Pragya Dhittal, SOAS
Paper chains: an investigation of cross-border commerce in north Indian print-media
This paper will outline my PhD project, which looks at how practices relating to the production and distribution of Indian newspapers are continually redrawing group boundaries in north India and south Nepal. It emerges from preliminary fieldwork conducted in north India in spring 2009, during which I found out about cross-border newspaper networks and multi-lingual newspapers.
On the one hand, consumption of a particular newspaper written in a particular language would seem to identify a reader’s national, ethnic and political location. This is why politicians and advertisers seek to influence specific groups through certain papers: Muslims through the Urdu press; Hindus through the Hindi press; relatively affluent readers through English media; voters in a constituency through a local edition of a paper.
On the other hand, these identifications are complicated by the fact that consumers and producers have multiple and shifting locations. This is evident in many newspapers’ lack of consistent political message and divergent conceptions of what constitutes a newspaper's locality - changes in the areas covered by newspapers and readerships outside designated localities, e.g. Nepalese and Muslim consumption of Hindi media; newspapers which publish in multiple languages and scripts.
This project was provoked into existence by dissatisfaction with generalizing accounts of group formation, which fail to account for such variability and heterogeneity; in particular, with Anderson's description of how large anonymous communities (e.g. nations) were created through the practice of reading a newspaper written in a single language dealing with events occurring all over the world (Anderson 1983).
At the same time, it is inspired by Anderson’s insights into how everyday practices such as reading a newspaper, effect large-scale socio-political transformations by altering the way people perceive time, space and community.
I hope to extend and deepen previous approaches by looking at how newspapers delineate localities and communities in light of literature on print media in north India (Jeffrey 2000; Ninan 2007); new and old forms of globalisation (Appadurai 1996; Pollock 2006); and the relationship between practices and concepts (Schatzki 1996).
I hope to use multi-sited fieldwork and multi-lingual textual analysis to get a multi-layered perspective on group formation within and across states. I would like to study both texts and places because of a sense that a newspaper’s contents are intertwined with the commodity chains through which it is produced. Therefore, as well as doing discourse analysis of texts, I hope to collect quantitative and qualitative data regarding networks of production and distribution.
My main focus will be the Lucknow-based “Hindi-Urdu” newspaper Aag, selected because of its sharp minoritarian perspective on the larger media scene. It will be the focus of my ethnographic research and I will also read its contents against that of Dainik Jagaran (biggest selling Hindi newspaper in India); Rashtriya Sahara Urdu (biggest selling Urdu newspaper in India); and The Times of India (biggest selling English newspaper in the world).