Media. Markets. Meanings.
Pachees Saal Baad
January 14th & 15th, 2017
In 1991, India as we knew it changed. This moment is generally recognised as the point-of-no-return when it came to India’s liberalisation. The discourses of liberalisation have not only affected economic sectors but have manifested across and have had a cascading effect on society, culture, and politics. They continue to affect our lives today.
Among the many sectors that have been modified by liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG), the most dramatically and visibly altered has been the media sector. At the time of liberalisation, print media, radio, television, and film dominated popular culture. Today, with the spread of the Internet and mobile telephony, the practices of production and consumption of these media texts have taken on a new avatar.
The processes of myth making in the context of LPG have transformed. The media have not merely been passive in reflecting these changes, but have taken an active role in disseminating and producing the hegemonic discourses of liberalisation. These were processes that were set into motion by the Indian state, even prior to 1991, with the shift in media discourse that privileged a market-friendly version of ‘development’. In this broadened media landscape, these myths have transmuted the formation of the self, the other, the collective, the nation, and the state. The mythification of the promises of LPG have come to manifest in a collective consciousness as an expectation and, in fact, demand for a certain normative lifestyle and array of ‘choices’.
The force fields of LPG and its economic interests have also continually marginalised indigenous and other rural communities, through processes of primary extraction and land alienation, endangering their ecosystems, and driving them to near destitution. These strategies of ‘development’ that privilege economic interests over sustainable practices have resulted in agrarian crises, further disenfranchising the rural poor and exposing them to the vagaries of the global market and the perils of climate change.
A spatial restructuring has resulted in a blurring of the notions of rural and urban with the spread of suburbanisation. Rapid socioeconomic changes in the smaller towns in India have visibly resulted in the rise of a new middle class. Aspirations have evolved to fit the changing shape of the market. With the decline of manufacturing sectors and informalisation of labour, coupled with the growth of the service sector, occupational hierarchies have been shifted as have labour-capital relations. The broader imagination is both shaped and reflected by an increase in institutes for spoken English and ‘professional’ coaching centres, malls, mobile phone towers, and increasingly newer models of cars. These have become the prominent symbols of India’s new location in the hi-tech globalising world economic order. Larger cities like Mumbai (which, at the time of liberalisation, was still known as Bombay) claim the status of international cities, while their citizens assert their national identity as agents of this new India.
Across India, everyday practices have been altered and defined by the normative structures and demands of liberalisation. The ideas of work and leisure have realigned to the new conceptions of the space and individualised identity. These processes of atomisation have transformed the public sphere—the modes of democracy, political participation, articulation, and protest.
This individualisation has amplified some new articulations of identity within social and political movements, most visibly at this juncture around the women’s movement, the LGBTQIA+ movement, and the anti-caste movement. It has also been accompanied by new assertions of hegemonic cultural nationalism. Gayle Rubin (1984)  argues that at times of social and political stress, such as globalisation as we see it today, “[c]ontemporary conflicts over sexual values and erotic conduct…acquire immense symbolic weight. Disputes over sexual behaviour often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties.” In this framework, it possible to view the tensions around women’s sexual behaviour, caste relations, religious fundamentalism and non-heteronormative sexualities as manifestations of larger crises of negotiations between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’; as commodified by the neo-liberal market.
These formations of identity have helped coalesce ideologies of a new nationhood, one premised on perceived global economic importance and standing. The flagbearers of this new, ever-expanding nationhood are the diasporic populations; whose international visibility seemingly represents the symbolic success of the liberalised nation. Meanwhile, the State has abandoned its agenda of welfare. Its decreased regulation of markets and increased emphasis on liberalised ventures has increased the political regulation of those who are now seemingly disenfranchised by the State’s policies.
News, among other media texts, play an integral role in consolidating and creating these shifting forms of hegemonic discourses and spectacles. Visual cultures such as art, cinema, television, and theatre have become sites of contestation. While the Internet opens up new spaces for dialogue and organization for the digital haves, it has thus far had limited success in creating a democratic platform of public engagement, as it is arguably restricted to the beneficiaries of the LPG-ised India. The all-pervasive advertising industry across all media is the most apparent face of the myth-making machinery of the market.
Frames of Reference 2017 — Neoliberalising Cultures, invites you to reflect upon the last twenty-five years of LPG, and to consider where we find ourselves in 2016. We ask you to grapple with the many conflicting ideas that have come to form our understandings of where we have been, and where we have come since 1991.
Papers are invited, from scholars across disciplines on the following themes, and any others that fall within the rubric of reflecting upon the cultural articulations and contestations of LPG in the Indian context:
Please clearly mention in your abstract where you are currently enrolled as a post-graduate student/research scholar. Student/research scholar paper presenters will be provided with free accommodation and hospitality for a maximum period of 3 nights.
 Rubin, Gayle S. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Ed. Carol S. Vance. London: Routledge. 1984. Print.
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