Monthly Archives: March 2007

Karachi Tram

The Karachi Tram, in Melbourne, was hilarious fun – especially all those people who got on during a monsoon-style downpour and were stunned (ecstatic, bemused, one even annoyed) to find chai and samosas served up, loud beats, dancing and a film crew all rattling along the tramjatra route (there was a Calcutta tram sometime back and a book version called Tramjatra).

W-11 tram is about… (the short trip version)

an art of journeys
travelling the Melbourne City Circle tram route
4.30 – 9.30pm Fridays during summer 2006/07
free entry…no bookings…all welcome

W-11 TRAM is a collaborative art project exploring dialogue, performance and hospitality through providing conditions for the experience of journeys. With its sides bearing the words in Urdu and English: ‘piyar zindagi hai / love is life’, the W-11 TRAM creates a dynamic and mobile public space with a disarmingly warm atmosphere. The project, involving collaboration with Pakistani vehicle decorators, was one of the most celebrated offerings of the cultural festival of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

read more….

Sadly, I cannot say when the next tram trip trips out. In the meantime seek out the film Malcolm for your W11 fix.

Tram Connies Zindabad! (Thansk Mick, Peter, Rohan).

Click me crazy Lygon Street Limbo

I’ve been wondering a lot about how new media works. Partly this the consequence of trends in the Centre at Goldsmiths, where our recent hires have set a blistering pace in buzz, concepts, light and heat… academia more interesting than the material it examines for once [I went to ZKM and was more interested in the museum having a Pacman game than any of the history of 'new' media - I still think television is new. Before then the world was black and white, right?].

Anyway, the internet and blogging are topics I normally steer wide away. But a discussion with Ulki in Kolkata has renewed old interests in how writing and style is formed, conformed and malformed. Ulki – wonderfully sharp graduate of Jadavpur – presently works for a web portal that gives instructions on how to write articles – say on cats – in a way that generates the most hits from search engines and catapults said article to the top spot on google etc. Of course the game is all about guessing what people might enter as search parameters. That this shapes writing is going to shape writing… In an article on cats one should ensure mention of all of the following: Cheshire cats, Siamese cats, cat’s cradle, sick cat, Fatcats, Felix, Topcat and kittens, and so on. More no doubt, but you get the idea. In an article on Foucault and Order you would expect camels, flies, water-pitchers and all of the above. On Marx’s 18th Brumaire I guess Napoleon, organ-grinders and peasantry… and so on.
So how pleased was I to get from the wonderful Ceridwen a gift copy of the News Limited (evil media empire inc) publication “Style: the essential guide for journalists and professional writers”. This is an amazing volume, which tells all the dos and don’ts of contemporary ideological mass management… Conveniently, it is very instructive on how to address people in a text. For example, in the section on the honorific ‘Mr, Mrs, Ms’, we are advised that this is used for all people except “sportsmen/women, artists, actors, authors, musicians, convicted criminals, journalists and the long dead” (p 45). I so agree that we should list journalists in between criminals and the deceased. Certainly separated by at least three words from actual authors since journos would all sell their siblings for a story…
So the News Limited Style book does not give the current code for optimal hit webpage verbiage, but its glossary of acceptable language could readily be adapted I think. I will devour it and you watch as my language transforms, the hit count rises, the readership dumbs down, and all will be well with the world. Inshallah.

Cross reference to a little more on writing here. And a diametrical street tramtracking of projects other than writing here.

Thanks Ceridwen, in membrance of the Lygon Street blackout, March

Sex Work Writing

Recently, discussions of sex work have been made interesting by activists, and made more urgent by bullshit immigration policies mixed with rabid liberal stupidities, sensationalism, cliche. So, I was reading this book – Bedanabala. Her Life. Her Times by Mahasweta Devi, translated by Sunandini Banerjee (Seagull Books) and was reminded that I need to link with stuff that matters – see below…

Devi writes:
“All I’ve done is speak of them, the whores of times past. But is that all? Not sought my roots therein? No matter the luxury that smothers me today, my mother lived in a brothel, adopted and reared by the woman who owned it, who owned her, and others like her.
And what of me? My life? To tell of my life I will have to tell of those women, recount their lives from the age of Uttar Veda to the present day. Women whose stories will never be told completely; ‘If the sky were a sheet of paper/ If every blade of grass on earth were a pen/ If the seven seas were awash with ink/ if all of that were used up even then/ It would not be enough for their history to be written.'”

Somehow this passage grabs me. Taunts and enchants – to write with such fervor. Fabulous. Let us learn again from such wordings.

And Devi reminds me that a friend called Alex has a friend who also recently started something that deserves a closer look: I quote again:

“Nik found a Anarchist Federation newsletter which had as its front page an article about ‘trafficking’, that was just pathetic and wrong. As some of you will know mainstream media articles concerning ‘sex slaves’ appear in the press in London about once a week. The trend for the ‘left’ is to take up the radical feminist / abolitionist position and recently George Galloway (respect party) has been talking about cleaning up the east end and shutting down strip clubs.
As well the usual raids are still occurring in brothels and many sex workers have been deported. …on many fronts it feels like we are not winning in the debate — not from a migrants rights perspective and less still from a sex worker perspective. There are many things that can be done — and many of them we are already doing.

So what to do when the all seems a little lost? — start a debate ;) We are hoping to conduct this discussion in a space (libcom) that is supposed to be more radical than many other spaces that are available at the moment – but we will have to see — nothing like sex work to bring out people’s politics about gender and sexuality. Nik has posted a short text on libcom — and i thought it would be useful to send the link out to people”.

So folks – Click here to see Nik’s post.

