Call For Abstracts – The Act of Media: Workshop on Law, Media And Technology in South Asia


The Act of Media: Workshop on Law, Media And Technology in South Asia, 8th to 10th January 2016, The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.

Call for Abstracts

The traditional understanding of ‘media law’ has gradually given way to approaches that show us that ‘law’ and ‘media’ are not separate domains but constantly overlap, define and redefine each other. The law seeks to define and regulate media practice, inciting a discursive space which brings media, its relationship to social order and subversion, its materiality and evidentiary status, into the very folds of the law. And the law is relayed, debated and disputed through media publicity and tested by media acts that regularly challenge legal regulation.

Following in this trajectory, this workshop will explore the historical relationship between law and media, as it is constituted in culture, politics and performance and on the shifting ground of sovereignty in South Asia.

The period leading up to the Partition, the framing of the Indian Constitution and the establishment of two sovereign nation states in the subcontinent, was an important reference point for the debates that occurred round the law, and its relationship to the circulation of information, media and free expression. In India, the debates in the Constituent Assembly and during the First Amendment to the Constitution are testament to how concerns around the political viability of the nation and public order rode roughshod over concerns of civil liberties and freedom of speech and expression.

Arguably, we have transited to a new political setting, in which the earlier concentration of power in the sovereign state and its legal institutions have become substantially complicated by the transformation of the media sphere. This workshop will aim to explore the role of the law and censorship through, as William Mazzarella puts it, a theory of performative dispensations, when political authority can no longer reside in the physical body of a singular sovereign and finds itself in the anonymous space of mass publicity.

It is with this background in mind that The Act of Media workshop will explore the histories of technological development in the subcontinent and the manner in which both the promise of, and anxieties around technology have framed legal discourse and regulation.

The workshop will examine how media-enabled subjectivities produce new sites of departure in the law. The shift from theatre to cinema; cinema to video; and video to satellite television have been productive sites for law’s engagement with technology. The understanding of traditional notions of sovereignty, jurisdiction, and a public sphere defined by rational discourse have been challenged by the contemporary post Web 2.0 moment and the sheer speed, reach and inter-media circulation that this moment has enabled, breaking the bubble sphere of the old Internet. The increasing use of cell phone enabled technologies, and the evolution of cultural practices around the cell phone, pose a massive challenge to older forms of control, policing and the terms of political engagement. The workshop will explore debates, both in South Asia and globally, around trolling, hate speech, violence, the ‘dark net’ and ‘unsocial media’, and the emergence of new infrastructures of governance and surveillance.

The Act of Media workshop will bring together law and media practitioners, legal and media theorists, scholars from the law and social sciences, media and visual studies and media anthropology. The workshop will be a space to throw open and explore new ideas and work in these fields, and engage with ongoing research in this area, while keeping in mind the nuances of legal and media practice.

Workshop themes will include:

I Evidence, Truth and Legal Procedure

Changing media technologies demand the ability of law to deal with the evidentiary aspects of these technologies. The government’s truth labs that have been set up have institutionalized practices related to criminal law, criminology and forensics. Drawing upon the work of scholars such as Cornelia Vismann, what are the longer histories of media technologies that help explain the relationship between the file, truth and law? For instance, the ability to fake and doctor images and recordings throws into question how evidence law can verify the authenticity of these claims.

II Histories of Media, Law and Technology

The proliferation of blogs, online forums like Facebook and Twitter, and peer-to-peer networks such as Whatsapp have led to the government arguing for stricter legal standards to regulate these media. In the 2015 Shreya Singhal judgment, the Indian Supreme Court held that legal regulation of the Internet could not be equated to the regulation of other media. At the same time the Court held that the safeguards under the Constitution could not be diluted for the Internet. How does one read this development in relation to older debates and legal doctrine around changing media technology?

III Law and the Media Event

With the legal trial becoming a media event, there has been an increasing focus on the power of the media and its ability to influence the legal process. The ethical and legal issues surrounding the interviews of undertrials, the release of a film or book while a trial is going on, and the hyper-mediatised coverage of incidents like the Arushi murder, have led to legal precedent, and debates on the ethical aspects of these trials. What happens to the notion of publicity in the trial? How has the law attempted to balance the right to fair trial and the freedom of speech and the right to receive information?

IV Censors and their Sensibilities

How do we understand the production of knowledge and theory of aesthetics even as we examine debates around the censorship of media through the law? What are the ways that the language of the law, couched in reason, struggles with the affective space of sentiments – hurt, contempt, and disgust? Does the medium determine the capacity of language to incite, inflame, outrage and stir passions? What are the tensions between the evolving juridical categories such as hate speech, the social media’s circulation of incendiary material, and political contestations around these categories and practices?

V Consent, Technology and Gendered Violence

The Internet has emerged as a highly masculine space, and there are emerging debates in the Indian context around the barriers that women and persons of diverse genders face in occupying the online public sphere. Videos of rape that are circulated, revenge pornography, and videos and images of public figures that circulate without their consent, have given us cause to think of the complex interplay between the criminal law, consent, and the gendered use of technology. Is the state and police apparatus complicit in the production of a pornographic public? How has the emergence of social media and new media technologies changed the terms of the debates around representation, and the distinction between the speech act and its impact?

VI Circulation, Virality, Rumour

How does the law deal with events that are staged for the afterlife of You Tube videos, when the audience is not just those watching the events but the millions of people who view and share these videos? In what way is new and ubiquitous media technology like Whatsapp images on mobile phones implicated in the production of heightened affect? What are the infrastructures of surveillance and regulation that are put in place to respond to the circulation of ‘objectionable’ material on social media? How has the phenomenon of rumour and its potential to mobilize crowds adapted to the post We­b 2.0 moment? How have corporate media agencies such as Google and Facebook responded to the circulation of rumour and hate speech and how transparent are they in their actions?

The Sarai Programme invites submission of abstracts for ‘The Act of Media’ workshop. Abstracts should not exceed 300 words, and should be sent to dak@sarai.net by 15th October, 2015, with the subject heading ‘Proposal for The Act of Media Workshop.’ Authors of the selected abstracts will be notified by 1st November 2015.

The workshop will be held from 8th to 10th January 2016, at Sarai-CSDS, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi. The Sarai Programme will cover three days of accommodation for outstation participants. In addition, participants from India will be eligible for travel support.

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Published on: September 18, 2015