 65-74.

Rosanvallon, P., (2008). Counter-democracy: Politics in an age of distrust. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Simondon, G. (1958). On the mode of existance of technical objects. University of Western Ontario. Retrieved from:

Tilly, C. (1986). The contentious French. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tilly, C. (2004). Social movements, 1768–2004. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Paradigm Publishers.

Yongnian, Z. (2008). Technological empowerment: The Internet, the state and society in China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.





HTML views