ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P28)

The aesthetics of governance

Location SIS Appadurai Committee Room
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Maya Dodd email
Dalia Wahdan (Foundation for Liberal and Management Education) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel will discuss the emerging aesthetics of democracy as (dis)played through spectacular narrations of corruption, the decentralization of opinions and the outbreak of popular mass movements aided and shaped by the advent of new media.

Long Abstract

This panel will discuss the emerging aesthetics of democracy as (dis)played through spectacular narrations of corruption, the decentralization of opinions and the outbreak of popular mass movements aided and shaped by the advent of new media. Thematically, it opens debates on how the state structures public culture through governance and ownership of media; how citizens seek to activate dissent through varying technologies of witness; how diverse practices of governance and modes of state-civil society interactions emerge and how public cultures are impacted aesthetically. Papers in this panel seek to historicize modalities of governance and modes of improvisation and reconstruction of individual freedoms.

Chair: Maya Dodd
Discussant: Dalia Wahdan

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Commemorating the Bhadralok: A Study of Culture as Governance in the Context of West Bengal

Author: Diksha Dhar  email

Short Abstract

How has the Kolkata Book Fair achieved an aura of pilgrimage among the people of Bengal? Can this be seen to reinstate the image of the bhadralok on citizens? I want to read such spaces of commemoration that generate within the domain of governance higher overtones of political subject formation.

Long Abstract

Leftism and Bengal have a long history. The 34 year Leftist rule (1977-2011) is a long standing proof of it. A particular characteristic of its rule has always been to prioritize culture to a different dimension and to govern with a particular emphasis on ethics, morals and boundaries. Through the creation of cultural icons that are incapable to pose a threat to the existential identity of the regime itself, it has constructed, in my opinion, a strong ideological paradigm synchronic to the immediate goal of its governance. With the hegemonization of the bhadralok identity (this section of the bhadralok comprised is primarily of the urban middle class), as a signifier of cultural capital, the battle of identity and consequently governance becomes easy.

It is in this domain of cultural governance that I wish to look at the role of events like the Kolkata Book Fair, that have come to form a major part of the cultural landscape of present day West Bengal. It would also be interesting to see how the space of consumption and the commodity form determines and is determined by the project of cultural governance. In the course of my paper I would like to trace the origin of the Bengali intelligentsia and demonstrated how symbols of knowledge/power, notions of progression, and liberation have been linked to literacy. Further, with this 'power' located in the hands of the Bengali elite or the bhadralok we will see how a certain section comes to acquire superiority over others

Picturing the Environment: Mapping Technologies in the Coastal Regulatory Zone in India

Author: Chitra Venkataramani (Johns Hopkins University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how globally available mapping technologies and satellite imagery are used as representations of our environment and as a means of promoting different claims by both state agencies and other organizations.

Long Abstract

One of the key representations of a globalized world is a small satellite image of our planet. It is also an important image used to promote sustainable practices. I examine how satellite images are used to represent different, and often conflicting environmental claims in the context of the coastal zone in Mumbai.

In 2011, the Indian government released notification called the Coastal Regulation Zone or CRZ. One of the main aims of the CRZ is to protect ecologically sensitive coastal areas. Since an abstract measurement (the highest high tide line recorded in 10 years) determines the CRZ, maps become essential tools for locating and recognizing these zones; a fact that is addressed in the new notification. The government specified that each state would undertake the task of mapping these areas using satellite imagery and GIS technology.

In the context of Mumbai, the CRZ is a crucial means of protecting mangroves and fishing settlements. Recently, fishing communities have begun approaching planners to map their settlements in order to create new development plans. Simultaneously, environmental organizations in the city have been using Google Earth and other publicly available mapping tools to delineate and protect mangroves. I will look at how these simultaneous mapping processes intersect in the context of the CRZ, and how globally available satellite imagery is presented as crucial pieces of evidence. In this way, I ask how new ubiquitous mapping technologies and satellite images are called upon to represent the environment and present different pictures of the same landscape.

Curatorial Governmentality: Discourses on Air-Conditioning in Contemporary India

Author: Anirban Gupta-Nigam (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will map discourses on the idea of 'air' prevalent in India. By the term ‘curatorial governmentality’ I designate the process whereby the atmosphere has become and increasingly important on the part of the state, beginning with attempts to control rain and drought patterns and coming down to the installation of air-purifiers in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010. Parallel to these developments are the more literal instances of ‘air-conditioning’ in malls which are sprouting up all around the national capital region, offering not simply a consumer-haven but also an ecosystem where ‘community life’ can blossom in isolation from the messy terrain of the actual city. In both cases, discourses of life develop around the central principle of design, where aesthetics becomes central to the comprehension of the contemporary.

Long Abstract

The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk suggests that in the modern world gas warfare, ecological crisis and other catastrophes have made us aware for the first time of the "envelopes" that sustain us; of how the places we inhabit are never just there but always designed, or "air-conditioned." In 'Foreword to the Theory of Spheres' he argues that the contemporary world is like a gigantic installation and curating this installation is the 'meta-profession' of all individuals today. This radical theory places aesthetics at the centre of how our lives are organised and performs through philosophy, the task that was so central to modernist avant-gardism: blurring all distinctions between art and life.

I will attempt to map two parallel contemporary discourses on 'air-conditioning' that are prevalent in India. By the term 'curatorial governmentality' I designate the process whereby the atmosphere has become and increasingly important realm of (aesthetic) intervention on the part of the state, beginning with attempts to control rain and drought patterns and coming down to the installation of air-purifiers in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010. Parallel to these developments are the more literal instances of 'air-conditioning' in malls which are sprouting up all around the national capital region, offering not simply a consumer-haven but also an ecosystem where 'community life' can blossom in isolation from the messy terrain of the actual city. In both cases, discourses of life develop around the central principle of design, where aesthetics becomes central to the comprehension of the contemporary.

Designing (counter) culture: Politics, CARIFESTA, and self-making in the Caribbean

Author: Nicolette Bethel (College of The Bahamas)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the response of the Bahamian cultural community to their government's cancellations of the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA). It considers the resilience of their initiatives in a world where citizens' manipulations of new media undermine politicians' mastery of the old.

Long Abstract

In 2006, the Government of The Bahamas announced its intention to host the Caribbean Festival of Arts, a multidisciplinary regional festival, otherwise known as CARIFESTA, in 2008. In 2007, however, following a change in government, the new administration rejected, postponed, and then cancelled once and for all its predecessor's plan. Among the reasons cited was the general unpreparedness of The Bahamas, and of the Bahamian cultural community, to host such a major event. 

The reaction of the Bahamian cultural community was unprecedented. Using both new and old media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere as well as radio, television and newspapers, the community responded by creating and hosting several international festivals in quick succession, and began numerous countercultural discussions about aesthetics, culture and their place on both a local and regional scale. This activity was matched regionally by the revitalization of local-level cultural initiatives, and a new pan-Caribbean discourse was begun in cyberspace.

This paper examines both the institutional atrophy that led to the government's decisions and the genesis of several of these responses: The Islands of the World Fashion Week, Shakespeare in Paradise, and the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute, among others. It ends by considering the potential resilience of these new initiatives in the Caribbean where politicians' traditional mastery of old media are challenged by their citizens' access to the new.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.