Saturday, May 12, 2012

Abstract 2012 Pragya Dhital

Pragya Dhital, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Hidden Transcripts, Hidden Complicities?

This paper deals with the theme of knowledge production through an examination of the relationship between publicity and censorship. It reads James Scott’s discussion of “Hidden Transcripts” (Scott 1990), local knowledge obscured from state view by unique languages and subversive modes of communication, against Robert Darnton’s discussion of the “hidden complicities” between censorship and speech (Darnton 1995), complicities that produce new forms of knowledge. This paper generally agrees with the latter position, but also looks at the role of non-human agency in this process: technology and institutions which work as abstractions and through people, preeminent example being the state. My empirical focus will be Urdu newspapers published from the north Indian town of Lucknow in the current day.

I have chosen to deal with Urdu because its history does not quite accord with Scott's account of the autonomy conferred by unique languages, which he views as repositories of local knowledge and therefore formidable obstacles to external control (Scott 1998: 72). Histories of Hindi-Urdu, however, speak of the role played by a particular cultural sensibility and state control. Right into the present day, the state remains the main support for Urdu newspapers. How do these apparent anomalies affect the way we think of local knowledge production?

I am looking at print rather than electronic media because of its special political significance in the region. Despite its relatively low literacy rate UP has the largest number of registered daily newspapers in India. The media strategy of its Chief Minister is notably print-based (and monumental). The UP state information bureau still focuses on print, has yet to develop a systematic way of looking at TV coverage, and continues to spend most of its advertising budget on newspaper ads.

I have chosen to focus on dailies because of my sense that the exigencies of producing a daily newspaper (cost, complexity of the logistics, range of readership sought) means that it is not possible to produce a paper that, as one editor put it to me, simply functions as "a machine", as a vehicle for a single ideology, agent or party. This was said to contrast with weeklies such as the Jammat e Islami's Dawat, which are cheaper and easier to produce, and more didactic in tone. There is a lot of variation within a single newspaper, between different editions of a single newspaper (editions further from Lucknow and closer to Delhi, for example, can afford to be more critical of the BSP), between different language versions (Dainik Jagran's Hindi paper still has strong BJP leanings, whereas Inquilab, the Urdu paper it has bought, seems to be able to follow its own policy) as well as between different newspapers. Even newspapers which are strongly associated with one political party provide space for opposing views, and people holding them working within them.

Through synthesis of these different elements, this paper hopes to come to some understanding of how intersections of technology, history and politics, centred on practices of reading and writing, create dynamic “knowledge interfaces” (Pottier 2003) between local and supra-local knowledge.

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