The Sarai Programme is committed to developing a public architecture for creating knowledge and creative communities. In keeping with this commitment, we seek to develop a community of scholars, writers and practitioners who are motivated to make the materials and outcome of research available for public access and circulation, with the understanding that an imaginative engagement with social experience will be best fostered by a sharing of information, ideas, research materials and resources. We see our system of Short Term Research Projects as a resource that will be built on by many people working whether individually or in groups, but with a sense of collective endeavour and public purpose.
The Call for Proposals for the Short Term Research Projects in Social and Digital Media attracted over 80 applications from all over the country, and it took a careful scrutiny of all the applications to reach our decision. We got applications from scholars as well as practitioners, young researchers and older, and proposals looked at a wide range of themes. The applications testify to an emerging research interest in developments in the last decade, as researchers and practitioners strive to reflect on the contemporary histories and techno-material practices opened by social media in India.
Working with limited resources, we could not support many exciting proposals that were submittted, and keenly look forward to organise another similar Call for Proposals next year, which we hope will attract event more numerous and diverse proposals. Meanwhile, please take a look at the excerpts from selected proposals for this year’s Short Term Research Projects in Social Media.
Shooting with the Interface
Anand Kumar Jha
This project will study the notions of image making in an interface which, by design carries the same technological bias as that of camera (becoming the eye of the viewer). The nature of a modern day interface to distort the complexity of an event/ action and present a simplistic view of a system to the viewer/ user, with an interesting exception that the person shooting from an interface and making the interface (the camera man and the camera manufacturer) are the same, and are jointly controlling/serving/ curating the image for the end user.
Digital Divide, Online Offense: Malayalee House, ‘Pandit Phenomenon’ and the Morality Debates in Contemporary Kerala
My project will look at two contemporary phenomena in the Kerala mediascape — the emergence of the ‘internet celebrity’ Santhosh Pandit, and the recent reality TV show, Malayalee House, both of which have amplified the digital-social media’s potential to unsettle intended trajectories and uses of media circulation… These two instances are interconnected on many levels, albeit in different ways. First and foremost, the discussions triggered off by these phenomena through platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter took unexpected turns, when bitter critics and their conflicting views became partially responsible for the immense popularity they have managed to gather. Again, both these instances triggered off the memory of the Malayalam ‘soft porn’ boom of the late 1990s. In fact, these events were seen as an extension of and an alleged return of “mulyachyuti” or immoral excess that soft porn ostensibly signified.
E–Revolution: Aims and Faces behind Kashmir’s Alternative Media
I aim to capture the causes that led to rise of the alternative (online) media in Kashmir, its evolution, impact (social and political) and significance through stories and conversations – and research – with people who gave birth to it, how they made it happen and their aims –– bound in a text-cum-picture book/ paper. This will be done through research, analysis of the situation(s), personal involvement and elaborate interviews. Further, important events and cases (both individual and public) that involved/boosted the alternative media will be featured. The book/ paper will also have a series of images (portraits and a photo essay). I would love to share with you the images and audio of the interviews that I would gather during the research but which won’t be a part of the final book/paper due to space constraint. The same can be a part of your archives if feasible/practical for you.
Digital Histories of Partition: Memory, Archives and the Narration of a ‘South Asian’ Identity Online
This research project seeks to study the reconstruction and archiving of memories of Partition and a South Asian past in the transnational space of the internet as a discourse on the production of a ‘South Asian’ identity online. By critically analysing the growing number of South Asian digital archives (particularly the 1947 Partition Archive, The South Asian American Digital Archives, Indian Memory Project, Panjab Digital Library, The Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project, among others) and the memorialisation and discussion of Partition on social media, my research will focus on these websites as digital spaces that reiterate multiple narratives of Partition and reify a South Asian historical and civilizational past.
Mobile Phones and User-networks of Sharing: Mapping Consumption and Circulation of Media Content among Users of Limited Technological Means
The proposed research project will study user-driven consumption, circulation and production of content through mobile phones and peripheral technologies in the Indian context. The research focus will be on users and user groups with limited technological means and access such as security guards, auto drivers and vegetable vendors. The overall aim is to understand how mobile phones have changed the socio dynamics of access to media content in India and investigate what such access mean to users and user groups of limited technological means. It also intends to trace formations of new techno-social networks of users in the processes of sharing content.
Ethnography of Social Media in Rural Rajasthan
The main aim of my project is to answer two simple questions – why rural people, especially youth, are attracted to social media and how do they use it. While I would reflexively modify these questions based on the field work, I am reasonably sure about the validity of the framework of these questions, based on my previous fieldwork experiences. I believe, these questions are situated in larger themes of urbanization and cultural studies of technology, and can help us significantly in understanding the socio-technical changes in rural India. I wish to conduct ethnographic research in the villages and towns of Rajasthan where I’ve already done some fieldwork… My overall approach would be to – first grasp the intricacies of digital media ecosystems in the field sites and then analyze the cultural change happening in those field sites in relation to access and use of digital media.
Hashtag #StingOp: Truth, Low-Resolution and Post Social-Media Transparency
I’m interested in closely tracing the various anxieties and tendencies that animate the production of the sting. This would include an examination of the various novel scopic devices mobilized to administer the sting and the newer layers of visibilities they enable – different journalistic outfits today come equipped with variations of hidden cameras that often comprise of Google glasses, notebook spy-cams, pen-drive spy-cam, ear-plug spy-cam, shirt spy-cams, wristwatch audio recorders and various such innovations. I am also interested in the careful technical packaging of the sting video – these include meticulous breakdown of the stock footage that is to be used (shots of parliament, police forces, bureaucracy etc), text/supers used, the subtitles, filters used, title music commissioned etc during the whole sting assemblage… I hope dissecting the sting video in its disaggregated form might lend newer perspectives in understanding how inscrutability, occult and transparency work often together, especially in the era where MMS videos and YouTube act as the chief public archive of different brands of revelation footage.