Three-D Issue 29: Postcolonial Studies meets Media Studies

At the end of November we ran our main network event on the topic of the ‘encounter’ between Postcolonial Studies with Media Studies. It was hosted by Goldsmiths, University of London’s Centre for Feminist Research and Race Critical Studies Network.

Postcoloniality is one of the key areas of our network and for this year’s event we wanted to reflect on how this area of study, which has been predominantly associated with literature, is equally central to the study of media.

To fulfil that purpose we invited Raka Shome of the University of Singapore who has written extensively on this ‘encounter’ as far back as 2002, in a joint editorship with Radha Hedge of the journal Communication Theory entitled ‘Postcolonial Approaches to Communication’. Those initial considerations about potential shared connections were explored further in a subsequent work in 2016 with the homonymous title of our event in the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Her talk for us tackled head on the first problem, which is about how we account for Media History history itself, with its inbuilt racist history steeped in ‘imperial modernity and north Atlantic timeline’, from the printing press to drones. Counter examples to that history illustrated clearly how ‘the empty time’of colonized cultures was far from empty. The specific example of India under British rule, its introduction of the printed form and the ‘orientalisation’ of existing written forms such as the ‘Phunti’, a handwritten parchment (example in the image) which nonetheless its Bengali scribes continued to consider ‘superior’.

The idea of the necessity to consider multiple media temporalities (again examples used were mobile phones and the ‘miss call’ phenomenon and photography in contemporary India) could be read as ‘postcolonial interventions/interruptions’ to the media development paradigm, in other words, a postcolonially-informed media requires an awareness of the context specific reception. On the other hand it’s not possible to ignore how new technologies serve rather well postcolonial nationalisms, of the likes of Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalism.

So how are we to use postcolonial theory to interpret the use of drones to police open fields around villages in parts of India, one of the ‘militarised’ tools that have been adopted in the nationalist party flagship campaign to end open defecation in India? Raka Shome’s last example in her talk, this, she points out using Spivak’s original formulations, is where the female subaltern comes up as data, and where power and invisibility acquires a new meaning.

The evening was rounded off with the intervention by Goldie Osuri and Rinella Cere. Goldie Osuri, although much in agreement with Raka Shome’s discussion reiterated further the dangers of postcolonial nationalism when coupled with religion and the obvious political and media-driven conversion to ‘fascist populism’.

This was all chaired rather effectively by Anamik Saha, also responsible for much of the organisation along with our vice-chair Gurvinder Aujila-Sidhu. A final note, it was uplifiting to see so many Goldsmiths’ students at the event.

Posted by Einar Thorsen