Imagining Russian Hackers: Myths of Men and Machines -
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Imagining Russian Hackers: Myths of Men and Machines

Imagining Russian Hackers: Myths of Men and Machines is a multi-part research initiative that aims to make better sense of Russian hacker narratives. This project, funded by the MacMillan Center at Yale University, is a collaboration among lead scholars at The University of Tulsa and Yale University, together with scholars from nearly a dozen other universities.

Professor Ben Peters smiling, wearing eyeglasses, a collarless black shirt and a grey blazer
Professor Benjamin Peters

On May 13 and 20, Imagining Russian Hackers held a two-part virtual symposium that brought together a range of specialists from cultural studies, intellectual history, media studies and anthropology to discuss how the deeper background knowledge of the prehistory and present culture of Russian hackers complicate the dominant narratives surrounding the phenomenon.

“The symposium’s goal was simple: to critically reexamine and creatively reimagine the stories told about Russian hackers as a media phenomenon. A dozen leading scholars from around the world helped us do just that, reconsidering the stakes and the significance of Russian hackers,” noted Hazel Rogers Associate Professor of Media Studies Benjamin Peters, the chair of the Department of Media Studies at TU. “My co-convenor Marijeta Bozovic from Yale University and I aimed to create an opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas across multiple disciplines and provoke a critical reassessment of the stories told about both the real and the imaginary Russian hacker in media coverage.”

Eliot Borenstein (New York University), among other scholars, raised the concern about the United States’ vulnerability to disinformation and subversion, especially from within. Columbia University’s Dennis Yi Tenen addressed shadow libraries and other technical infrastructures that exist in the grey area to provoke our thinking about the origins of Russian computer virtuoso culture. Anya Bernstein (Harvard University) reimagined what hacking might mean when applied to ecosystems, while Gabriella Coleman (McGill University) outlined the changing politics of the public-interest hack (or the leak-hack combo). Tatyana Gershkovich (Carnegie Mellon University) spoke about the challenges involved with teaching this topic and Sean Guillory (University of Pittsburgh and SRB Podcast), among others, critically walked back stereotypes in the American imagination of Russians.

The symposium’s proceedings were recorded and, together with about a day’s worth of expert interviews, are available to watch online.

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