CARE OpEd: Saffron Mainstreamed Through Political and Media Discourse

To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOHAN J.DUTTA | 1 MAY, 2019

To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation.

Building up to the 2019 elections, the question, “whether India will be India,” is being asked in various conversations across India, in the diaspora, and globally. The question is a powerful one and one that calls for critical reflection as India goes to vote.

What is the idea of India that needs to be defended with vigour?

And more importantly, how does this conversation on India taking place in mostly English language plaforms, often among the elite, connect with the conversations on the idea of India taking place in India’s fields, among the farmers, in the production units, among the workers, among the large numbers of unemployed youth, among the precarious workers in the informal sectors, among India’s Muslims who live amidst the everyday fear for their lives, among India’s adivasi peoples?

Going back three decades to my NCERT textbooks in the Kendriya Vidyalaya where I went to school and learned my first lessons on citizenship, I am reminded that the idea of India was never articulated as a concept in the classroom.

One took the idea of India as a given in the concepts of secularism, socialism, and democracy. The lessons in history and geography in the classroom were strengthened and crystallized in community life, in the neighbourhood, in celebrations, and in the everyday culture.

That secularism is how one simply lived and how communities breathed their everyday life was evident in the neighbourhoods, local markets, tea stalls, mosques, churches, and temples. The sound of the azaan at dawn mingled in perfect harmony with the sound of the bells from the evening prayer at the temple.

That socialism forms the democratic aspiration of people was manifest in the land reforms, strong voices of unions, the strong presence of the Left parties, and the equally strong presence of social movements.

The twin concepts of secularism and socialism formed the bulwark of democratic life. The vibrant community groups, local governance, and public participation in the democracy were guided by the calls to equality.

These key ideas defined for me the spirit of India, with its vast openness to many faiths, worldviews, and ways of thought. The Red Book stores that would be on full display in the front of the Durga Puja pandals across West Bengal reflected for me the essence of this spirit.

In the Bengal of the 1980s and 90s when I was growing up, the idea of India was marked by its absence. One simply witnessed the values of socialism, secularism, and democracy in the fabric of daily life.

The first time that I grappled with the meaning of India was in December 1991, with the image of the chariot procession of the now revived-as-a-liberal icon, Lal Krishna Advani, and the mobs that had secured access to the mosque. The images of the destruction of the mosque by saffron-waving gangs quickly transformed into stories of violence and riots as they started erupting across India.

That was the first time as a College-going student I grappled with the idea of India.

Fast forward three decades, the saffron-wearing fringe elements are now running India. One of them, selling the story of struggling out of poverty to become a leader of a democracy, is now the Prime Minister. Many accounts suggest that the same saffron-clad icon was complicit in the massacre of innocent Muslims as Chief Minister of Gujarat.

The saffron tide of 2014 that brought the extremist fringe into power was also a continuity of the extreme neoliberal policies that saw entrenched inequalities, disenfranchisement, and weakening of worker collectivization.

That the ideas of socialism and democracy, the other two anchors of the idea of India, were already disappearing under a neoliberal deluge is reflected in the full-fledged turn to liberalization. Even as the urban landscape started rapidly transforming, socialism became outdated and secularism turned into an abuse.

Programs such as Operation Green Hunt were organized campaigns that legitimized the systematic attack on India’s adivasi people to enable large scale land grab, privatization, and profiteering, all in in the name of development. For journalists fed on the neoliberal ideology, the market offered the all-emancipating solution.

The neoliberal promise, that the turn to the market would cleanse the corruption, formed the zeitgeist of this new India. Large movements promising to cleanse corruption performed public spectacles, all too appealing to the neoliberal imaginaries of the urban middle classes. The country could be free from corruption and economic growth could be achieved, placing private capital as the solution.

Paradoxically, the notion that the private sector and its profit-driven motives formed the basic infrastructure of corruption was strategically obfuscated, instead promoting reforms that were seductive for the middle classes.

This very premise of corruption-free economic development mainstreamed the saffron fringe. That economic development driven by further neoliberal reforms would present a new India was the promise offered by the saffron regime. For many of the middle classes and those in the diaspora, the saffron was unpalatable but the stigma of fringe could be set aside with the promise of “Make in India.” The promise of further neoliberal reforms, dressed up in cleansing India of corruption, and modelled after “vibrant Gujarat” worked to erase the stigma of the saffron for the Indian middle class that identified as liberal.

