media, information, the contemporary

M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’

TM7 - Media and the Constitution of the Political

The thematic module, Media and the Constitution of the Political, is the seventh, and most recently formed in the modular organisation of the International Centre for Advanced Studies: Metamorphoses of the Political (ICAS:MP). The module addressed a diversity of topics and methods to explore media as an integral aspect of life, and the distinctive way it configured the political as a field of sensory engagement. We proposed research into the uses of print media, photography, film, television, video and digital media, sound technologies and cultures. The module, also known as TM7, privileged a focus on the technological and material affordances, how cinema and television, books, files and paper and online texts, gramophones, audio and video cassettes, compact disks, audio files and closed circuit tv, microphones and loudspeakers channelled information and affect. A focus on a machine-driven 21st century media, and its significance for agency and memory, was also signalled. Institutions and industries were to be key sites, from media schools and studios cultivating journalists, filmmakers, sound-designers and editors to data analytic start-ups, from courts of law to forensic labs. We encouraged research into media deployment not only in formal politics, but in unexpected and unsettling irruptions of the political, as in media panics that circulated hate and fear, but also in social media interventions that unsettled a new dominant, for example through a multiplication of internet broadcasts that challenged media corporations during the huge farmers' agitation that erupted around Delhi in 2020. 

 

Starting in July 2018, the module had a “seed” phase of three years, to be focused on research projects and workshops. After an inaugural workshop in June 2019, which enabled us to develop a module membership to oversee our activities and outputs and to select fellows when TM7 acquired full modular status in July 2021, the pandemic prevented further physical meeting until quite recently. 

 

Apart from module fellowships a research team supported by TM7 from July 2018 in Delhi has been housed in the Sarai programme of the CSDS. This team has worked on individual projects which came willy-nilly to be part of two broad themes: Media and Publicity, and Law and Media. Weekly meetings of researchers, regular research diaries, and field/archival work shaped the work of the module. By 2020 the covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns set up a constricted environment for field research. The pandemic began easing only by the Spring of 2022. In spite of these difficult conditions, the module has been remarkably productive. Two important edited books have emerged from the module: Media and the Constitution of the Political by Ravi Vasudevan, and Acts of Media, by Siddharth Narrain. Researchers have written peer-reviewed articles, online academic texts, while more essays are under process with journals for eventual publication. Two unique sets of researcher diaries have emerged from our ethnographic sites. Collections of research materials have been curated, the scope of which will expand in the coming period.

Research projects

Media in Times of War in Independent India: Mallika Visvanathan

This project seeks to understand the experience and affective ramifications of war as rendered in media practices sponsored by State agencies, private media, and individual practitioners. It places particular emphasis on media technology, infrastructure and memory. The project has generated an archive of government documents, newsreels, documentaries, fiction films, newspaper articles, photographs, advertisements, cartoons and interviews.

Viral Geographies and Violent Publics: Police, Legal and Media Archive for Northeast India: Sagorika Singha

This project looks at the evolution of viral media through the prism of the local, in this case through the geographic lens of Northeast India. Fieldwork focused on three notorious events dating to 2007-2012. Researching media circulation in a pre-WhatsApp era, the project takes regional news media as a key source, and has undertaken interviews with media practitioners and people involved in these cases, and collected news articles, media reports, court testimonies, social media posts, and legal documents.

Media Evidence in Crimes against the State: Shruti Kaushik

This project provides insight into the use of media evidence in the jurisprudence of Sedition, examining cases from the onset of this colonial law to its current uses. The research extends to examining the procedural requirements of cases filed under Chapter VI of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Crimes against the state) often applied in combination with charges of Sedition. It also provides an account the media practices of speakers accused of sedition, with special focus on Indian comedians.

Video as Evidence: Shikhar Goel

This project aims to understand the socio-legal life of video technology in its evidentiary role in Indian legal systems. It has generated research collections which include newspaper reports, trial and appellant courts’ judgements, government and police reports, case files with relevant documents. Initial ethnographic work, has yielded detailed field notes from Delhi’s district courts along with interviews with lawyers, judges and court staff.

Media Objects and Testimony: Susan Sreemala

This project details how truth telling is transformed after widespread media proliferation with a focus on public inquiries into the communal violence in North-East Delhi in 2020. The project seeks to detail how investigations assemble evidence and articulate the evidentiary value of media; special attention is given to practices associated with open-source investigations, online publication and archiving, and the management of risk associated with such human rights media practices.