I wrote earlier on Mahasweta Devi here. And on walking the streets here and on writing here

Memory Games Spectacle: Bread&Circuses

The trick of today is media induced loss of short term memory. The relentlessly insipid everydayness of the news means that patterns of ideology are overlooked, dismissed as coincidence or conspiracy. The day after Lord Levy is arrested and the prime minister asked to ‘help the police with their inquiries’ the next day’s headlines report a new terrorist threat. How often such ‘breakthroughs’ in the war on terror come after 6 months of investigation should be plotted against otherwise embarrassing headlines that the government would rather bury. That the media overlooks such coincidence is certainly unremarkable. What was the name of the Labour Party press officer whose memo declared on September 11, 2001 that the day would be a good one for the release of any bad news?

This is not a specialty of only the British press. My friend and head of film studies at Jadavpur University, Abhijit Roy, was arguing for an analysis of media events as spectacular but soon forgotten sensations. I am broadly in agreement with this, especially when considering the electoral prospects of, say, the CPM after Nandigram (or New Labour after Blair). Having moved quickly when forced to recognize the need, Buddhadev Battarcharjee has probably started to learn that the complexity of events look less convoluted from a distance of months or a year or two. Come the next polls who will remember details beyond the 14 figure of those killed by police (even as the number of dead is higher, the first given figure is lodged in minds) and that Buddha acted swiftly to diffuse the conflict? An understanding, and deft manipulation, of something like a spectacular sensations theory of media is just what a contemporary Machiavelli would offer as counsel for a leader today.

Did such counsel come via the figure of Mandelson for Blair? The comparison does not scan because the Italian was more interesting, but flattery also will help line one’s nest with favours, so no surprise. The spectacular is more often than not left unspecified, which is very useful: being open to dexterous turnings, twistings, convolutings makes content serve whoever masters its massage.

Hmmm, forgot what I was trying to say… mumble mumble… the spectacular is not smooth space either… and its images are fleeting … the first pic is of some hand prints on a wall on Rafi Kidwai Ahmed Road – I guess the old code would have to have noted they recall other hand prints commemorating immolations, sati etc., – but these were done by kids on the day of the bandh; the second pic is a snap of the TV news on Nandigram; the third is of a bus ticket collector in traffic a couple of days after the bandh – business as usual. I did not get a pic of the burnt out bus, but I add this to an emergent bus theme, also pictured here.

Nandigram and Cricket

Sorry to say that some cricket metaphors might be abused below – its time to resurrect the old colonial games-shames…

Sports latest: West Bengal lal-rounder Buddhadeb Battarcharjee was implored to recognise that CPM was in serious strife over the ‘firings’ in Nandigram mid week. This became acute when former chief minister Jyoti Basu said on friday what the other Left Front coalition partners had wanted to say, but thus far just sledged from the sidelines. Basu, a tail-ender that wags, declared: ‘comrade, get your act together or lose’. Subcontinental news reportage favours ‘alacrity’ as a watchword, and Buddhadeb thereby was said to have agreed to change line and length so as to consult with the partners (RSP – formed in the thirties, and Forward Block) and, I guess more importantly, he conceded that the Nandigram villagers would not be asked to give up their land. If this means the CPM’s economic program and its plan to attract greater FDI is stumped, what it means for the Indonesian investor in the proposed SEZ is now unclear, but there was one funny comment about the investor – ‘who is this Saleem chap anyhow, can he bat?’ – the company is called Salim PLC, but I also do not know their form or record – so will have to look it up in Wisdens [right, enough, its time to put a stop to all this cricket spin malarkey...].

So it comes to pass that the situation at Nandigram is resolved. Or ‘perhaps’ resolved – since there were a number of other measures in the package, such as bridges, roads, infrastructure projects. Whatever may be the case, the day of the Bandh (the entire city was shut down to protest the firings) looks more and more like a multifaceted coup. Though there is a slight danger of relying on standard visitor observations and cliché, for me it is somewhat personal and maybe oblique observations that stick in the mind. The streets were free of traffic, the air seemed so much cleaner, the city sounded so different, and I walked around for hours amidst middle-of-the-road cricket matches, with stumps made of bricks, old tyres, boxes etc. That this could happen while in the Caribbean, the Indian team floundered in the Cricket World Cup, comprehensively beaten by Bangladesh. So its interesting that street cricket thrives so well in the Bandh. Kolkata’s traffic most days forces the kids onto the already crowded pavements, on this day they took over the open spaces (only the intersections had vehicles – parked cop jeepneys and the occasional press car – nothing else moved, or if it did, it was burned – as happened to two buses in the south of the city.

Of course cricket is not incidental to politics in India (see Ashis Nandy’s book The Tao of Cricket, second only to Beyond a Boundary by CLR James as text on cricket and colonialism). So, Buddhadeb, is there a message for you here? Should the CPM go for the hype and rhetoric of shining India, FDI, capital investment, slick flyovers, and the consequent decline of Kolkata as one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities I have ever seen, or does the evident resilience of cricket as popular/vernacular expressive form suggest that there is something wrong with the plans for the Great Lunge Forward toward Neo-Liberal Capital implied in the SEZ development projects. I don’t know what answers the Left Front coalition can come up with, or if they have any, or if the Maoists in Nandigram and elsewhere can take their struggles to a level beyond the Not-In-My-Rice-Patch NIMBY-level… and of course cricket does not dissolve the gross inequalities of wealth in India, or even halt – rather it occludes – the increasing polarization of rich and poor, but I would like to think, on this day of the bandh, the flourishing of popular vernacular cricket can be a symptomatic marker of the score, what people do on strike days maybe suggests a diagnostic: the elite players fluffed it, the people went out and played…

More Nandigram discussion, rumours, global chat, horror scenes: here.

