The postcolonial intellectual tradition has proved crucial to articulating cultural, film, and media formations from the geographical and theoretical perspective of (formerly) colonized people and countries. The object of media studies has expanded significantly beyond the screen in the past decades, including a renewed attention to non-visual media and an emerging attention to the material conditions of possibility for media representations. In this new mediascape, postcolonial theories and concepts potentially repoliticize media theory by questioning Western assumptions about technological progress and innovation. Postcolonial theories of media force a rethink of the tenets of traditional media theories while, at the same time, media theories demonstrate the centrality of media, in all its forms, to understanding the postcolonial condition.
Postcolonial Media Theory
Juan Llamas-Rodriguez and Viviane Saglier
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Relevance for Communication Studies
Gayatri Spivak is one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. Although a literary critic, her work can be seen as philosophical as it is concerned with how to develop a transnational ethical responsibility to the radical “other,” who cannot be accessed by our discursive (and thus institutionalized) regimes of knowledge. Regarded as a leading postcolonial theorist, Spivak is probably best seen as a postcolonial Marxist feminist theorist, although she herself does not feel comfortable with rigid academic labeling. Her work is significantly influenced by the deconstructionist impulses of Jacques Derrida. Additionally, the influence of Gramsci and Marx is prominent in her thinking. Spivak’s work has consistently called attention to the logics of imperialism that inform texts in the West, including in Western feminist scholarship. Relatedly, she has also written significantly on how the nation, in attempting to represent the entirety of a population, cannot access otherness or radical alterity. This is best seen in her work on the subaltern and in her intervention into the famous Indian group of Subaltern Studies scholars. Other related foci of her work have been on comprehending translation as a transnational cultural politics, and what it means to develop a transnational ethics of literacy.
Partha Chatterjee and Political Thought: Community, Culture, and the Present
Partha Chatterjee (b. 1947) is one of the most widely read social scientists working in South Asia today. His work, located at the intersection of history, political theory, and anthropology, has been influential in cultural and literary studies as well as history and political theory. He was one of the founding members of the Subaltern Studies group, which undertook new research into colonial society and culture with a focus on peasant consciousness. Chatterjee’s major publications in the 1980s and early 1990s dealt with peasantry and politics, but also explored the domain of elite culture and ideology. An important concern in this phase was nationhood and community, with Gramsci’s idea of passive revolution providing a conceptual grid. Chatterjee emerged as a major theorist of nationalism in the wake of his books on the subject. Since the 1990s, he has attempted to conceptualize the new turn in Indian politics after the Emergency (1975–1977). The Foucauldian idea of “governmentality” has played a central role in this work. The concept of “political society” that he has developed in this phase has made a major contribution to the discourse on Indian democracy. Alongside, he has continued his research in the history of empire and colonialism, extending his investigations to the “early modern” period in Indian history. A critique of Western liberal political thought runs through all his recent work, uniting historical, cultural, and political explorations.
De-Westernization and Decolonization in Media Studies
The need to de-Westernize and decolonize communication and media studies is based on criticisms on a dominant elitist “Western” axiology and epistemology of universal validity, leaving aside indigenous and localized philosophical traditions originating in non-Western settings. Scholars of the Global South continue to question a dominant inherent Eurocentric bias that was—and continuous to be—underlying many Anglo-American and European research projects. Scholars warn against a persistent influence of foreign-imposed concepts such as modernity and development, as well as universal assumptions regarding the use of certain categories and ontologies to deconstruct and understand the media around the globe. While the West is understood more as a center of power than as a fixed geographical entity, de-Westernization asks for a revision of the power relations in global academic knowledge production and dissemination. The most prominent call for de-Westernizing media studies goes back to Curran and Park who, in the early 2000s, encouraged a Western academic community to revise and re-evaluate their theories, epistemologies, methods, and empirical research approaches, especially in research targeting the Global South. In a similar way, the call for decolonization asks to investigate and question continuing colonial power imbalances, power dependencies, and colonial legacies. It challenges the uncritical adoption of research epistemologies and methods of former colonial powers in solving local problems, as they fail to explain the complexities of non-Western societies and communities, asking for practicing “decolonial epistemic disobedience.” Contrary to de-Westernization aimed at a Western research community, scholars from the Global South have struggled for decades for international recognition of their voices and intellectual contributions to a global academic community. Their ideas draw on post-colonialism, subaltern studies, or a critical-reflective sociology. Different efforts have been made to address the global imbalance in media studies knowledge generation. However, neither replacing theories with indigenous concepts alone nor being relegated to cases studies that deliver raw data will gain ground in favor of countries of the Global South, as research efforts need to incorporate both local realities and wider contextualization, or the call for a research with a region, not just about or from it. More successful are cooperative South-South efforts, as the thriving scholar networks in Latin America, Africa, or Asia demonstrate. The de-Westernization and decolonization project is ongoing. Where inequalities appear most pressing are in resource access and allocation, in conference participation, or in publishing opportunities. In this sense, journalism and media studies curricula still reflect largely an Anglophone centrism and a lack of understanding of local issues and expectations. Here, more reflective de-Westernizing approaches can help to lessen the gaps. However, as de-Westernization relies on vague geographical categorizations, the term cannot be the final path to re-balance the academic knowledge exchange between powerful and less powerful actors.
