Spreadable Media -Networked Cultures



As can be garnered from the interesting selection of readings we had for this week, the the scale and scope of ‘circulation’ in the diverse forms as ‘sharing’, ‘sticky content, ‘ spreadable media’ ‘networked cultures’, ‘spheres of self-mediation’, ‘communicative capitalism’ etc is phenomenal because information travels ‘so far, so fast’ and in so many ways. Continue reading


An Overview of Contemporary Islam in South Asian Politics

While South Asia is a diverse entity, characterized by  numerous regional, national and ideological variations of political, ideological and communal issues, there are certain similarities that can be seen with regards to the Muslim communites of South Asia. In both the muslim majority countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as minority communites of India there is a recurrence and commonality of certain themes such as the domination over Islamic discourse in the public sphere by the religious-political elite, growing influence of political Islam, a consequent increase in intra-Islam sectarianism and a persistent deterioration of women’s rights. Continue reading

‘Dramas of Nationhood’

Lila Abu-Lughod. Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.


Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnographic account of Egyptian television serials convincingly establishes the state television as a ‘key institution’ engaged in the production of a ‘national’ culture in Egypt (7). However even in a universal context this work is a very useful case study which connects popular media narratives and representations to the production of a modern national subject. Abu-Lughod acknowledges the challenge of defining television audience as a cohesive and well-defined community and seeks to locate the social and imaginative lives of diverse viewer-ship, coming from different social, political and religious intersections , brought together by  the common popular space and narrative of television. The three particular sites she chooses to carry out her ethnography, namely the ‘production elite’ such as the television serial producers, writers, directors, actors or critics and subalterns like disadvantaged village women from Upper Egypt and household maids in Cairo, seem to present a coherent enough overview of the general public perspective. Continue reading

The Veil and The West


This post originally appeared in Newsline magazine here


Amidst the growing tide of Islamophobia, the West’s obsession with the Muslim women’s veiling also seems to have reached a new high. ‘Go Burn Your Burqa’, ‘Kill the Veil’, and so read some of the signs at a protest  against the ‘Ground Zero’ mosque here in New York recently. The French Parliament has just approved a law to ban the veil from public spaces. Earlier Belgium became the first country to put a ban on the burqa. Similarly the Swiss minaret ban is also being described as an imminent precursor to a ban on veiling.

Even as it can be argued that these developments violate the rights to freedom of religious expression and set a dangerous precedent, it is quite interesting to note that these European states now join Iran and Saudi Arabia in an exclusive, but unenviable, rare club of countries which impose a dress code for women in the public domain. All of these states invariably cite the ‘protection of dignity’ and ‘freedom of women’ to justify the unjustifiable – the restriction of individual freedoms.


Discussion on Muslim women’s rights is always welcome. However it is only meaningful when discussed within a well-grounded framework. The reductive interpretation of veiling as the quintessential sign of the Muslim women’s ‘unfreedom’ seems inherently wrong, even as one can protest against it’s forceful imposition. It is also safe to say that any woman, who is forced to wear a veil against her will, faces issues that will not be solved by simply prohibiting the garment. Denouncing the veil as a ‘medieval imposition’ further seems to be a gross violation of  the Muslim women’s own understandings and convictions. Personal freedom, which in many ways is central to self-respect, excercized through veiling is just as valid and important a choice as the freedom to be unveiled.  Continue reading

‘Peripheral Visions’

In ‘Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen’ (2008), Lisa Wedeen  extensively outlines ‘nationalist attachments'(2)  in Yemen and surveys in detail the linkages these have to the current ‘political order’ in the country. Wedeen uses the concept of ‘performative politics’ (212) to suggest that national solidarities are not only developed through state institutions but also manifestly through the ‘peaceful, quotidian activities’ (3) of people in everyday life or what she describes as ‘everyday practices of deliberative contestation’ (20). Much like Bayat, Wedeen’s  contrasts ‘the fragility of the state’ with ‘vibrancy of civic life’ (69) but also underlines the fact that while the images a fragile state conveys are ‘intermittent and transient’ they offer ‘hints of political possibility’ (100). In this context, her analysis sometimes undermines its usefulness by focusing excessively on the political aspects of national belonging. Continue reading

‘Epic Encounters : Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East’

Melani McAlister. Epic Encounters : Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000. University of California Press. (2001, 2005)  


McAlister’s singular contribution to the discussion of Middle Eastern representations in the US is the way in which she identifies and dissects the complicated modalities with which the Middle East was ‘mapped’ through the ‘intersecting deployment of cultural interests and political investments’. (p.303) She emphatically posits  the Middle East as a contested space which is clearly ‘not a static interest, but a mobile sign’ (p.42) and highlights the ways in which the politics of representation has come to inform prevalent debates in the public sphere. Through a series of careful readings of films, novels and media images, this book presents the US’s political and cultural engagement with the Middle East as an ‘encounter’ and illustrates the ways in which a ‘web of meanings’ produced by these representations and discourses has facilitated, and sometimes challenged, the expansion of US power in the Middle East. Continue reading

Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life.


Marwan Kraidy. Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life. Cambridge University Press. 2010


In ‘Reality Television and Arab Politics’ Kraidy dissects the multifarious contestations within the Middle Eastern societies through the lens of the media. Through his analysis of the ‘Arab media’ he creates a generalized Middle Eastern public sphere where an Arab speaking public constitutes the ‘largest language based audience’ (9) in the world, but one which although united by a common language is manifestly divided over national identity. Continue reading