Terror as a State action. Contextualized ESRC Reprise/Response from an Unusually Quiet City

On that Terror Research Initiative from the ESRC. I just wrote in support of those Goldsmiths anthros that are preparing a critical response from across the college. I thought I would share my text since its a way to update on what I am doing here/preoccupied with just now. Earlier news and views about the research call, and some comments from other folks, is here.

Why do this? I think it is important to make ESRC recognise that their version of research and how people [they are only interested in Muslims] get ‘radicalized’ is so viciously simplistic that its dangerous, mercenary, and wholly ignorant of just how complicated events can be ‘in the round’ [not that I found much round here yet, still]. So, here is my letter to the College movers and shakers, followed by some contextual notes on current ‘research’ environs:

Hi from Kolkata

I certainly support a response from Goldsmiths that censures the ESRC et al for making research difficult in this way – its not just about risk, but reputation and political affiliation. In this part of the world, and in my research in Kolkata, the status of the researcher, their associations, affiliations etc, are a matter of intense scrutiny. Reputation and credibility are crucial.

And its already come up – as I work in an environment that is, to understate it, very tense at the minute. A total strike today, since the CPM State Govt set the police upon villagers who did not agree it was a good idea to raze their huts to make way for a Special Economic Zone. At least 14, but maybe 50, dead on wednesday, unknown number yesterday… In a symmetry response it seems, ‘Naxals’ killed 55 security personnel in Chhattisgarh. In this environment, moving anywhere near this action means being called to account. As a researcher from a University in England I can pass where, were I a journalist, things might not go so smoothly. This would change I expect when researchers are rebranded by the ESRC as security operatives in the war on terror…


I guess some further explanation might be in order. Not sure I can make things all that clear – still seeking. Though, I should point out that I am not trying to get to Chhattisgarh - that was just a piece in the news today that ran alongside the CPM firings – but I did look to travel to check out Nandigram – but no chance. Some background will suggest anyway that staying in Kolkata is sensible: here the CPM (Communist Party of India Marxist) is the ruling state power and has been – since elected – the ruling partner in the Left Front Government of Bengal for about 30 years. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the present Chief Minister – I once handed out how to vote flyers for him (for about 20 minutes – that was 92 I think, a little left tourist-exotica-mongering really. I did not get to meet him, but his Party cadre were enthusiastic). Now, in search of foreign investment, CPM want to set up a special economic zone in Nandigram,where an Indonesian group called Salim PLC will develop the zone, It is said to impact upon many thousands of local people who lived, until now, in this agricultural region (its across the harbour from Haldia – a place I visited in 1988 – pretty ‘underdeveloped’ I’d say, rice fields, ponds, fisheries). Over the past two days CPM have been ‘reclaiming’ the villages where ‘Maoists’ were arming the peasantry. Seems strange that a ‘communist’ government called in the police on a Maoist opposition. Chaos… The fluctuation in the numbers of dead has been strange too, no-one can agree on a figure and it seems surreal. The dead and injured were mostly female peasantry defending their villages from ‘development’. Yaay Government, yaay Capital!. In the city, Mamanta Banerjee, a kind of opportunist from the Triminool Congress, inflamed the situation somewhat, trying to score points, joining the Maoists in the call for the Bandh… perhaps threatening another hunger strike… Setting off to Nandigram, she was blocked by CPM activists. BJP making noises. The BJP, Triminool and Maoists v CPM seems like an unholy array of forces. Police insisting the Maoists fired on them first. Some say 50 dead. It is hard to get a clear idea of what is really going on, and the city is shut down.

Art in the Right Place?

This piece was written by Roh and published in the journal Left Curve Number 29, pages 120-121, 2005

Art in the Right Place?

Rosie Wright

‘The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to’

- Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness 1973:10

At fifteen feet high, anti-contagious and civilizing in pure white classical marble, pregnant British woman Alison Lapper, who has no arms and shortened legs due to a congenital disorder called phocomelia, will sit in pristine wholeness on the fourth plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square in London, from spring 2005 until the summer of 2006. Surrounded by commanding military heroes, excluding a replica of British football hero David Beckham and a stone cow, the fourth plinth has remained empty since 1841 when it was built by the architect of Trafalgar Square, Sir Charles Barry. Originally meant to display an equestrian statue but left empty due to insufficient funds, this year London Mayor Ken Livingston assigned ‘The Fourth Plinth Project’ as part of his ‘Culture Strategy’ for London. In March, a panel of specialist advisors recommended there be one temporary work of art that would be on the plinth for fifteen months; the public could “vote” but these would not be classified as votes and only the specialists could make the final choices. Chosen from a group of six leading national and international contemporary artists, which included Chris Burden, Sokari Douglas Camp, Stefan Gec and Sarah Lucas, British artist Marc Quinn’s sculpture “Alison Lapper Pregnant” was chosen by the Fourth Plinth Commissionary group in March 2004, to be replaced by Thomas Schütte’s pro-pigeon “Hotel for the Birds” in 2006.

