Imagining Russian Hackers:  Myths of Men and Machines
Yale University

         The Internet has transformed our world in the past thirty years, as seemingly the entire world has learned to use and depend on computer networks for work, war, knowledge, faith, politics, love, and play—as well as crime, real and imagined. It is striking to follow the dramatic and global turn from techno-optimism—as late as 2011, when the dominant narrative suggested that social media were fueling global revolutions—to the techno-pessimism that followed 2016 and the sequential blows of Brexit, the US and Russian presidential elections, and subsequent fears of election tampering and filter bubbles. In the space of five years, we went from imagining the Web 2.0 as making direct democracy a tangible possibility (or inevitability) to wondering whether democracy can survive the internet age. Born of Cold War, the internet appears once again reimagined as its primary instrument.

        “Imagining Russian Hackers: Myths of Men and Machines” is a multi-part research initiative that seeks to study this phenomenon. We aim to combine careful and contextualized studies of the prehistories and traceable present of Russian and East European “hacker culture” with close readings of cultural depictions of hacker imaginaries from both sides of the former/revived Cold War. For example, we need look no further than contemporary television portrayals of hackers and subversive social media manipulators, comparing recent American (The Americans, Homeland) and Russian series (Sleepers) to find fertile ground for comment on media ecologies and rivalries.

         Our 2020–2021 speaker series brings together participants in the project coming from backgrounds in cultural studies, media studies, intellectual history, anthropology, and political science. Through a series of structured interviews,  conversations, and other events featuring a wide range of specialists in related topics, we begin the project with a challenge to tell better stories about hackers and Russia.

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