Dr Töpfl heads the five-year project as a Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Leader. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Passau in Southern Germany in 2009. Since then, he has been a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science; a researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Media Studies and Communication Research, LMU University Munich; and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University, New York. Dr Töpfl has also held visiting fellowships at the Aleksanteri Institute for Russian Studies, University of Helsinki, and in the Sociology Department at the Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg.
Whenever protest has arisen recently in non-democratic regimes across the globe, the mass media have been quick to speak of Twitter revolutions or Facebook uprisings. In parallel, a vibrant debate has evolved in academic journals around how internet-mediated communication affects non-democratic politics. However, while essayistic treatment of this question has been pervasive, a strong body of research on the topic is only now emerging. Most importantly, there is still a surprising scarcity in this literature of case-based, cross-national research. This striking lack of comparative research is particularly unfortunate because it significantly limits the ability of researchers to claim validity for their findings beyond the specific national context they are investigating. To address this gap, this project will compare phenomena of internet-mediated communication (and their consequences) across three (semi-)authoritarian regimes in the post-Soviet world: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
The project‘s central research question can be formulated as follows: how has the rapid rise of internet-mediated communication in the past decade changed political communication, politics, and polities in these three countries? To address this question, the project is divided into five sub-projects, each of which will investigate communicative change in relation to one key mid-range theoretical concept. Concepts investigated will include political representation, the decoding of political news, counterpublics, and political scandal. The project will involve junior research group leader Dr Florian Toepfl and two PhD students, each of whom will focus in the course of the project on data collection and interpretation with regard to one of the three countries under investigation.
At the most abstract level, the project will aim to make highly visible theoretical contributions to the recently vibrant debates on de-westernizing media studies and the mediatization of politics. Moreover, it will create a wealth of knowledge of great interest to German and European foreign policy makers.