Despite the Chair of the London regional council of Arts Council England, Lady Hollik, advocating that ‘London is not a museum piece…the historic and the contemporary sit side by side, distinct in their diversity yet combining to produce a fresh landscape’ it appears that it is easy to get sentimental where, within the language that celebrates difference, stereotypes can re-blossom and imitation allows us to be closed to learning. With the placing of Lapper in a public city space whose dominant historical text is that of heroism, some of us are slipping into a different kind of present response than one of “Travulgar Square” British tabloid press disgust at bad taste, political-correctness-gone-mad shock art. Instead we slide into another historically established order: one of sentimentality and high-flying well-brought-up morality. Facing the heroic Lord Nelson in wholeness and beauty, Lapper is our ultimate modern conquer – ‘I pay taxes, I am a single mother…’ – whose sculpture acts, according to Lapper, as a ‘tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood.’ She is a steadfastly self–affirmed, a self-sufficient individual and, to Quinn, represents the contemporary heroine. He says of his series of limbless sculptures:

‘Even if they refer to the sculpture of the past, they seem to me to be about the future, which is about difference and diversity. They’re celebrations of difference and of the triumph of the human spirit. Hero’s are people who conquer themselves and go on to lead full lives.’

Reverenced and idealized, Lapper’s life career becomes the thread of the story in a work of fiction. She exists within the same museum narrative of revenge, punishment, reward and retribution that we use to understand Lord Nelson’s Imperialist History and the colonization of the contagious savage other who is overcome by the civilizing hero; celebration and acceptance only exists for difference that can become triumph by way of such a heroic individual. Quinn winning this public art competition has, it seems, helped Lapper to become the embodiment of a hegemonic Imperial British history; of a way of thinking that fetishises the story of the eye – Nelson, in the battle of Copenhagen, knowing that there was no time to flee, put his blind eye to his telescope and saying, ‘I don’t see the signal’, and so continued to fight and crushed the Danish fleet – that signifies bravery and a patriotic love of country that excludes different perspectives and voices beyond the heroic.

In commenting on Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928), Roland Barthes writes:

‘its story is that of migration, the cycle of the avatars it passes through, far removed from its original being, down the path of a particular imagination that distorts but never drops it.’ (2001:119)

The eye for Barthes acts as an endless metaphor, a chain without a beginning that has no hierarchy of meaning. Open and out of reach of interpretation, there is no place for a secret reference behind the signifier. Douglas Camp’s sculpture No-o-war-r No-o-war-r aims to ‘depict ordinary people as heroes’; as complex and conflicted beings, full of doubt, hesitation, anger and conviction, Douglas Camp describes them as akin to Rodin’s sculpture of all six of The Burghers of Calais. The equal status of her protesters acknowledges the context of Trafalgar Square as a historical place of continuing protest and the assertion of rights by ordinary people. By refusing to stamp identities and form distinctions in diversity, her sculpture does not contribute to the process of creating totalizing modern molds. The Fourth Plinth Project advisors turned a blind eye to the millions who demonstrated in Trafalgar Square against the war in Iraq in 2003 and who have demonstrated there throughout its history, crushing alternative perspectives and upholding the Victory of neo-colonial thought. Simultaneously, the myopic board co-ordinate their own self-affirmation through a sense of social duty and have thus prevented Londoners the right to explore public spaces such as Trafalgar Square and learn an unexpected education.

In a world that is maintained by inequality, historic love is belief in an idea of science, knowledge and ethics to which you can sacrifice yourself. Within the archive of such a love, the perception of disease at the heart of modern living must be controlled and purified in order to free us from imagined threat and continuous conflict. The Fourth Plinth Project, goes on Lady Hollik, ‘at its heart aims to encourage Londoners to engage with the arts and with their environment in new ways.’ In many ways I would have to disagree. Marc Quinn’s sculpture offers only one history, one perspective, one hero. Instead of ‘producing fresh landscapes’, this sculpture acts to maintain the stench of diseased old ones.


Roh Wright

I am tempted to think Anthropology at Goldsmiths might be cursed.

A friend and former student, Rosie Wright, was killed on Friday – she was on her bike in traffic – riding on these London roads that are too full of Capitalism transporting its abundance of product in huge lorries, with wide bus lanes to get us to work or to the shops, but insufficient space for bikes, inadequate bike lanes, and too little space for pedestrians as well, as it happens. She was too young. Gutted.

We just had a meeting on saturday to talk through her MA plans; another long discussion over food – we’d bought various delicacies from the local Italian deli – artichoke pate, parma ham, a baguette, asparagus and three cheeses. That such lunches are over is unforgivable.

I do not understand how or why this can happen to the brilliant ones – Roh earned a First Class Honours degree graduating (2003), the year after Imogen, with similarly brilliant marks and having been at many Left political demonstrations, events, solidarity campaigns, etc., she wrote great things for the PubliCity section of Left Curve… Her critical engagement was always at the same time generous, considerate, and inspiring. I wish I had that some of that grace..

I will put some of her published work from Left Curve on another page (here), and there will be a second piece from the new edition published soon, I think on 2 April. I do not know when the funeral is yet, but I know there are so many people viciously wounded by this tragic loss that … there is nothing to it but anger… and wrenching anguish for her family and (so many) others that were close…

Added 16 March: Asked to write something for the funeral the best I could come up with (I wish it was far better) was this:

For Rosie.

I am distraught writing this for many reasons, but not least among them is that Roh’s death means the loss of another of our most gentle and generous revolutionaries and one who had not given up on the project of inspiring others – and institutions – to do better. Having a critique of anthropology or of the power games, sexism and racism of the university is one thing, but remaining generous and optimistic within it is inspiring.

Roh wrote an amazing final year dissertation – another of her papers which achieved first class marks – it was on the limits built into the institutionalisation and commercialization of knowledge, yet she did not ever give up looking for more. In theatre or performance, in film or the craft of writing, in solidarity movements or issues of sexuality, Roh’s critical sensibility was uniquely open – never a condemnation. Even when critical of herself she retained this amazing openness which I would – will forever – strive to emulate. While learning she taught. What we have lost then is a possibility of a humanistic resuscitation of the university – Roh was discussing ideas for a Masters degree with many of her friends in the past few weeks, and even this was undertaken in an open way as a kind of group survey, as a process of gathering and sifting advice as a shared project. Roh bought her generosity and community to the life of ideas – passionately, excitedly and gracefully – what we have lost cannot be measured.

