Moscow's Echo: Technologies of the Self, Publics, and Politics on the Russian Talk Show

Peer Reviewed


This essay examines the practices and politics of self-help in Russia. It interrogates the status of "neoliberalism" in Russia as it relates to the remaking of subjectivity 17 years after the collapse of communism by analyzing a radio talk show called For Adults about Adults hosted by a psychotherapist. An analysis of host–caller exchanges reveals a deployment of robust neoliberal technologies. The talk show not only incites autonomous, responsible, self-esteeming subjects but it also advocates alternative social relations, practices of intimacy and visions of "civil" society. Yet at least two factors indicate a more complex discursive field: The host's technologies of self aimed not as much at a rational-choice actor as a liberal-democratic citizen. And caller responses posed competing visions of selfhood, social life, emotions, and politics. These point to the multiple pulls on subjectivity in post-Soviet Russia. Projects that appear to be "neoliberalizing" also articulate with other political rationalities to form particular assemblages. Nonetheless, at the intersection of national politics under the Putin-Medvedev tandem, where political liberalism remains a dirty word, the effects of this particular assemblage appear depoliticizing: The host's pedagogy of self-cultivation dovetails with a federal interest in making Russians into entrepreneurial subjects, although his "autonomized" politics—referring to the forms of community-based politics neoliberal governmentality is supposed to engender—are blunted. A psychotherapeutically inspired, liberal-progressive vision of a future Russia appears to serve the call to sacrifice all for the economy. This anti-political effect attests to the promiscuous and dynamically assembled nature of neoliberalism—an effect that is seen here to take shape inside the subject.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays that examine the dynamics of postsocialist contexts.  See on post socialist contexts.  See Karolina Szmagalska-Follis’ “Repossession: Notes on Restoration and Redemption in Ukraine's Western Borderland”(2008), Paul Manning’s “Rose-Colored Glasses? Color Revolutions and Cartoon Chaos in Postsocialist Georgia” (2007), Judith Farquhar and Qicheng Zhang’s “Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self-Cultivation in China's Capital” (2005), Alexia Bloch’s “Longing for the Kollektiv: Gender, Power, and Residential Schools in Central Siberia” (2005), and Matthew Kohrman’s  ”Authorizing a Disability Agency in Post-Mao China: Deng Pufang's Story as Biomythography” (2003). 

Cultural Anthropology’s archive also includes many essays that examine the role of media in subject formation.  See, for example, Joseph Masco’s "Survival is Your Business: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America” (2008). Brian Silverstein’s 
 "Disciplines of Prescence in Modern Turkey: Discourse, Companionship, and the Mass Media of Islamic Practice” (2008, Cymene Howe’s
”Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua” (2008), 
Sara L. Friedman’s “Watching Twin Bracelets in China: The Role of Spectatorship and Identification in an Ethnographic Analysis of Film Reception” (2006) and Laura Kunreuther’s 
”Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone, and the Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu” (2006).

About the Author

Tomas Matza is currently a Ph.D candidate in the Modern Thought and Literature department at Stanford University, and a participant in the "Foucault Across the Disciplines" research cluster at the University of California Santa Cruz.

"Tomas Matza."


Echo of Moscow (Live Radio Feed)

Recording of "For Adults About Adults" - 06/08/2009

Clip from "Lolita. Without Complexes"

Related Readings

Donzelot, Jacques. 1979. The policing of families. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, Michel. 1988 The History of Sexuality, vol. 3: The Care of the Self. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. 1990 The History of Sexuality, vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure. New York: Vintage.

--1991 Governmentality. In The Foucault Effect. G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller, eds. Pp. 87–104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

--2005. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France, 1981–82. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

--2007. Security, Territory, Population: LNew York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Harvey, David 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rose, Nikolas S. 1990. Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Routledge.

--1996a. Governing “Advanced” Liberal Democracies. In Foucault and Political Reason. A. Barry, T. Osborne, and N. S. Rose, eds. Pp. 37–64. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

--1996b. Inventing our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Editorial Overview

In the August, 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Tomas Matza examines the practices and politics of self-help in Russia as channeled through a new wave of Russian talk shows, many broadcast via state-run media. Through the analysis of a radio show, entitled “For Adults about Adults,” which offers callers and listeners psychological advice, Matza investigates the ways in which “the self” is reshaped as an object of government, implicating neoliberal technologies in the remaking of postsocialist subjectivity.  

Matza's analysis reveals that “For Adults about Adults” incites autonomous, responsible, self-esteeming subjects, in addition to advocating alternative social relations, practices of intimacy and visions of “civil” society. Matza further outlines a complex discursive field, in which the host's technologies of the self construct a liberal-democratic citizen more so than a rational-choice actor, and the competing visions of selfhood, social life, emotions and politics provided by caller responses belie the multiple forces which bear on post-Soviet subjectivity. The psychotherapeutically inspired, neoliberal subject incited by Russian self-help programming dovetails with a state interest in fostering entrepreneurialism among citizens, serving a call to sacrifice all for the economy.

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