Communication, Culture and Confrontation


Edited by: Bernard Bel, Jan Brouwer, Biswajit Das, Vibodh Parthasarathi & Guy Poitevin

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  • Communication Processes

    Series Editors: Bernard Bel, Jan Brouwer, Biswajit Das, Vibodh Parthasarthi, Guy Poitevin

    Other Books in the Series

    Volume 1: Media and Mediation

    Volume 2: The Social and the Symbolic


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    List of Tables

    • 1.1 Processes of Production and Consumption 35
    • 4.1 Synoptic Table: Semantic 1 Structural (Vdr-02) 120
    • 4.2 Synoptic Table: Semantic 1 Structural (Vdr-17) 133
    • 4.3 Act I: Repressive Order and Apparent Stability 141
    • 4.4 Act II: Ascendancy Denied Recognition 141
    • 4.5 Act III: Supremacy Revealed and Acknowledged 142
    • 5.1 Empirical Sources of the Characters
    • 5.2 Symbolism of Rahu and Chuharmal
    • 5.3 Myths in the Construction of Primordial histories 172
    • 5.4 Interactions between Narrative Identities and Myths 173
    • 5.5 Folk Techniques of Communication of Memory 174
    • 6.1 Full Text on the Theme ‘The Coming of Lakshmi at Twilight’ 191

    List of Figures

    • 4.1 The Dynamics of Spatial Segregation 127
    • 4.2 The Static Balance of Power 127
    • 4.3 Two Inverse Sets of Synchronic Figures 129
    • 4.4 Two Sets of Diachronic Lines 129
    • 6.1 Beginning of Calalna (Raga Äsa) Sung in North Indian Classical Music (D.C. Vedi) 183
    • 6.2 Melodic Transcription of ‘On a simplifié, et Maintenant elle s'appelle la Rue Hiskovitch…’ 188
    • 6.3 Melodic Transcription of ‘… avec un “h” au début’ 188
    • 6.4 The Third Verse: ‘It Is Twilight, Do Not Sweep Up the Floor’ 192
    • 6.5 The Fourth Verse: ‘Woman, Lakshmi Will Go Away from My Son’ 193
    • 6.6 Melodic Transcription of the Bottom Line in Figure 6.5 194
    • 6.7 Detail of Median Occurrence of Phirunī 195
    • 14.1 hindu Nationalist Ephemera 314
    • 14.2 Hindu New Year Card 316
    • 14.3 Hindu Calendar Depicting Rama and Krishna 318
    • 14.4 Hindu Calendar Depicting Ganesha, Durga and Lakshmi 319
    • 14.5 An Early Depiction of Rama 321
    • 14.6 A Depiction of Rama after the Ayodhya Incident 322
    • 14.7 A Recent Depiction of Rama 323
    • 14.8 Mother India 325
    • 14.9 New Year Card with Rama (Centre), Hedgewar (Left) and King Vikramaditya (Right) 326
    • 14.10 A Sticker Proclaiming 6 December as ‘ hindu Victory Day’ 329
    • 15.1 1964 Calendar Produced Exclusively for Sunanda Industries 340
    • 15.2 ‘Ready-made’ Calendar Overprinted with the Name of Gupta Brothers Chemists 341
    • 15.3 Western India Chemical Company Calendar 342
    • 15.4 Family Shrine with Mass-Produced Prints, Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, 1994 343
    • 15.5 Muscular Rama Featured in hindu Absolutist Propaganda 353

    Introduction: Remoulding the ‘Cultural’ as the ‘Contentious’

    BernardBel, JanBrouwer, BiswajitDas, VibodhParthasarathi, GuyPoitevin

    The first volume in this series on communication processes focused on the media, techniques and technology of communication. The second volume addressed the ‘relations of communication’, embracing both the particular type of human rapport that each specific medium gives support to, and the forms of social relation that the media are called to serve. In order to better describe the articulation of these systems of relations in the contradictory, tension-driven and ever-changing framework of society, the emphasis was on the function of symbolization as an agency of correlation specific to the human mind. Communication appears to be a matter of symbolic forms that tend to shape the dialectics, that is to say, the dialogue, interaction, links, rapports, osmosis or encounters between human beings under the spell of the systems of domination and/or appropriation that control them. This third volume specifically focuses on those symbolic forms themselves, gathered under the wide category of the ‘cultural’ or, alternatively, ‘cultural forms’.

    We cannot escape being once again driven away from the media of communication with their underpinning symbolic artefacts, and from the social systems of relations that make symbolic forms of communication instrumental in reaching their ends, towards another level of analysis where forms, ways and media of communication appear in connection with the culture of the communicators and their audiences. Cultural patterns, systems of representations and knowledge and cognitive structures contrive modes, forms and means of communication within given communities and between different communities. Systems of communication mirror systems of cognition. Social forms of symbolic communication drive us towards their anthropological foundations in the cultural moorings of the communities.