Her results in essays were measured in fact – a range of the very highest marks of course. A first class honours degree and a grant for postgraduate study beckoned – but these incidentals were second to her interests, enthusiasms, ideas and plans… She is another stolen from us, too young, too brilliant…


Update 10 June: Roh Zine draft here.

INDIAN MASS MEDIA – Keynote Oct 19 2007


and the Centre for Media and Film Studies (SOAS)


One-day conference for Postgraduates & Early Career Researchers,
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Saturday, 19 October, 2007

Keynote Speaker: Dr John Hutnyk (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Prof Annabelle Sreberny (Centre for Media and Film Studies, SOAS)
Dr Mark Hobart (Centre for Media and Film Studies, SOAS)
Dr Rachel Dwyer (Dept of Languages and Cultures of South Asia, SOAS)

Call for Papers:

India has been the focus of much attention in the international media in the recent years. Rhetoric concerning its rapid economic growth, spearheaded by its IT industry and its burgeoning middle classes, suggest that something new and significant is taking place. Something is changing, we are told: India is shining; the elephant is rising; the 21st century will be an Indian century. Even a recent election campaign was debated around this image. India was/was not shining, with disastrous results for the leading political party in power.

What unites many of the debates concerning such re-imaginings of India is the notion of change and its different ramifications. Elections, commentators, drawing room debates and activists all cut their teeth around this complex notion. Who, it is debated, benefits from change? Who is left out from these fantasies of progress and economic growth? Do such re-imaginings really reflect the complex economic reality of large parts of Indian populations ‘somewhere out there’? In any case, what is certain is that ‘change’ has now become the new articulating principle par excellence when we speak about India and its contested future.

One of the crucial sites where such debates take place is the Indian mass media: its newspapers, TV channels, advertisements and burgeoning online communities. It is also the loci, we argue, where the politics of change are most visibly played out and that needs to be carefully looked at in order to understand the complex reality of India today. It is important to note here that we believe the nation state is one of categories that needs to be critically investigated when we look at India and change and therefore include the wider Indian diaspora into our definition of what contemporary India is. With this in mind, The Politics of Change conference aims to bring together researchers looking at Indian films and media and interested in the question of change.

We therefore now welcome abstract for papers and presentations of 20 minutes each from post-graduate and early career researchers. Specifically, we are inviting papers that would broadly address the following questions:

● How is change imagined in different forms of Indian media? How are the press, television, film and online communities involved in this imagining? How do different media differ in how they imagine change?
● What kind of day-to-day practices are deployed to articulate these imaginings of change? What kind of verbal and visual images is used towards such imaginings and how do they differ between the media? What are the differences between the English-speaking and the vernacular media? What about the diasporic media?
● What are the politics of such imaginings? Who are such articulations thought to benefit? Who in turn do they disarticulate? What is the political economy of imagining change?
● How have these articulations changed historically? Can we trace historical precedents to such current imaginings? What are the similarities? What are the differences?
● Is there something distinctive about how this change is imagined in (India as opposed to other rapidly-developing countries such as China?)? What do these similarities and differences tell us about Indian media and society?

Abstracts, including a brief biography, should be emailed to no later than May 15, 2007. These will then be discussed with our advisors and team, and we will get back to you by the 15th of June. Please do let us know in advance if you would like us to organize projectors, or any other special requirements you might have.

The conference is jointly is organized by SACREDMEDIACOW, an independent student-led research centre on Indian media and the Centre for Media and Film Studies at the School Of Oriental and African Studies. Having said that, SACREDMEDIACOW is not really a centre for India media research (perhaps a periphery of Indian media research would be a more appropriate title), but more of a Collective. Either way, being both practitioners as well as academics interested in the India media, one of our key aims to build bridges between academics and media practitioners globally. Therefore, a significant portion of the activities around the conference will also take place on our website

Our aim is to include the people we talk about when we research Indian media as much as possible in the dialogue and debates through the possibilities allowed by new technologies: by distributing conference material online, by creating an online platform where the questions raised can be debated during the conference and by allowing distance participation as much
as possible through teleconferencing, video broadcast and other such means.

Please also visit our working space for the conference at
where many of these ideas will be collectively worked out.

For further information, please email the SACREDMEDIACOW collective:
Somnath Batabyal,
Meenu Gaur,
Matti Pohjonen,
Angad Chowdhry,

four quibbles

Several arguments I’ve had lately have stalled in what I am tempted to call a kind of ‘ontological disarray’. That is, the people I start these conversations with, in affable conviviality (ie in the pub) seem to give up too quick and angry. We each know these are necessarily first moves, so why concede/defer? Is it because I am slurring my words horribly, and threatening to punch people? But I am pretty sure that is not what is going on, at least not every time. Here for the record are the themes:

1. Contemporary art is not revolutionary and smells bad

Artists and critics have merged in a discursive boosterism that promotes ‘contemporary art practice’ as the be all and end all of socio-cultural or intellectual worth. This is at its worst when the boosterism is mitigated by an enthusiastic embrace of, at least a rhetoric of, challenge, critique, interdisciplinarity or conceptual experimentation (these are not ‘the same’). Sometimes the prime pumped place of the artist-critic-practitioner is glorified as disruption, provocation, and even chaos. It seems as if the dilemmas and complicities that stalled Dada and mainstreamed Surrealism vis-a-vis politics (no less than three major exhibitions planned) plots the tempo of the treadmill upon which we are condemned to run forever.