For a strand of the diaspora, negotiating the everyday onslaughts of marginalization, the saffron turn offered a new basis for identity. This identity, founded on the image of a strong India, was also now palatable for the middle classes in the Indian mainstream. The saffron turn, with its promise of “Make in India” would deliver economic growth, coupled with cultural revitalization. The Indian (read Hindu Indian) would now feel a sense of glory at home and abroad, attaching with brand saffron.

In the past four years, the mainstreaming of saffron has been actively achieved through political and media discourse. It is no longer fringe to want to kill a Muslim or to make a statement about killing Muslims. It is the mainstream narrative of a section of middle class India. Anyone questioning this narrative is labelled an anti-national and sent to Pakistan by the English language channels of Times Now and Republic TV, with a large middle class following.

Five years have come and gone. The empirical evidence attests to many undelivered promises. Much like the empty sloganeering of a “Vibrant Gujarat,” a “Make in India’ re-make of Indian economy remains a mirage.

It is not in this middle and aspiring class that I hold the hope for India.

The possibility of reclaiming India does not lie in my privileged voiced or the voices of experts who see the danger of a fascist politics that threatened to engulf India. We have, for most instances, detached ourselves from the people, from the struggles of the soil, from the hardships that are the everyday reality for the majority of India.

The hope for India lies in the rural, among the urban poor, among the workers, and among the farmers. The hope for India lies in its adivasi and dalit people as they turn their voices of disenfranchisement into votes at the ballot. The hope for India lies in the many farmers who have flooded the capital in protest. The hope for India lies in the many workers who have shown up in seas of red. The hope for India lies in Begusarai as we witness the possibilities of what can be. With one parliamentarian that represents these fundamental ideals enshrined in the constitution.

To reclaim India is to reclaim both the secular and socialist roots of the nation, written into the constitution.

I don’t have much hope in a neoliberal elite that somehow continues to bow to the pseudo-science of the market. I do have hope, however, for the other India that does the everyday work of making it and imagining it.

CARE Director’s article on Al Jazeera: ‘A window of opportunity’

‘A window of opportunity’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But some analysts have been more explicit in their analysis, and suggested ending the threat posed by the alt-right and Islamophobia will only be achieved by shifting existing mainstream narratives about Muslims, both locally and internationally.

“The terrorist attacks in Christchurch reflect the global rise in Islamophobia – hatred toward Muslims – cultivated by political parties, media organisations, and a wide range of hate industries,” Mohan Dutta dean’s chair in communication at the New Zealand-based Massey UniversityUniversity, wrote last week.

Dutta also called for discussions “anchored in the voices of Muslims experiencing hate” as the “starting point to halting the global spread of Islamophobia”.

Mire agreed and called on New Zealand to set the standard in battling back Islamophobia and the rise of “alt-right extremist ideologies”, which he said threaten minorities “everywhere” in the world.

“It’s sad to think that a situation like this is what drives us to have these difficult and hard discussions,” Mire said.

“But we have a small window of opportunity, right now, and we must take it in order to ensure that such events never happen again.”

Follow us on Twitter: @CAREMasseyNZ

Read the detailed news article on #ALJazeera‘s website.

#CAREDirectorsBlog– Mohan Dutta ‘s article on Al-Jazeera #Islamophobia #NewZealand
#CAREMassey #CAREMasseyNZ #MasseyCJM #MasseyUni

The Islamophobia Industry and the Christchurch Terror Attack: A Call to Dismantle Hate

The Islamophobia industry is big business.



 

The shootings carried out by right wing White extremists in Christchurch are part of a global network of racist terror that are often legitimized, sponsored, and reproduced by the structures of the state.

The manifesto crafted by one of the White terrorists who carried out the terror makes reference to the U.S. President Donald Trump and draws on the hate propaganda that is a key element of U.S. public relations.

Islamophobia, the fear of the Muslim, is strategically manufactured through various forms of messages of hatred, legitimized and reproduced by the media, and manipulated by parties toward political gains.

The globalization of the Islamophobia industry

The Islamophobia industry is big business. The New Zealand shootings depict the wide reach of the industry and its global appeal.

From the transnational corporations feeding the “war on terror” to the digital media industries that profit from selling the hatred of Muslims to think tanks that are set up to cultivate strategically the fear of the Muslim, Islamophobia generates ratings, advertising dollars, and new markets for products of hatred.

Although projected as the work of the fringe right, the power of Islamophobia lies in seeding the hatred for Islam as a mainstream phenomenon, as a part and parcel of everyday civil discourse.

