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Sociology Seminar Series

In this seminar Dr. Arvind Rajagopal will present a paper on 'From Infrastructure to Superstructure: A Tale in 3 Acts'. The link for the talk is: Join Microsoft Teams Meeting

Event Date: 
Thursday, September 24, 2020 -

Dr. Arvind Rajagopal is a Professor of Media Studies, and an affiliate faculty in Sociology, and the Social and Cultural Analysis, at New York University. He is author or editor of four books, including the prize-winning Politics after Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India.  He has held fellowships at Princeton, Stanford, and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, among other places.  He has written for The Hindu, Indian Express and Seminar, and for journals such as the LA Review of Books, Current History, Huffington Post, and opendemocracy. His latest book is under contract with Duke University Press, on a global genealogy of media theory.


Seminar Abstract: 

Arguably, postcolonial developmentalism has helped to define the field of sociology in India (and not only in India), taking the nation as its space of investigation. As the terms and conditions of national belonging became more contentious, and with perhaps a growing despair about developmentalism, it can be argued that one of the disintegration products of the earlier idea of development is “infrastructure studies.”

There was the intellectual critique of development, to be sure, from the left itself, with the work of the Economic Commission on Latin America, and the dependentistas who followed. But it was the political defeat of development that was crucial, along with the rise of “structural adjustment” by the international financial institutions, following the Mexican fiscal default of 1982. Influenced by Science and Technology Studies, as well as a backlash against cultural studies perhaps, ‘infrastructure’ suggested something more defined and measurable, necessarily functioning as a site of expert adjudication even if its public-facing functions made it a potential focus of popular action.  Political assumptions previously taken for granted could be set aside; instead socio-technical or other issues could be studied, whether for water systems, roads, trains, electrical power or communication systems. One could for example, clinically outline the breakdown of the idea of the public sphere without discussing politics or theories of the public sphere as such.

In my presentation, I will outline three episodes in the establishment of one aspect of communication infrastructure in India, namely television.  My selection of episodes will illustrate the transnational effort that went into what became national infrastructure. More than mere altruism was involved, although there were frequent assertions of generosity by the donors, to whom thanks were owed. The Cold War politics waged by these means was noticed in India through ideas of conspiracy and corruption, that threatened national sovereignty, viewing the world outside from a domestic perspective, it might be said. At any rate I will argue that in this case, communications infrastructure became a political superstructure, here invoking Marx’s use of the term.

Thursday 24, Sep 2020
06:45 PM - 08:45 PM