2. Piracy-smear

Pirates have been in fashion for quite a while, despite the efforts of Disney and Johnny Depp. Is it just a shallow question then to ask if they are still worthy of our attention? – either as the forgotten first wave of neoliberal capitalism, or as cool multiculturalist anti-slavery activists with boats. This theme at least has a Deptford connection, and appropriately the argument was on the steps of the Town Hall - and was over the work of another of those celebrants of pirate-chic whom I quote here:

“The decade between 1716 and 1726 was the golden age of piracy, Marcus Rediker informs us. The significance of piracy during these years was twofold – it was multiracial and it was against the slave trade. They blockaded ports, disrupted the sea lanes. The pirate ship ‘might be considered a multiracial maroon community.’ Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard’s crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led ‘a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not.’ They also prevented the slave trade from growing. This was the complaint of Humphrey Morice, MP, Governor of the Bank of England, owner of a small fleet of slavers, who led the petitioning to Parliament and who suffered severe losses in 1719, the year that serious blacking commenced. A naval squadron was sent to west Africa. Four hundred and eighteen pirates were hanged. The conjuncture of apparently very distant forces, struggle for common rights and the Atlantic slave trade, in fact met in intimate proximity” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

Linebaugh has a good line on Daniel Defoe though – and we can hear the echo of Marx’s comments on Crusoe from part one of Capital, which is always fun. Here is Linebaugh again:

“Robinson Crusoe, Mariner was published in 1719. The book dramatises the labour theory of value, glories in the intricacies of the division of labour, and puts the European foot (Crusoe) on the African neck (Friday). Alexander Selkirk, the actual person who was the prototype of Robinson Crusoe, died in February 1721 as a sailor in a naval squadron that was sent to west Africa to extirpate the piracy interrupting the slave trade” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

OK, Let’s discuss.

3. Consmopolitanism yak yak

The debate in Manchester called ‘the conversation‘, where I was lucky enough to share the stage with Mary Louise Pratt, descended into something not quite farce. Is the discursive effort deployed to elaborate an equitable global cosmopolitanism worth the effort? I mean, compared to other efforts to organise and institute an alternative to Capitalism? THe conceptual arabesques around cosmo seem very often to rehearse Eurocentric imaginings (Hedwig was right to say: ‘You, Kant, always get what You want’).Is this Kantianism from outside not quite close to a plan that contains cross-border disruptions in a cultural resource marketing regime? I have yet to consume all though, having just bargain bonus snapped up Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism ‘because’ it has a special extra half-size promo wrap with picture and quote from none other than Kofi Annan. Whoa, bestseller! [Thus, more on this is to come - a longer post on the conversation with M-L-P that I have been saving... too lazy ... to write up soon... promise...]

4. “Maoist” Philosophers are hot stuff, shaboody

Alain Badiou as the latest theorist refashioned from obscure secret to the next theoretico-personality cult idol of the chattering teacher-class, as reviewed by Peter Osbourne in Radical Philosophy. I was intemperate enough in my criticisms of this to suggest what those theorists who become publishing fashion (as it has to be said is the fate of AB, no matter how excellent are the efforts of Alberto Toscano et al) are rarely elevated on the basis of their personalities. Rather, the personality cult here is that of the veritable hordes parading amongst the campus seminar cliques carrying aforesaid idols’ books and quoting key concepts like badges. Of course I am not against sloganeering – heaven forbid – but a slower reading and a resistance to the way display table choices shape debates might be welcome. That conversations about Mao, or politics, or borders, or democracy are shaped by a confluence of The Today Show (radio current affairs) and the display of shiny books shelved by author name (in places like the LRB or Tate Bookshops) seems just another sad consequence of the same idolatry because the discussion never gets beyond personal presentation. The latest theorists now, the next ones quick. Shop shop shop. But I am among the worst in many ways – buying books on impulse because of the quality of the binding, because of an innovation in format (Iconoplush!) and other foibles that deserve attention. This is very far from Mao. As is Badiou. Try this instead: Comrade Gaurav at Goldies.

[Pics are Michael Leunig cartoons - from my Saturday paper every week in Melbourne through the 80s and 90s].

translation slippage

“I am first of all against translation as it is mad,

its impossible,

it cannot ever be true to origins,

its a kind of violence,

it is always political,

it transforms,

it is creative,

it is heroic to try,

it is the essence of communicability,

it is exchange,

it disrupts parochialism,

it is the foundation of internationalism,

it is what we all should be trying to do,

it is the most revolutionary activity,

it is social,

it is life itself,

I am for it”.

So, translation slippage… my old post above from November 2005 is brought forward again as its both on Victor Alneng’s door in Sweden, and because here at Goldsmiths Ana Ama has activated a research project requesting examples of translational slippage – good term… As I replied to her just now:

“My favourite one is a typo (or was it?) in a bar in the northern Thai town of Chiang Rai – a real cowboy town. At this bar, part restaurant and not obviously a go-go joint, the menu offered a ‘Mixed Girl with Salad’. I do hope it was mixed grill, but …

Lonely Planet’s guide to India used to offer a lot of these sort of things. I remember them mentioning the great Scottish stable breakfast food “Podge” – And in my “Rumour of Calcutta” book (1996) I also mention the miswritten ‘Fried Children’ – instead of chicken.

There are some philosophical issues to be raised about this kind of translation-mockery humour however. So, I hope with the help of Blogospheric collaborationm she can achieve a fine global distribution of cultural put-downs…”

And from the comments page of the original post, Boris Buden translated it:


Carrie said…
And to think they call you “The Enemy of Anthropology.” 

