by Saara Ratilainen

Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (Jomec) hosted one of Russian Media Lab researchers, Dr. Saara Ratilainen, as a visiting academic from September to December 2018. This is her account of international exchange facilitated through the Russian Media Lab’s network.

My visit took place at an exciting time, as in the start of the academic year Jomec moved from an early 20th century neoclassical building located at the university campus off the city centre into a shiny new building by the Cardiff central railway station. From the outset, the state-of-the-art glass and steel high-rise, built as part of the city center’s development, was designed for new overlaps between industry and academic worlds. The students, teachers and researchers at Jomec are to work alongside and share facilities with the media broadcaster BBC Cumry/Wales.

Both the city of Cardiff and the university struck me with welcoming friendliness. As the capital city of Wales, Cardiff has a strong commitment to community life and regional development, which includes media and research initiatives. For example, BBC Wales digital storytelling was a seminal project of community media in the early 2000’s. Today, Jomec hosts Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism training hyperlocal community journalists and working in collaboration with dozens of media companies. For me, the tranquil but hard-working Welsh university and community life was best felt when sitting in one of the campus libraries, surrounded by helpful librarians, students and posters written in mysterious Welsh language Cymraeg, advertising events from cake-baking get-togethers to rock concerts and film nights.

Jomec provided me a productive environment to take some time for research and writing. In this process, I became part of a small community of postdoctoral researchers at Jomec who were also working closely on projects of different sorts: finalising a book manuscript, a research article, or wrapping up an entire research project. One of my most memorable days in Cardiff was when I took part in a creative writing workshop organised by Dr. Joan Harran as part of her research project ‘Imaginactivism’ on social movements and cultural production.

The department’s weekly research seminar with invited speakers from different parts of the UK and beyond offered a venue for more scholarly discussions and feedback. The most inspiring lecture for me personally was Dr. Catherine Rottenberg’s (University of Nottingham) talk on neoliberal feminism, which gave a lot of food for thought to think about the relationship between social media activism and public discourses on women’s role and feminism in Russia in comparison to her case studies that focus on the U.S. media.

I was invited to Cardiff by Dr. Galina Miazhevich who has been an active member of Russian Media Lab’s research network from the beginning of the project. She currently runs a two-year AHR-funded project investigating representations of non-heteronormative sexualities in Russian media. The methodology of her project and its focus on popular culture coincides with my own research interests. Research into the ambiguous and multi-faceted field of popular culture will help broadening our understanding of the freedoms and boundaries of Russian media communication. Our collaboration continues with Galina’s returning visits to Helsinki (one of which already took place in December!). My visit to Cardiff was supported by the Faculty of Humanities, University of Helsinki.

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