Digital platforms such as Swarajya Mag in India, and Centers such as the Center for Security Policy in the U.S. are established with the sole purpose of making mainstream the hatred for Islam through the circulation of the image of the Muslim invader that is antithetical to the ideas of civilization.

Propaganda narratives from U.S. to India

The narrative of the “civilization in threat” is strategically disseminated across spaces to seed and amplify Islamophobia. The manifesto circulated by the White supremacist terrorist in New Zealand is essentially anchored in the rhetoric of “White genocide.”

In the U.S., groups such as ACT for America led by Brigette Gabriel organize communities at the grassroots around the hatred for Islam, manufacturing the threat of the Muslim “other.” Setting up false narratives such as the “threat of Sharia law,” with over 750,000 members across the U.S., the organization positions itself as a national security organization, drawing up accounts of unwed Muslim migrant and refugee men who threaten White civilizational purity. Brigette Gabriel draws out links between the influx of Muslim refugees and the threat of rape, manufacturing the basis for the threat of “White genocide.”

In the White terrorist manifesto in New Zealand, the propaganda of “White genocide” is set up by comparing the fertility rates of White Europeans with fertility rates of communities of colour.

The global seduction of the narrative of Islamic rape culture is well evident in India in the Hindutva propaganda machinery.

The “love jihaad” narrative similarly manufactures a false account of Islamic rape culture, positioning Muslims as threatening the purity of Hindu culture. The narrative of Hindu genocide becomes the basis for manufacturing and circulating the threat of the Islamic invader, then being mobilized by the Hindutva forces in India to carry out systematic acts of violence.

The Zionist propaganda machinery produces the image and narrative of the Muslim other to silence any critique of its settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. A large proportion of the funding of the Islamophobia industry comes from Zionist organizations.

Islamophobic responses in India

The Islamophobia that is rampant in India prompts a cross-section of Hindutva forces to celebrate the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch.

For these Hindutva forces, the attack on the mosques is the appropriate and necessary response to the manufactured thread of Islamic terror.

Heuristically driven and devoid of evidence, these jubilations of the attack on the Muslims entirely miss out that the manifesto called for removing all coloured people (including Indians of all faiths) from what the terrorist articulation framed as White lands (of course ignoring the claims to land in New Zealand held by indigenous Maori). People of colour bear the burden of racisms that generate from White supremacy; Muslims bear this burden as attacks on their ethnicity as well amplified by the demonization of their faith.

The celebration of violence by Hindutva terror, although somewhat different in its framing and targeting of the other from the White supremacist terror, is a replica of White supremacist terror in its strategic deployment of violence to target Muslim minorities. Since 2015, at least 44 Muslims have been killed in India by cow vigilantes, driven by the narrative of civilizational threat.

For a global civilizational response

That terror has no place in civilized societies is the message that ought to form the basis for global response. In her bold and powerful speech following the terrorist attack, the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern issued this clarion call for zero tolerance of hatred by stating that the haters have no place in New Zealand society.

Across the globe, the fabrics of civilized secular societies are threatened by the politics of hate and fear mongering, legitimized through political parties and electoral processes. These political parties that operate on the circulation of hate need to be targeted strategically and their machineries of hate dismantled.

The global machine of Islamophobia ought to be dismantled by a civilizational narrative of love, understanding and dialogue, with the fundamental commitment to fostering spaces for diverse voices, peoples, worldviews and faith traditions.

In India, dismantling the hate apparatuses of the RSS and BJP are the urgent calls of the hour. In civilized societies such as in New Zealand and Singapore, diaspora groups that operate on the circulation of hate have no place. Identifying, categorizing and dismantling such groups is as important as it is to opening up calls for dialogue.

Hate, White supremacist hate and Hindu hate need to be stopped before they consume the discursive spheres of civilized societies.

Mohan J Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication at Massey University, University of New Zealand. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.

Article Source: www.thecitizen.in

Image source: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2019/03/16/jacinda-ardern-christchurch/

The Calls For War!

The attack, production of crisis, and elections

 

The attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14 has turned up the volume on the jingoistic media channels.

Jingoism sells. The images of violence sell in a concerted call for more violence.

The shouting matches on the split Television screens are perfectly orchestrated to call for war, with suited anchors frothing up at the sounds of war. As if to match up the tenor of the emotions at the site of the attack, the decked-up newsrooms buzz with the calls for attack. From the plush studio settings, mediatized images of the broken vehicles and streets littered with debris are organized into a propaganda campaign.