24/11/05 10:30
Victor said…
beautiful, John, simply beautiful 

25/11/05 14:12
Boris Buden said…
“Prije svega ja sam protiv prevodjenja jer je to ludost, jer je ono nemoguce, jer nikada ne moze biti vjerno originalu, jer je oblik nasilja, jer je uvijek politicno, jer transformira, jer je kreativno, jer je herojski pokusati ga, jer je prevodjenje bit komunikabilnosti, jer je ono razmjena, jer podriva parohializam, jer je temelj internacionalizma, jer je to ono sto bismo svi trebali ciniti, jer je prevodjenje najrevolucionarnija aktivnost, jer je socijalno, jer je zivot sam, ja sam za prevodjenje.” John Hutnyk in CBS (Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian) 

9/12/06 15:13″

[Thanks – again – Kaori for trinket [image] from Japan].

Marx had time for Chess in 67

Having revised the first version of Volume One of Das Kapital for the press, Marx took time out to play a certain Meyer…

I have nicked this from Eli Wong, who got it via another fiendishly diligent fan, so this trace of Old Beardo from the annals of Chess history is gonna circulate like the endless adventures of the dialectic (sacrifice the wonky the knight or the promoted pawn, I dunno – reckon its a job for Harpo):

Karl Marx vs Meyer
Casual Game 1867 · King’s Gambit: Accepted. Double Muzio Gambit Paulsen Defense (C37) · 1-0

There is some entertaining discussion on the board where this appears, I excerpt some here, mostly from 2005-2006:

Ziggy2016: Marx played like the romantic he was.

Ron: It seems that Karl Marx’s chess play was historically conditioned.

euripides: Marx’s play shows good knowledge of opening theory. However, Games Like K Marx vs Meyer, 1867 shows that he might have got this theory from games in the 1830s or from recent games in the 1860s. So we can’t be sure that ‘Capital’ took so long because Marx was studying opening theory, though it is quite possible.

euripides: I note this game’s authenticity has been questioned. According to Francis Wheen’s biography, Marx attended a part given by the chessplayer Gustav Neumann in Berlin in 1867 and this game is meant to have been played there. He acknowledges the help of the Karl Marx Museum and their attached study centre for helping him find it.

terror researchers needed – Muslims need not apply

Just got this letter alerting me to the latest research funding opportunity in the land of heavy handed stupidity. I’ve included some of the info on what its about below – follow the link to see how mad it is in detail…

Hi John.

This astonishing new research plan by the ESRC which aims to, among many things, have researchers enter the ideological battle to prevent terrorism (but not prevent bureaucratic stupidity – see spelling mistakes such as ‘the prevent strand is concerned with tackling the radicalisation of individuals’) and to ‘help Muslims’ to ‘dispute these ideas’ (one presumes they mean ideas of terrorism, not the idea that researchers should work directly for the FCO to ‘counter’ terror). The target for these ‘short term’ research projects is exclusively the Muslim diaspora. This new call for research proposals is said to have been revised after the earlier version produced lively debate – but the profiling of Muslims as the singular source of terror indicates that the alleged lively debate was pretty ineffectual. Applications on a postcard please to – ESRC, AHRC, FCO and the usual suspects

- Kayser Soze

See the call for proposals here

I’ve excerpted the main bits here – but as I was going through it more and more of the detail seemed worthy of reproduction just for the sheer audacity of this call. If anyone applies we will know which side of the ‘you are either with us or against us’ routine they have chosen – the side of really really dumb and dangerous research agendas. See especially the sections 3.2 and 9.

“New Security Challenges:’Radicalisation’ and Violence – A Critical Reassessment

Specification. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) invite research proposals for this £2.5 million initiative.

1. Introduction. Since the events of 11th September 2001, it has become common-place to argue that the world currently faces a new and qualitatively different kind of security challenge, and frequently this challenge is described in terms of processes of ‘radicalisation.’ Where previous examples of political violence by non-state actors tended to be geographically contained within one or two contiguous states, and focused on relatively clear political goals, the new networks of violence operate on a more global scale and their goals are often said to be more diffuse. Separatist groups like ETA and the IRA would be obvious examples of the earlier pattern; the attacks of ‘9/11’ in the US, the Bali bombings of 2002, the Istanbul bombings of 2003, those in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005 are all examples of the new pattern. While, historically, ‘radicalisation’ leading to violence against the state has been associated with marginal but indigenous political groups such as Baader/Meinhof and the Red Brigade, the new pattern associates it with communities which are defined ethnically and racially as much as politically and socially.Policy discourses in many Western countries frequently describe the new problems of transnational political violence at least in part in terms of processes of ‘radicalisation’ among Muslim groups in different parts of the world. ‘Radicalisation’ has become an important frame in the coverage of extremism and terrorism in many countries, in print and broadcast media, in mainstream and more specialised outlets. This initiative will focus on the real and pressing questions that the term is employed to address, while also interrogating these uses of the term ‘radicalisation’. ‘Radicalisation’ is usually taken to signify a process taking place, at different rates and with different effects, within particular Muslim communities. Beneath the media generalisations, however, lie much more complex stories of local religious, political and social circumstances. Yet one part of the appeal of ‘radicalisation’ would seem to be the ability to invoke the idea of a community which could cut across the particularities of local traditions and local political allegiances in the Muslim world, while at the same time drawing on reactions to the suffering of Muslims in the context of ostensibly very different conflicts – Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir – and employing new, transnational modes of communication like the internet. Transnational migration patterns have also created substantial diaspora populations, with their own internal demographic and political dynamics, and often complex ties to earlier countries of origin. The key research challenge is to find a way to combine both local and global perspectives on the new transnational violence. Although ‘radicalisation’ and violence purportedly in the name of Islam are the core interest of this initiative, other typesof violence, such as that deriving from sectarian or separatist movements, may also be examined in order to provide a broader context (see further in section 4.1.2).This initiative seeks to generate new knowledge in a short time-frame. … [snip]

