Publics and Practices in the History of the Present (PPHP) emerged in the early years of Sarai to explore rapidly changing mediated urban milieux through questions of production, distribution and delivery, circulation, information networks, legality, and the materiality of media forms. Practitioners, artists, activists, lawyers, and academics engaged with these themes through ethnography, media practice, and archival collections. Researchers entered uncharted terrains in their investigation of the life of media and reimagined forms of research, archival collection, and cultural intervention. PPHP materials at Sarai present research notes and narratives from ethnographic and archival collections anchored in these experimental and exploratory frames.
PPHP researchers mapped histories and presents of cinema, television, analog and digital media, print and audio, and the media archaeologies and infrastructures of the city. Research traversed blurred zones of legality and illegality, moved through labour chowks, factories, markets, cinemas, corporate offices, music companies, film distribution offices, cable network operators, detective agencies, law courts, police stations, and government archives. Often the micro-lens of field research opened out a larger perspective on the entanglements of media objects, users, locations and dynamics.
PPHP research evolved a dual focus. The first was immersive research, based on extensive field work, involving weekly postings from the field, and a weekly research meeting. The second was to build an archive which could accommodate the wide-ranging materials generated through this research – interviews, field notes, visual material, video and audio – along with government and commercial print matter, journal acquisition, and newspaper clippings. In the breadth of PPHP materials, available at Sarai, expansive explorations of early 21st century media fabrics and city imaginaries intertwine to offer rich source material for current projects and research.