For the middle class digital sphere, the immediate calls to war from the comforts of the living room offer succour to middle class sensibilities of national security.

This is the mechanics of propaganda.

From Operation Iraqi Freedom to the surgical strike, images and sounds feed the war machinery.

In turn, the war machinery manufactures the images and sounds, pumping up adrenaline, drawing even more viewers in to the 24X7 cycles, driving the ratings up in an ever-accelerating pace.

Wars are powerful tools of propaganda. They feed on insecurity, the threat of the “other” materialized through images, talk, and sound, and the gory materiality of violence.

Manufacturing a war organizes entire collectives of citizens as nationalists, projecting on the national imaginary the threat to the nation, brought together with media images of terrorists that need to be targeted through attacks. This threat to the nation is circulated across media screens, capturing the emotions of citizens as war mongers, rallying behind the political elites and only to be satisfied with more gore.

Crises form the bedrock of authoritarian techniques of producing sites of control and managing them to keep power intact. When under threat of losing power, authoritarian regimes create a wide range of strategies to keep power intact. The spectacle of a terror event is the perfect crisis that calls for strong response, propping up the authoritarian strongman as the legitimate and necessary ruler.

Such a response is often produced amid suspended reason. Revenge must be sought, that’s all, and the authoritarian regime is well suited to extract revenge. That the middle classes that quickly demand such revenge never step into the violence of the war zones is part of the mechanics of war. That it is often the poor, enlisted into the police and military to escape poverty, who must place their bodies amid violence, is part of the mechanics of war.

Moreover, the production of war and the circulation of geostrategic threats work well as communicative strategies for generating public support for authoritarian power. Wars often supply the perfect recipe for authoritarian regimes that hold on to power through appeals to emotion. Catalysing the citizen around the nation and national interests works well to distract from questions of economy, inequality, unemployment, and difficulties of everyday life.

The recent attack in Kashmir seemed to have offered the perfect backdrop for the mobilizing of patriotism. Noted Modi, issuing a warning to Pakistan that India will not be divided: “If they (Pakistan) think that the kinds of things they are doing, the conspiracies that they are concocting — that they will be successful in creating instability in India, then they should abandon that dream. They will never be able to do it.”

As television stations capitalize on the ratings-generating stories of the attack, the nation is once again organized around the enemy, with the call to protect national security. Heuristics of the enemy unify national sentiments, captured in smart techniques of producing the other.

Amid crisis, critical questions are suspended. The audience is configured into a homogeneous mass of collective hysteria.

Wars are also the backdrop for attacking the opposition in an election cycle. Building up to the elections, digitally circulating images quickly pick up stories that equate the opposition with the “other” of the nation. The ruling political party becomes the nation, and the nation the party.

Any critique of the jingoism is dangerously painted as anti-national, with large consequences. Any opposition to the regime is painted as the enemy of the nation. Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Tweets, and WhatsApp messages quickly circulate these

Consider for instance the photo of Rahul Gandhi, photoshopped with the Pulwama suicide bomber. The post,“भारतीय फौज पर हमला करने बाला नीकला राहुल गांधी का खास। क्या इस हमले के पीछे कांग्रेस का हाथ तो नहीं (The man who attacked the Indian army was close to Rahul Gandhi. Is the Congress behind the attack? -translated)”, made on the Facebook group Once Again MODIRAJ 2019, includes photoshopped images of Rahul Gandhi to suggest that the involvement of the Congress in the attack.

Consider similarly cropped videos of Priyanka Gandhi allegedly laughing after the terror attacks.

These images and stories work strategically to paint an increasingly strong opposition as the enemy. The war is a powerful political machinery, one that will quickly organize national politics around its agenda.

Amid these heightened calls to war, consider the critical questions that call for further reflection and deliberation. What are the places of dialogue amid this violence? What role does violence play in mitigating violence? Situate the police-military deaths in war alongside the deaths of civilians and protesting people in Kashmir. Most importantly, consider the question of sovereignty of the Kashmiri people that forms the backdrop of this violence.

by Mohan Dutta

Source: https://www.thecitizen.in/ind ex.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/16300/The-Calls-For-War

Director’s Blog

OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA ENTRY: POWER AND CONTROL

by Prof. Mohan Dutta

It was summer. A summer when the violence escalated.

In those months, when the repression accelerated from polite threats to sit down meetings to direct threats to the accusations, I was writing this encyclopedia entry on Power and Control for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication.