Trials and Scandal: Sonali Chugh

This project sought to look at the phenomenon of the Media Trial through four important cases -Tarakeshwar Case, Bawla Murder case, Nanavati murder case, and the Gandhi murder trial. A reading of the first three cases explore the theme of scandal and the media trial. Research notes provide a sense of the media ecology around these trials and their afterlife. The research project looks at popular magazines, newspapers, official documents, and novels as sources.

Govermental Publicity/Contemporary Political Publicity: Sumedha Chakravarthy

This project explores urban archives in publicity and public relations.It considers the relationship between commercial, governmental and political forms, as in the relationship between commercial advertising and governmental publicity and public relations, and in the deployment of advertising and public relations by political parties. Since January 2020, the project has extended earlier focus on institutions and practices of publicity to explore political campaigning as a media and information paradigm constituted by new, digital forms, information flows, and a panoply of mediating agents and networks.

Media, Crowds and Democracy: Kamayani Sharma

This project focuses on crowd formations in and through media, from photography and poster art through newsreel and fiction film and sonic technologies such as loudspeakers, to video and the contemporary virality of social media circulation and aggregation. It explores how media have been deployed to capture, project, invite identification with and mobilize people as mass formations.

Amplification and Listening Publics in Urban India: Mehak Sawhney

This project focused on sound and media cultures in urban India. More specifically, ethnographic and archival research was conducted in Delhi and Allahabad to study sonic amplification and public address systems as critical infrastructures for mass mediation in public spaces. Field sites included the Delhi Metro and the Kumbh fair, where fieldwork was conducted for about a year, and archival sources were accessed from the National Archives of India and the Central Secretariat Library in Delhi.

Media Research in Government Archives: Satakshi Sinha

This project explores the National Archives of India for how various departments of the Indian government, from the First World War through to the 1960s, used media technology for publicity. This includes governmental use of cinema, radio and print publicity, the type of works commissioned from commercial media, the forms of circulation of such media publicity, including modes of transportation, and the systems of exhibition through which media were placed before audiences.

Law, Media and Violence: Siddharth Narrain

This project relates to law, media, and violence in contemporary India. It focused on the relationship between law and media in relation to hate speech online on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp. Contemporary incidents of violence in India were examined, such as the 2012 exodus of persons in the Northeast from cities including Bangalore, Chennai, and Pune, in relation to the circulation of content on social media platforms and the virality of this content.

Publications

Research Diaries

Law and Media: Research Diaries

The domains of law and media have shared a relationship of proximity and contagion since the coming of video in India since the 1980s. With the rise of digital social media infrastructures, the legal and the medial transact on a daily basis. Law is now a dynamic intermedia junction producing media events, forensic theatres and technologies of judicial record keeping and circulation. The legal trial has been a productive site for the constitution of media practices, researchers see a legal landscape whose material forms, practices and symbolic edifice are constituted by media. The Law and Media Research Diaries can be accessed here.

Publicity: Research Diaries

The thematic focus on publicity researched the use of media in spheres such as public information and education, advertising, public relations and propaganda. Key issues include the mapping of institutions, including government departments, media training schools, business houses and advertising agencies. Media technologies and infrastructures are a key concern in understanding the material and sensory dimensions of public engagement. The diverse projects which emerged draw our attention to short films, cameras, projectors and sound systems, radio broadcasting and programmes, gramophone records and loudspeakers,  print advertising,  cartoons, posters, out-door advertising. We are also alerted to the circulation and exhibition of media forms as they are deployed to engage publics in specific sites, built, ambient and temporary. The Publicity Research Diaries can be accessed here. 

Books

Media and the Constitution of the Political: South Asia and Beyond

This volume features the writings of leading media scholars from South Asia and Europe on the topic of how media articulates political energies and transformational logics. The research traverses the press, newsreels, entertainment cinema, photography, television, music, social media and data-driven politics. The authors consider how media industries, institutions and practices constitute sites where conflicts relating to wider social change are observable. The overall approach in understanding media and the political is not only to access formal institutions, both of media and politics but also to expand perspective to trace the wider dispersed appearance of the political in and through media. Read more about the book here.