    Second, we cannot, in this respect, escape an immediately obvious fact that we take as point of departure: symbolic forms of social communication can hardly be reduced to a Comprehensive set of stable pattern that would dissolve ideologies, iniquity and social conflicts into a gentle flow of self-regulating processes governed by universal concepts. This had been the dream–or rather the imposture–of the market-driven global world imagined by the managers of massmedia. This consensual view abruptly faded away when the fear of international terrorism revived the evidence that communication can be at the service of ideological interests that had not been anticipated by the thinkers of the electronic age. Symbolic forms of communication are transactional in nature, and very few transactions, if any, may be disentangled from patterns of dominance and resistance.

    We wish to emphasize the intimate love/hatred binding that inextricably pervades the rapport of power and culture. We are as much concerned in this volume with cultural configurations that display themselves as forms of communication, weave human beings into collectives and link collectives with one another in one form or another of constantly evolving social binding, as with the power parameter that permeates them. Much in the same way that symbols cannot be reduced to bytes and pixels, cultures cannot be reduced to sets of items traded in the hegemonic space of global communication. This is despite the fact that this new space of communication has produced its own ideological pitfall by introducing itself as the end of a historical process whose ultimate ‘show’ must have been the battle won by capitalism over socialism. In her pioneering work, Warning (1988, 1999) brilliantly pointed out the fallacy of thinking in terms of global economics, when the system has become so selective of its gain/loss categories that it denies the ‘reckonability’–hence, any sort of recognition–of such vital human activities as household work, child education, care of the environment, etc.

    Similarly, a recent report submitted at the Second Specialized International Conference of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, pointed to the ‘paradoxes’, ‘biases’ and ‘schizophrenic approach of the evaluation of sustainable development policies in the dual societies’ on account in particular of ‘anthropological blindness’ (Casteigts 2002). The report underscored, as a result, the cultural fracture prevailing between the administration and the population. It geographically traced and historically dated the model as being a deliberate will to impose as universally valid a model designed by the ‘liberal Europe of the industrial revolution and the twentieth century America’. Born in a particular era and historical context, the model was consequently unfit for being transferred to other geographical and historical contexts. The report denounced as a blunder the will to impose it as a reference for evaluation of economic policies to the whole planet. It argued that this actually amounts ‘to enforce[ing] a self-alienation’, which results in ‘the concerned states being forced, in good faith, to sacrifice the genuine interests of their local populations in the name of an economic rationality believed to be a scientific model of development’ (ibid.: 13–16).

    There is, consequently, nothing surprising about the fact that a wide number of so-called Social Development Consulting Pvt. Ltd agencies authoritatively–that is, on the strength of an alleged modern science of business management systems–try to shape voluntary social action into a social commodity for institutions of social work, and appreciate its value with parameters learnt from management experts. Social consultants set themselves up as petty world development economists. In their discourse, human agency becomes a matter of social engineering, people's cooperation an affair of scientific techniques, development a part of trade organization, expert use of modern mass media a modern name for active democracy, and justice a checklist for administratively correct procedures. In short, communication has found its location as a component of management system science.

    This is how neo-liberal globalization protects its ideology of self-achievement, competition and domination by concealing it behind the shabby images of a consumer-friendly market allegedly driving humankind to a new era of affluence (Stiglitz 2002). It eliminates the ‘political’ by replacing democratic decision making with the universal rules of management dictated by non-elected bodies such as the World Trade Organization and social consultancy agencies. It further eliminates the ‘cultural’ by reducing it to marketable objects travelling through the modern communication channels. From this viewpoint, communication is merely a technical issue of manageable complexity.

    This is not our approach. ‘At present it is incumbent upon us all to resuscitate what remains of a universe of discourse, political language, and democratic vocabulary’ (Carey 1989: 139).

    Terms for a Field of Contending Forces

    A first handicap of a conceptual nature immediately stands in our way. We have to cope with a number of vague terms, readymade assumptions and worn clichés that happen to be easily available and commonly used. They may even be taken for granted by communication agencies, social actors and theoretical analysts. We need, therefore, to clarify our own terms at the outset.

    We do not understand culture as a substantive concept, but a dialectic category to be apprehended as a feld of contending forces: a milieu of exchange, encounter, confrontation and possibly conflict. We assume that, as a rule, communication of idioms is one of the secrets of cultural creativity and one of the main channels of transformation or evolution of human societies. The key to symbolic innovation is interactivity and interbreeding (Martin 2001, 2002).