Witnessing power work through the cells of my body, feeling my body respond to the repression from bouts of throwing up to losing consciousness, disrupted my understanding of power as communicative, anchoring the discursive sites of power in material articulations.

I felt the brute effect of power even as I was writing about it.

My readings and re-readings of Marx, Adorno, Gramsci were intimately intertwined with my experiences with power, resisting it, and negotiations of it in an ever-contingent space of (im)possibilities.

In this Review, I explore the interplays of the discursive and the material in the production of power and control. Power is both a force that perpetuates oppression as well as a vital source of emancipatory resistance. The review works through the question of power from interpersonal and organizational levels to political, economic, and societal realms. It attends to the contemporary context of power in the digital, circulated through structures and networks of data, in the surveillance and manipulation of behaviors, and the continuous search for extractive sites for digital capital.

Here is the link to the article:

http://oxfordre.com/communication/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228613-e-636

APA citation:

Dutta, M. (2018). Power and control in communication studies. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Oxford University Press. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.636

 

THEORIZING FROM ASIA AS REPLICATION OF U.S.: REPRODUCING THE HEGEMONIC MAINSTREAM

by Prof. Mohan Dutta

Much of the terms of internationalization of Communication as a discipline driven by the International and National Communication Associations are juxtaposed in the backdrop of the proliferation of the Communication discipline outside of the U.S. Across Asia, from China and India to Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, communication programs have proliferated at an exponential rate.

The growing communication sectors across Asia call for pedagogical opportunities that train the next generation of communication practitioners across Asia. Communication training in many parts of Asia is driven by practical industry needs for communication skills. Programs therefore focus on teaching the basic skills of journalism, marketing communication, advertising, and public relations. Although the nature of communication training varies across sub-regions and nation states within Asia, the overarching emphasis on skills training for the professional communication industries is a thread that flows throughout the region.

Whereas many of these communication programs are driven by the exponential growth in the number of communication opportunities across Asia, other programs have specifically developed as significant spaces for doing communication research/scholarship. In these programs, the teaching of communication is coupled with a serious commitment to develop strengths in communication research.

It is worth noting that a number of communication programs across Asia rank among the top Communication programs across the globe, certainly placing at the top in rankings charts and in the global metric games. This is indeed an excellent sign of the internationalization of the discipline, to the extent that rankings are accepted as measures of legitimacy and/or respectability.

The proliferation of communication programs as acknowledged sites of knowledge production across Asia is an important anchor to the ongoing de-westernization of the field, at least to the extent these rankings point toward a certain sense of legitimacy and respectability. The parochial US-centrism of the discipline is at the very least disrupted by the publication of the rankings, which introduce into the cognitive schema of Communication the existence of spaces of communication knowledge production outside of the U.S. mainstream.

However, even as we increasingly have these diverse sites of knowledge production across Asia, what really do the rankings imply? Although these rankings provide important anchors to de-centering the discipline, it is worth noting that the rankings themselves are US-centric. Organizations such as Times Higher Education, US News, QS are U.S.-Eurocentric organizations, with their economic infrastructures, revenue models, and histories rooted in U.S. and Europe. Although these organizations have spent significant efforts in internationalizing their sampling frame, the very metrics they draw upon are US/Euro-centric.

Consider for instance, the rankings of research reputation and research productivity. Measures of research impact and productivity draw from knowledge database corporations such as Elsevier (which owns Scopus) and Clarivate Analytics (which owns Journal Citation Reports). These databases cull through data on productivity and impact (measured as citation), aggregate them, and offer impact impact metrics for counting the research outputs of faculty members.

These research outputs are then aggregated to offer metrics of impact for the comparison of programs, including programs in Communication.

The knowledge database corporations are U.S./Eurocentric corporations, located/centered in the US/Europe. The databases are U.S./Eurocentric, drawing their publication and citation data from largely U.S.-based/Europe-based journals. Asian institutions seeking to maximize their global reputation through rankings therefore strategically invest in hiring scholars that demonstrate their ability to publish in US/European journals, implementing strict, parochial, and ever-accelerating publication metrics in evaluation and retention processes. The rankings therefore work as instruments for pushing Communication programs across Asia toward a hegemonic US/Euro-centric standard, legitimized through US/Euro-centric journals. The patterns of hiring, retention, and promotion within Asian institutions therefore replicate the U.S. hegemony, albeit with Asian flavour. Asian academics, mostly trained in the U.S., are hired into Asian institutions, and are then disciplined with strategies of measurement that foreground and reproduce the hegemony of U.S. and European journals as sites of knowledge production and circulation. In Asian institutions chasing rankings, the h-indices and total citation counts work toward producing techniques of disciplining with greater vigor than institutions in the U.S. and Europe. This explains the recent proliferation of Asian scholarship in Communication, albeit reproducing the U.S. hegemonic assumptions, with signposts to Asian difference.

