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MOSCOW'S ECHO: Technologies of the Self, Publics, and Politics on the Russian Talk Show



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.