PEPS stands for Protest Events, Photos, and Slogans, and is the name of a novel kind of protest event database currently being assembled by Mischa Gabowitsch at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam/Germany, Manarsha Isaeva (Free University, Berlin), and Olga Sveshnikova (Bremen University), with occasional input from other collaborators.

PEPS contains data about the Russian protest movement for fair elections that started in December 2011 in response to a rigged election to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. We collect data about protest events across Russia as well as solidarity demonstrations abroad.

The database has several important features that set it apart from existing protest event data sets, such as the German PRODAT:

  • Rather than media reports (which we also draw on), our primary source of data consists of eyewitness reports such as blogs and online photo galleries. This allows us not only to circumvent media bias of various sorts (a general problem in reporting on protest events, and an especially serious one given the political role of the media in nondemocratic states such as Russia), but also to account for diversity among protest participants, thus going beyond protest organizers’ and prominent spokespeople’s representations of the meaning of protest events.
  • PEPS lists every single documented slogan (in particular those displayed on protest signs); in fact the database originally started out as a collection of slogans. This allows us to study the demands and forms of expression of individual protesters at a level of detail unparalleled in quantitative protest event analysis. The inclusion of protest slogans enables us not only to trace the movement’s evolution over time but also to study regional variation and the prevalence of particular topics or types of expression.
  • PEPS includes copies of the photographs used as well as local copies of other types of electronic sources (such as news items, blog posts etc), which is especially important given the volatility of Internet sources. This also allows users of the database to consult sources and go beyond codeable variables. Thus the database serves not merely as a basis for data sets that can be used in quantitative analysis, but also as a valuable repository of first-hand reports on individual protest events.

We are still at the data collection stage; so far our data is reasonably complete for December 2011 – May 2012. We are deliberately careful not to start the coding stage too early, as in the Russian context the kind of information that is most amenable to quantification also tends to be the most unreliable (e.g. participant figures, but also data about the purpose and even the organizers of protest events). The project so far has mostly been a volunteer endeavor; funding is badly needed to continue our work. At the moment we use a FileMaker database; most of the data will eventually be made publicly accessible, but first we need to solve a number of technical issues and, most importantly, take precautions to ensure the safety of those depicted, even though we gather all data from publicly available sources.

A more detailed description of PEPS as well as results and a methodological discussion are forthcoming. For two publications that make use of some of the data collected, see:

Mischa Gabowitsch, “Social Media, Mobilisation and Protest Slogans in Moscow and Beyond,” in: Digital Icons. Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media 7/2012: 213-225.

Mischa Gabowitsch, Putin kaputt!? Russlands neue Protestkultur. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2013.

!Slogans sample pic