Ranajit Guha’s Historiography of Colonial India
Ranajit Guha is one of the best-known and most innovative historians of modern India. The bulk of his best-known work was published between 1981 and 2002. The main historiographical issues that appear in his work include (a) the colonial appropriation of the Indian past and its representation as a “highly interesting portion of British history,” which together with the force of colonial conquest added up in Guha’s terminology to a colonial expropriation of Indian history; (b) the complicity of all branches of colonialist knowledge in the fact or force of conquest; (c) British rule in India as a “dominance without hegemony,” in which the moment of coercion outweighed the moment of persuasion by contrast with western Europe; (d) an Indian historiography of India that attempts to redress the expropriation of Indian history and make “the Indian people, constituted as a nation, the subject of their own history”; (e) a subaltern historiography that identifies the limitations of the mainstream Indian historiography of India and the need to pay attention to the “neglected dimension of subaltern autonomy in action, consciousness and culture,” the “contribution made by the people on their own”; and (f) a historiography that goes beyond “statism” to the everyday being-in-the-world of ordinary people, countering the pretensions of the “prose of world-history” with the “prose of the world.” These issues recur in various forms and combinations in Guha’s books and essays, notably the ones he contributed to Subaltern Studies, an edited series that he launched in 1982. The theoretical influences on Guha’s work are not limited to Marxism and its many offshoots. Guha used the concept of “subaltern” to signify anyone in India who did not belong to the “elite” and therefore included peasants, workers, impoverished landlords, and others whose behavior exhibited a combination of defiance and deference to the elite. It has many points of contact with Gramsci’s work. Guha drew freely on the philosophy of Hegel and Heidegger, Bengali literature, notably the works of Rabindranath Tagore, not to mention semiotics, linguistics, structuralism, and poststructuralism, the objective being not theoretical monism or purity but the mobilization of a wide range of references to shed light on history’s dark corners. The eclectic richness, if not elusiveness, of the concept of “subaltern” and Guha’s deployment of it in various forms to speak to caste, class, and gender issues has perhaps inspired its wider diffusion for rethinking the history of popular consciousness and mobilization in fields as far apart as Asian, African, and Latin American history.
A Culture-Centered Approach to Health and Risk Communication
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
The culture-centered approach (CCA) to health and risk communication conceptualizes the communicative processes of marginalization that constitute the everyday meanings of health and risks at the margins. Attending to the interplays of communicative and material disenfranchisement, the CCA situates health inequalities amidst structures. Structures, as the rules, roles, processes, and frameworks that shape the distribution of resources, constitute and constrain the access of individuals, households, and communities to the resources of health and well-being. Through voice infrastructures cocreated with communities at the classed, raced, gendered, colonial margins of capitalist extraction, the CCA foregrounds community agency, the capacity of communities to make sense of their everyday struggles with health and well-being. Community voices articulate the interplays of colonial and capitalist processes that produce and circulate the risks to human health and well-being, serving as the basis for community organizing to secure health and well-being. Culture, as an interpretive resource passed down intergenerationally, offers the basis for organizing, and is simultaneously transformed through individual and community participation. Culture-centered health communication, rooted in community agency, drawing upon cultural stories, resources, and practices in subaltern contexts, takes the form of organizing for health, mobilizing agentic expressions toward structural transformations.