Social Media: Contemporary Histories and Archaeologies

This project explores the remarkable transformation signalled by social media in the contemporary era. We are interested in new circuits of social communication, cultural consumption and sharing, transparency discourses and political mobilisation. Such contemporary changes will be situated in a complex history mapping the social basis and circuits of older and more recent media, including film and sound media, the emergence of audio and video-cassettes in the 1980s, and the development of a powerful scrambling and interlacing of media technologies, formats and publics across different platforms and devices with the proliferation of digital forms in the 1990s.

The project is supported by a grant from the Indian Social Science Research Council (ICSSR).

Climate Change and Uncertainty: From Below and Above

The research project hypothesizes that uncertainty in climate change has been narrowly conceptualized from ‘above’ (by scientists, experts and decision-makers). In doing so, the day-to-day experiences and practices of local people around uncertainty have been ignored, thus missing out on local-level detail. Thus, it is important to bridge the divide between uncertainty from ‘above’ and ‘below’ which may result in new or hybrid perspectives that could form the foundation for transformative pathways to adapt to climate change.

Our specific study sites include megacities of Delhi and Mumbai (looked into by Sarai-CSDS team) and dryland Kutch and wetland Sunderbans (studied by research partners IIHMR, Kolkata and GUIDE, Bhuj). The research project is funded and coordinated by STEPS Centre, University of Sussex.

FLOSS – Free/Libre Open Source Software

Ever since its inception The Sarai Programme was excited about and engaged with the free software practices in local and global contexts. We invited Richard Stallman to deliver a lecture on and published several books explaining the concept and practice. Our English and Hindi print publications have always been available online for free download.
Parallel to its very successful programme of bilingual Independent Fellowships, Sarai also ran a programme of Free Software Fellowships till the the year 2010. Sarai gave fellowship to no less than 30 people over several years, the funding for which came from, The Dutch Govt, Hivos, Nixi and Rajeev Gandhi Foundation. Under this programme we were able to launch the first desktop ever in Hindi: which was a .Kde version. We released open type Sarai fonts in the public domain and also designed a very successful bolnagri keymap.

Media and Information Infrastructures: Histories and Contemporary Practices

Infrastructure has come to be an increasingly important object of social science and cultural-historical research. From roads and railways to river and seaborne transport, from dams and irrigation canals to electrical circuits, from telegraphs and telephones to cable networks and satellite communication, the question of infrastructure has been key to the evolution of the modern and contemporary world. Information is part of this co-evolution from script, through print as well as contemporary moves to the digital.

This research initiative frames the category of ‘information’ both as a critical problematic—a way of describing the world and its constituent processes—and as an environment—a field through which we can enter the contemporary and connect to its past. It links media, urbanism, and the governance of populations, while initiating new debates on privacy, public access, and welfare.


The Social and Cultural Lives of Information Workshop – November 2013

Participants: Brian Larkin, Keith Breckenridge, Lawrence Cohen, Lawrence Liang, Miles Ogborn, Nayanika Mathur, Radhika Singha, Ramah McKay, Ravi Sundaram, Ravi Vasudevan, Solomin Benjamin, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Tarangini Sriraman.

Lives of Information Workshop – February 2014

Participants: (Plenary) Matthew Hull; (Presenters) Anindita Majumdar, Debjani Dutta, Monika Halkort, Parnisha Sarkar, Prasad Khanolkar, Nishaant Choksi, Rijul Kochhar, Ritam Sengupta, Rolien Hoyng, Shaunak Sen, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Tarangini Sriraman, Vidhi Shah; (Panelists and Discussants) Amlan Das Gupta, Awadhendra Sharan, Bhuvaneswari Raman, Kaushik Bhaumik, Laura Stein, Ravi Sundaram, Ravi Vasudevan, Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, and Sebastian Lütgert.


After over a century of Hindi language nationalism and a long period of intense competition and mutual contempt, in post-­liberalisation and post­-low caste assertion India the boundaries between English and Hindi have suddenly become much more porous, with both “pure Hindi” and “British/pure English” having more limited hold. English is of course still the language of greater opportunities in global terms, but as opportunities grow significantly within India itself, the “new middle class” remains resolutely bilingual in everyday and entertainment practices, and “vernacular” political leaders gain centrestage, the relation between English and Hindi (and between English and other Indian languages) has become less a zero­sum game and more a relationship of parallel expansion. Funded by the British Academy and run in collaboration with SOAS, London, this project explores the new porousness and mixing of Hindi and English in everyday and cultural practices across several domains of language use: media, politics, work, etc. to unearth their meanings and implications. The world is more and more bilingual, and in this India is a showcase for global trend.