Acts of Media: Law and Media in Contemporary India

Acts of Media seeks to consolidate a field of multidisciplinary work around media technologies that intersects with legal scholarship. This volume brings together contributions from leading academics, lawyers, researchers and policy experts about contemporary India and Sri Lanka. The approaches to law and media taken in this volume challenge us to think outside of traditional disciplinary descriptions. Rather than approaching the law as being outside of, and constantly catching up with the media, the contributors of this book view law and media as being deeply intertwined. Read more about the volume here.

Articles

Academic Publications

Singha, Sagorika. “Vote for Visibility: Talent Hunts, Networked Infrastructures and the Emergence of Northeast India’s First Reality TV Star,” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, Volume 13.1, pg. 74-93.

Singha, Sagorika. 2022. “Viral Geographies: The Circulation of Violent Viral Media in Assam.” Article submitted for publication in South Asian Film and Media, August 2022. (Under Review)

Yadavalli, Susan Sreemala . 2022. “Open Questions: Fact-finding within Borders.” LAWASIA Academic Papers November 2022 (Working Paper; Pre-Print)

Goel, Shikhar. 2022. “Evidentiary Anecdotes: Video in Indian Courts,” South Asia: Journal for South Asian Studies,
2022 (Under Review)

McLean, Laura and Mehak Sawhney (Co-editors). “Capture All: A Sonic Investigation”, Disclaimer, co-published by Liquid Architecture and Sarai, August 2022.*

Sawhney, Mehak. “Infrastructure of Life: Public Address, Listening and Crowds in the Delhi Metro and Kumbh,” Media, Culture & Society 44, no. 2 (2022): 341-61. (Pre-Print)

Sterne, Jonathan and Mehak Sawhney (Co-authors). “The Acousmatic Question and the Will to Datafy: Otter.ai, Low-Resource Languages and the Politics of Machine Listening,” Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies 9, no. 2 (Fall 2022): 288-306.(Forthcoming)*

* Other publications by TM-7 connected researchers.

Researchers*

Sagorika Singha is an ICSSR Postdoctoral Fellow at The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. She is also an affiliate at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), University of Northern Carolina, Chapel Hill (2022-23).

Mehak Sawhney is pursuing a PhD in Communication Studies at McGill University

Sumedha Chakravarthy is an Indira Gandhi-Radhakrishnan Scholar pursuing her MSc in Modern South Asian Studies at Sommerville College, University of Oxford.

Mallika Visvanathan is an independent researcher and an early career documentary filmmaker. 

Shikhar Goel is a graduate student enrolled in the doctoral programme at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

Kamayani Sharma is a researcher, writer and podcaster. She works as an editor and content strategist at Sharjah Art Foundation and runs an independent visual culture podcast called ARTalaap.

Susan Sreemala Yadavalli is a researcher at the Sarai Programme, CSDS

Shruti Kaushik is a researcher at the Sarai Programme, CSDS and a semantic legal analyst at IndianKanoon.

Sonali Chugh is an Academic Fellow at National Law University, Delhi.

Satakshi Sinha is a Senior Archivist with Nature Morte.

Siddharth Narrain is a Scientia PhD Candidate at Faculty of Law and Justice, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia.

*This list includes researchers who have been associated with TM7/Media and the Constitution of the Political.

Events

TM7 Workshop “Media aesthetics/Political aesthetics”; 5-7 January 2023; Kochi, Kerala

The workshop is initiated by ICAS:MP’s media module: ‘Media and the Constitution of the Political (TM7)’. Apart from the workshop, we are looking to have two public platforms in the evening in collaboration with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Book discussion of ‘Media and the Constitution of the Political: South Asia and Beyond’; 14 December 2022; CSDS and Zoom

Book discussion of Media and the Constitution of the Political: South Asia and Beyond by Ravi Vasudevan published in the ICAS:MP –SAGE Open Access series ‘Politics and Society in India and the Global South’.

Workshop: “Media and the Political: Notes from the field”; 24 June 2022; CSDS and Zoom

This workshop featured presentations exploring a multi-sited articulation of media and the political.

Workshop: “Media and the Political: A Concepts Workshop”, 28-29 June, 2019; German Historical Institute, London

A TM7: “Concepts Workshop” ICAS:MP and GHIL German Historical Institute London, Conference Room: 28-29 June, 2019