The journals of the discipline, centered in the U.S. and Europe, hegemonically push the production of Communication knowledge through the hegemonic roles played by databases, data aggregators, and rankings.

Now, one might suggest that internationalizing the discipline of Communication enables the work of de-centering the discipline. Unfortunately, with the editorial boards, editorships, and reviewing bodies of most journals primarily composed of U.S.-based academics, the scope for internationalization is limited. More importantly the very criteria for evaluating scholarship, for the evaluation of quality, and the rules of publishing in Communication are grounded in US-based logics. Even as the field is internationalized, say with editorial board members from Japan, Singapore, China, and India, the overarching codes of the discipline remain embedded within the narrow logics of U.S. communication academe. One might argue that while the recruitment of a Chinese or an Indian scholar to the board of a top Communication journal is an important entry point, it is worth noting that the Chinese or Indian scholar invited to serve on an editorial board of a top journal has usually been disciplined into the techniques of the discipline, often a product of the U.S.-based methods of disciplining.

Theorizing from Asia as a result is often an incremental addition to U.S.-centric theorizing. The hegemonic formation of U.S.-based theorizing is left intact, with some notion of Asian culture as essence (consider for instance the scores on individualism/collectivism, itself an Eurocentric construct) offered as a mediator or moderator variable. Asia as a contruct emerges as a cultural appendage, offered as an outpost of U.S.-centric Communication theory. Consider for instance the theorizing of social capital and political participation from China that predicts the relationship between social capital and political participation. The data-driven piece does so without taking into account Maoist philosophy, the organizing of community life in China under a socialist framework, and the nature of political participation. Consider similarly a piece on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights in Singapore that does so without taking into account the authoritarian state structure, multicultural values, and political pressure on civil society in Singapore. In such instances, although the published manuscripts do indeed internationalize the discipline, in reproducing U.S.-centric methods and conceptual categories, they fail to seriously engage with social phenomena in Asian contexts.

The fundamental assumptions of Communication, embedded in the Cold War/imperial liberal notions of capitalism and democracy are left intact, without engaging with the many opportunities for de-centering the liberal hegemony that emerge from/in Asia. Theorizing from Asia shaped in the contours of the disciplinary mechanisms, disconnected from Asia, is reduced to reproducing U.S. hegemony.

Blogspot Link: https://culture-centered.blogspot.com/2018/11/theorizing-from-asia-as-replication-of.html

 

Image Source: timeshighereducation.com

Colonialism, Whiteness, and free speech: Power and the erasure of voice

The colonial roots of the modernist framework of free speech is embedded in hegemonic constructions of civility.

Inherent historically in the idea of free speech is the marking of communicative space, shaped in the ambits of colonial power.

Free speech and colonialism are co-constitutive.

The freedom to speak historically belonged to the White colonial master, even as the colonized were systematically and often violently erased from the spaces and sites of articulation. Marked as the “other” of civility, the colonized belonged outside the public sphere, outside the domains of civil society.

White colonial societies reproduced the image of the primitive savage to erase colonized voices even as they celebrated emancipatory ideas of free speech.

The freedom of speech thus was a privilege of White colonialists while colonized savages, the other of modernity, were systematically erased from spaces of participation. As colonized voices started emerging in resistance, the colonialists reproduced laws of sedition that marked the colonized as terrorist, as threat to the security of the colonial occupation. This communicative inversion is fundamental to the modernist production of free speech.

The White colonial history of free speech continues to play out in contemporary contexts of settler colonialism and indigenous resistance to settler colonialism.

While indigenous resistance that fundamentally resists ongoing forms of colonial occupation continue to be marked as criminal, White colonialists deploy the trope of free speech to denigrate indigenous culture, language, and ways of life. Inherent in the deployment of free speech is the play of power.

This interplay of free speech and White settler colonialism is in display in the recent unfolding of the free speech debate at Massey University.

When the Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas cancelled a speaking event by the opposition politician Don  Brash citing concerns over security, the University came under attack for the apparent violation of the principle of free speech.