2. Aims/ObjectivesThis initiative seeks to:1. Produce an informed and critical assessment of the diverse causes of ‘radicalisation’ and transnational political violence which combines local and global perspectives;2. Critically engage with the public and media use of the term ‘radicalisation’;… [snip]3.2 Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeThe FCO wants outstanding research to inform the policy making process. The FCO’s interest in this initiative stems from the recognition that independent, high-quality research on radicalisation issues can inform UK Counter Terrorism policy overseas. As part of the Prevent strand of that policy in particular, the FCO seeks to use research to increase its knowledge and understanding of the factors associated with radicalisation in those countries and regions identified as high priority.The Prevent strand is concerned with tackling the radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere, which sustains the international terrorist threat.

The Government seek [sic] to do this by: • tackling disadvantage and supporting reform by addressing structural problems in the UK and overseas that may contribute to radicalisation, such as inequalities and discrimination • deterring those who facilitate terrorism and those who encourage others to become terrorists by changing the environment in which the extremists and those radicalising others can operate • engaging in the battle of ideas by challenging the ideologies that extremists believe can justify the use of violence, primarily by helping Muslims who wish to dispute these ideas to do soIn order to obtain policy-relevant research, the FCO requires research to examine issues which impact upon and cause radicalisation, including political, social, economic, cultural, and ethnic considerations, in the countries and across regions it has specified. The most policy relevant research should aim to understand trends in radicalisation, be they historical, temporal or geographical…. [snip]

The primary focus of this initiative is outside the UK. Thus, while applications which include the UK as part of a regional or comparative study will be considered, applications which feature the UK as the only country of study will not be eligible for consideration…. [snip] • Central Asia;• East/Horn of Africa;• Europe (including France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Netherlands and Turkey); • Gulf and wider Middle East (including Israel/Palestine and Jordan); • North Africa; • South Asia; • Southeast Asia; • West Africa.The Commissioning Panel does not seek homogeneous coverage of all the areas listed, but will seek to fund those applications which make the best scientific case for studying a particular area. Proposals with a country or regional focus should address questions arising out of a critical engagement with the conventional wisdom and scholarship on topics of relevance to the initiative. These include:

• Key political, social, cultural and demographic factors that impact upon Muslim populations in the area of study • The social profile of those who may support or be attracted to violence, in terms of gender, age, class and ethnicity• Diverse forms of avowedly Islamist mobilisation, both political and non-political, violent and non-violent • The diversity of Islamic schools, organisations, political parties and social movements and the divisions between such bodies, movements and sects • Patterns of migration, identity formation, and mobilisation among Muslim diasporic communities and their impact on ‘radicalisation’ • Role of representations of Islam and representations of ‘the West’ in the media and in popular culture in encouraging ‘radicalisation’ • The theological, discursive, social, and political context of violence committed in the name of Islam • The impact of US, UK and regional government policies more broadly since 9/11 • The impact of globalisation, democratisation, and migration on Muslim societies and on the diverse beliefs, practices, identities, and institutions associated with the faithIndividual studies will not be expected to cover all these themes…. [snip]

4.2. International FellowshipsTo facilitate the working of the research projects, the call allows for the possibility of one to three month fellowships, designed to bring to the United Kingdom both researchers of international standing and new researchers of promise. It may be expected that most Fellows would be researchers from the regions of research, although in exceptional cases it may be that expertise from other regions and countries is deemed to be useful. The fellowships would be attached to the research projects, and should be sought as part of the project application. The normal expectation would be that fellows would come to the UK in the first year of the initiative. However, later visits are not precluded.4.3. Collaborative WorkshopsA number of workshops will be delivered (see section 8 ‘Reporting’ below). There will be one in the summer of 2008 and one in the summer of 2009 at which those funded will be expected to attend and present their research findings to other researchers in the initiative and stakeholders…. [snip]

6. FundingThere is a maximum of £2.5 million available for this initiative. … [snip]

9. Methodology, Risk and EthicsThe Research Councils expect all applications for funding to be prepared in accordance with the ESRC Research Ethics Framework. The topics to be investigated within this programme may pose special methodological, political and ethical challenges and the Commissioning Panel will expect proposals to address these challenges explicitly. In particular it will be looking for candid assessments of possible harm or risk, and imaginative methodological responses to these assessments. Risks need to be assessed for a wide range of potential stakeholders – research subjects, researchers themselves, other governmental and non-governmental agencies, and other social researchers working in the region. There are particular risks associated with research access in certain parts of the world, and research which might threaten the long-term viability of other researchers’ work in particular settings will not be funded…. [snip]

An earlier initiative in this area provoked a lively debate within the research community, and was withdrawn to allow the Research Councils time to reflect on the serious intellectual, methodological and political issues that had been raised. This new call is a product of that process of reflection. We thank all colleagues who contributed to that debate and reiterate the view that the Research Councils see it as part of their role to encourage academic researchers to enter into dialogue with policy makers, while acknowledging that, for this dialogue to be useful and productive for all concerned, it must be based in genuinely independent and, where appropriate, critical scholarship.”


So there it is – the latest in a series. And doesn’t this last section say it all about what that old Habermaniac called ‘knowledge and human interets’ – an admission that clearly indicates there was no discussion taken on board from the responses to the earlier version – see here - And this version seems worse, especially its ludicrous formulations under ethics and risk… Stop and admire.


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