What Pussy Riot Know

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By Rosi Braidotti · 28 March 2013
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Globalization has contributed to the tendency to de-link the three basic units that used to compose citizenship: one’s ethnic origin or place of birth; nationality or bond to a nation state and the legal structure of rights and obligations. These three factors are disaggregated and re-arranged in new ways.

Examples of de-linking of ethnicity, nationality and citizenship are manifold: take European Union citizenship law, shared by hundreds of millions across the cultural and linguistic diversity of this Continent. Or higher education in Europe, marked by many mobility schemes which not only ensure international flow of students and staff, but also labour to free the European university from what Ulrich Beck calls ‘methodological nationalism’. The neo-liberal de-regulation of the labour market has resulted in new waves of world migration and global mobility, making the foreign migrant worker into a familiar feature of most societies. New diasporas engendered by the devastating effects of warfare and by climate change and environmental degradation trigger recurrent waves of refugees. Nomadic subjects are everywhere. Probably the highest factor of global mobility, however, is digital information technology, carried by the Internet, social networks like YouTube and by the even more wide-spread use of mobile phone networks. The impact of technologically mediated forms of participation on contemporary social and political citizenship is immense.

To simply refer to this double phenomenon: on the one hand the de-linking of ethnicity, nationality and legal citizenship, and on the other the multiple forms of mobility, especially technologically mediated ones, as ‘cultural’ forms of citizenship is not sufficient. It is nonetheless necessary as a pre-condition for an adequate understanding of where we are at. We Europeans must especially account for the role played by cultural factors and formations of identity on practices of citizenship, which necessarily involves attention to the diversity of language and culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, media, sexuality and environmental awareness. It is the task of the Humanities to examine the cultural factors that are constitutive of citizenship and explore their affective roots and their emotionally binding power. But we need to go further and ask how these major upheavals coexist with continuing patterns of social inequality and class relations, with the unequal distribution of natural, economic and technological resources. How do we reconcile the global proliferation of technologically mediated forms of active citizenship with persisting forms of discrimination and injustice on specific locations and territories?

This is what Pussy Riot know: that technological mediation, artistic and cultural practice as forms of active social participation are key elements of contemporary global citizenship, even and especially when they involve civic disobedience. They know that culture is a political arena, as well as a global vector of trans-national communication, identification and generational recognition. They also know, at an exceedingly high personal cost, that the freedom of expression, especially of political dissent, is still not a universally accepted human and political right, even on the European Continent. As feminists, activists and active citizens, Pussy Riot combine the struggle for emancipation of youth, women and minorities with a visceral democratic impulse to protest. They are ‘nomadic’ subjects in terms of their technologically mediated powers of expression, which gives them a global outreach, but they are also loyal to their own vision of the norms and values their specific country should uphold. They express a new trans-national political subjectivity that clashes with the unitary formations of church, nation and state and in this respect, they are simultaneously global ‘net-izens’ and locally rooted active citizens in a community that fails to grant them basic human and political rights.

This blog has originally been published on the ENACT project's website.

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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