In her response, Professor Thomas reiterated the security concerns for the University, and also noted:

“Mr Brash’s leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff…In my opinion, the views expressed by members of Hobson’s Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the university’s strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation.”

Subsequently, internal emails secured through the Official Information Act by blogger David Farrar seem to suggest that Thomas didn’t want “a Te Tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours.”

Social media responses in the White mainstream reiterate the free speech rhetoric to demand the resignation of the Vice Chancellor.

Many academics, once again mostly White, and ensconced in White colonial privilege, are upset about this violation of free speech.

Essential to this culture of White colonial performance of free speech is the erasure of questions of power and colonialism.

That the freedom of White colonialists to reproduce settler colonial depictions of indigenous people as backward is fundamentally a form of violence that violates the basic right to dignity of colonized peoples offers a very different anchor to the free speech conversation.

The privilege to speak freely is precisely the trope through which White settler colonialists continue to assert their racist power of erasure.

The inequality industry and the seduction of empathy

 

As inequalities have grown globally, global elites (the 1%) and their academic mouthpieces respond to the growing public anger about inequalities by issuing calls for societal transformation.

They inform us, inequalities are rising and that’s a problem (just as they profit from these inequalities).

The urgent need for transformation in the individual mindset is the call of the hour.

They appeal to our consience, suggesting a much needed transformation in our beliefs and attitudes is needed to address global inequality.

Appeals for addressing inequality are rife with narratives of kindness, heartfulness, caring, and compassion.

Elite media are rife with stories of inequality, often hidden behind a paywall. They document different aspects of inequalities and then present expert voices pontificating on the trends in inequalities.

Elites urge “greater attention needs to be paid to inequality.”

Now that elites have declared inequality is a trend for concern, academic mouthpieces jump onto the bandwagon. New talks, discussion forums, exhibitions, and closed door meetings are organized on solving the problem of inequality. Academics looking for funding are given a new problem to work on.

The sort of transformation urged by these elites however is very much a perpetuation of the neoliberal status quo, urging for greater empathy toward the underserved segments of society. It is the responsibility of the individual to feel empathy, to develop a heart, and to rise up to the challenges of giving to the needy.

The solution to inequality therefore is the cultivation of heart among the bourgeoisie and the power elite.

Elite audiences are urged to respond with feelings.

The often-used missionary rhetoric of “lifting the burden of the soul” is scripted into the empathy narrative.

Images, stories, voices are catalyzed by the elite to generate empathy.

An entire array of market-based tools then are promoted by the inequality industry in solving the problem of inequality, all directed toward cultivating individual empathy.

As a “communicative inversion” (Dutta, 2016), the seduction of empathy keeps intact the neoliberal status quo while at the same time offering a narrative of transformation.

While individual behaviors are targeted, the overarching structures are kept intact. This is the fundamental paradox of the inequality industry.

The feel good talk perpetuated by the industry calling for urgent societal response leaves intact the fundamental inequalities in distribution of power, opportunities for impacting policy, voice, and material distribution of resources.

That the vast concentration of resources in the hands of the power elite is the fundamental problem underlying global inequalities is inverted, instead presenting the 1% as the panacea to the problem of inequality.

References

Repression and state control: When academic reading lists are targeted by structures

 

In the land where the regime dictates what academics will read, what they will write, and where they will write, bureaucrats in universities serve as gatekeepers of the regime.

With their bureaucratic tools, often decorated in neoliberal logics of risk management and performance optimization, managers  define the boundaries of thought for academics, defining the limits and terrains of thought, legitimizing state control in managerial logics.

Bureaucrats ask questions such as: How are these books relevant to your research? How do the books contribute to your research program?

The definition of the research program of an academic based on bureaucratic rationality becomes the basis for identifying the relevance of reading lists to research programs. Once the appropriate reading list to be read from is defined, the regime can then exert its control on the academic for deviating from the reading list. The tools of the manager are also the tools of the regime.

Consider for instance the above reading list that offers important anchors for how I am currently thinking about how the CCA is evolving, particuarly in its work with subaltern communities in their struggles for communicative spaces for articulating voice. When a scholar working on the CCA, which was initially articulated in the context of health, is asked the question: Why are you reading these books, the implication is that the reading of Marxist texts is irrelevant, wasteful, subversive, and even seditious.

Once these labels have been imposed, university and state regimes can then work toward marking the scholar, initiating disciplinary processes, subjecting the scholar to police harassment, and even jailing the scholar.

