Theorising Voice in India

The jan sunwai and the Right to Information Movement

Authored by: Pradip Ninan Thomas

The Routledge Companion to Alternative and Community Media

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415644044
eBook ISBN: 9781315717241
Adobe ISBN: 9781317509417


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What possibilities are there for Voice to become the basis for meaningful social change in India? And in what sense can Voice become the basis for a renewal of specifically Indian public spheres? What are the performative conditions that facilitate Voice making and indigenous means that are supportive of Voice in the making of local public spheres in India? These questions related to the location of Voice, its conditions of operationalisation, its means and its politics of possibility, correspond to an issue that has remained of critical importance to theorists of alternative and community media – specifically, the meaning of and conditions for empowerment. Scholars working on societal issues in India, just as scholars in other parts of the non-Western world, have had little choice but to employ theoretical and conceptual frameworks that are Western in origin. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that many of these frameworks have generated knowledge on Indian realities, although ‘translation’ has by no means been unproblematic. The inability of scholars from a Marxian persuasion to ignore caste and privilege class is just one example of the failure of theorists to adapt theories to the local and for theory itself to be informed by the local. Recent conversations, mainly in the Economic and Political Weekly, on the nature of ‘Dalit intellection’ by the Dalit scholar Gopal Guru (2013), Sarukkai (2007), Dilip Menon (2013) and others point to the limitations of theory solely informed by the project of mimesis and which discounts experience and the need for another theorising based on experience (see also Guru and Geetha, 2000; Guru, 2009; Gurukkal, 2013). ‘Humiliation studies’ is one attempt to generate a “new conceptual language” capable of capturing “complex dimensions of social reality” that do not fall within the purview of established social and political theorising (Guru, 2009: 19). Such interventions expose the fault-lines in the social sciences in India that are caught between the doxa of the academy and the perceived universality of received theory.

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