As we have seen with the recent police harassment of scholars in India by marking them as Naxalites, the targeting of reading lists was a key element of the strategies of harassment. To own a copy of Marx or Mao is enough to invite violent forms of state control, harassment, and repression.

In this backdrop, academics have key roles to play globally in protecting our reading lists, in our research programs, in our classrooms, and in our homes. We need to be actively engaged in organizing our universities as spaces of knowledge creation that are free from bureaucratic diktats and state interventions. That bureaucrats and mandarins of authoritarian regimes have no business interrogating our reading lists is a key anchor to transnational academic politics.

Irrationality of metrics and metricide

Metricide, death by metrics, is catalyzed by an accelerated culture of irrationality that parades itself under the guise of reason.

I think of the epidemic of metricide each time that I speak with a junior colleague, each time that I write a promotion and tenure letter, and each time that I sit on a review committee. Mentoring assistant professors is an everyday reminder of this death by metrics.

The burden of metrics is borne by the most junior academics, subjecting them to a continual state of anxiety.

The suicidal anxieties produced in academics by the race for metrics has deleterious health effects, in many instances resulting in poor mental health outcomes among academics; and in some instances, resulting in death (recall the stories of a colleague dying of a heart attack in the office next door).

Beyond killing academics, metrics kill academia. They take the creativity, joy, and freedom of academia, and turn these positive emotions into an accelerated chase for numbers. The number frenzy makes numbers the end goal of academic work, obfuscating the fundamental spirit of inquiry.

Underneath its veneer of rationality (that numbers would offer a standard for quality), the metrics game is entirely irrational. The irrationality of the metrics game becomes apparent once we consider the various ironies in how metrics are determined and implemented.

One of the striking ironies of the culture of metrics is the mass implementation of numbers, carried out often by academic-managers with mediocre academic track records and a whole lot of ambition. That the managers implementing the metrics are mostly mediocre or failed academics that don’t really understand the research process creates and reproduces the condition for metricide.

You have a Head who had never published in a top tier journal telling junior academics that “without a solo-authored publication in a top tier journal, you would not even have tenure track job.” You have a Dean with an h-index of 3 telling an Associate Professor that an h-index of 17 is nothing to be proud of, “the University is looking for excellence these days.” You have a Vice President of Research with 12 publications in sub-standard journals telling an Associate Professor that her productivity, with 5 publications in the last three years, has been low recently.

Without a deep understanding of what guides numbers, a new number, number of total citations, h-index, i-10, field weighted citation index, takes center stage. The ever-accelerating rush for new metrics also works to maintain the opacity of the metric epidemic.

This is the second irony of the metric culture. The propaganda of rationality and drive toward standards obfuscates the opaque processes through which decisions are made regarding what metrics to apply, and the very absence of agreed upon metrics. Once the ideology that metrics are ever-evolving and in a continual state of being calibrated in the search for excellence is accepted, it becomes the basis for tyrannical and prejudiced decisions made by management, all under the veneer of searching for excellence. A colleague with 18 peer reviewed publications and an h-index of 9 does not make it to associate professor, the management states “She did not measure up to the continually evolving standards of excellence.” Another colleague with 7 articles and an h-index of 5 gets promoted and tenure, management argues “excellence is in the quality of the work.” Excellence itself becomes a trope that justifies the prejudice built into academic systems of evaluation.

In the meanwhile, hearing the story of the colleague with 18 publications not making tenure, assistant professors push themselves to 25-30 publications, believing this is what would earn then tenure. The eternal perpetuation of anxiety is the underpinning principle of the game of metrics.

I have often argued that metrics kill creativity. I have also often written about the ways in which metrics, articulated in narrow frameworks of evaluation, constrain and limit the possibilities of new thought. Narrowly driven by how much to produce, where to produce, and how to generate citations, scholars are driven to kill all that which is creative within.

In this blog entry, I will further argue that the veneer of rationality of metrics works ideologically to cover over a fundamentally irrational process driven by the tyranny of mediocre academic management. Whereas metric-mania is meant to portray a drive toward excellence, what it actually does is write over an array of political practices and practices of power play that are inherently unequal. Whereas metrics are projected as instruments for calibrating the drive toward excellence, junior academics would do well to recognize the irrationality and prejudice that are built into how metrics are implemented and reduced.

For academia to retain its culture of creativity and for academics to fight the onslaught on their wellbeing by a culture of metrics, academics ought to consider the ways in which they can build networks of solidarity and collective claims-making. Unions and academic labour collectives have key roles to play in challenging the epidemic of metrics.