    As a consequence, our focus can by no means be any delusive essentialist representation of culture as a general category, with a privileged emphasis put, for instance, on ‘elite’ or, on the contrary, ‘popular’ culture. This means that culture is essentially of a communicational nature on two accounts. First, it is instrumental and subservient to the aims of societal construction as it offers each collective, whether a small local community or large regional entity, a symbolic means of social binding. We should, therefore, activate all the static categories of culture perceived as symbolic systems as they tend to build up orders and secure social cohesiveness. Cultures ‘perform’ viable collectives.

    however, the consensus that they expect to that effect can never be secured, though they may try to obtain it per force. Rifts, dissent, breach of consensus, and alternative or deviant practices are always present. The ‘counter-cultural’ roles that some particular cultures play at a certain period of time in a given cultural milieu, when some sections depart from the established norms, codes or values hitherto received by the majority of others, testify to the emergence of repressed voices. Counter-cultures may arise in any feld and whatever the latter's idiom: music, literature, narratives, performing arts, social action, community festivals, philosophy, symbolic or ideological production such as ethics, legal systems, codes of conducts, norms and values, daily behaviour and lifestyle. Culture thus proves to be a matter of politics on a second and far-reaching account, that is, as a confrontation of claims to different, let alone opposite, projects of sociality. We might articulate this heterogeneity of apparently irreconcilable visions and wills by measuring the distance that sets apart the antagonistic poles of the literate and illiterate, elite and popular, dominant and subaltern, one and other, reason and image, concept and practice, fact and emotion, event and theory, observation and categorization, conduct and insight, and so on. The contributions in this volume are meant to show that such abstract dichotomous concepts sometimes available in culture studies to characterize the distinctive markers of ‘cultural worlds’ standing apart from one another are unwarranted and sterile. Such poles do not exist but out of a will to create a cultural hegemony on the part of those in a position of domination or alleged superiority claimed on the strength of ‘monologically authoritative interpretations’ (Mills 1991: 17).

    All such interpretations are to be denounced and rejected in the name of culture, which we understand as existing only as a two-way transitive process, that is, as interaction or negotiation. This volume is intended to show several forms of such processes. The significant fact remains, nevertheless, that transactions between contesting world-views do not always take place out of spontaneous needs or free will to re-appropriate and own a heritage. They may well be enforced out of a will to dominate and control. In both cases a confrontation takes place, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently.

    By confrontation we understand the questioning to which given forms are constantly subject on account of a multitude of locators and social actors who, diachronically and synchronically, do interact with one another. A living cultural constellation is the one that operates under tension. Contention, reinterpretation, manipulation, appropriation, imposition, ascendancy, repetition, enforcement, refusal, denial, reappraisal and encounter are some of the processes of culture as confrontation.

    Let us immediately eschew a possible misconception by stressing the point that cultural violence is not borne by cultural differences.

    It is carried out by a will to social discrimination by particular social agents. Social or political clashes in the name of culture are actually to be predicated upon a sheer want of culture. They stage social figures of communication that are directly the reverse of any genuine cultural encounter as we figure it out. They actually are its antinomy because they are prompted by a denial of interbreeding through sustained and fruitful communication of idioms.

    Culture as encounter should, therefore, by no means be confused with the ‘clash of civilizations’ that Samuel huntington (1998) designated as the front line of the battles to be waged in the twenty-first century. ‘Culture’ no more than ‘identity’, ‘nation’ and their derivatives, ‘cultural identity’, ‘cultural nationalism’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the like can ever be social actors. They are simply abstract though mesmerizing signifiers, but with no historical agents such as a state, class, trade union, political leader, community organization, mob, warlord or mafia. Clashes such as those to which Huntington refers exist only between socio-political forces competing for ascendancy and domination as collective actors, and instrumentalizing culture and cultural violence as a weapon to massively arouse masses and thus negotiate their access to power.1

    The immediate, and sometimes fatal, macro-political efficacy of such signifiers dramatically highlights the relevance of several micro studies gathered in this volume. They are likely to give some insight to the ways for cultural forms to socially, that is, politically, operate. They may then work as a warning by showing how the discriminatory processes that they unleash are alien to culture and kill attempts of genuine cultural encounter.

    As a consequence, the focus of cultural studies may be seen as oscillating, on the whole, from one extreme to the other, namely, going from the most repetitive models of interaction, mimetic modes of transmission and, as a result, static and consensual forms of communication, to creative models of symbolic innovation through breach of continuity, inversion or simply denunciation of consensus and radical semantic reappraisals. however, denial and denunciation, reappraisals and re-evaluation are no breach of communication, but forms of antagonistic communication. We may, therefore, oppose as antithetical counter-culture to control-culture, although both are only ideal and static constructs. In reality, both trends result in antagonistic interaction, the dialectic embraces the semantic relevance of that which is due to their contention to exert over the same feld but differently. The cultural rift is in that difference, a difference that makes sense in the same milieu of confrontation.

    By milieu we understand a symbolic space in which the confrontation takes place. It comprises a multitude of isomorphic forms, a number of sets of related constitutive components of any type, which on account of their isomorphism can entertain rapport among themselves. The possibility of such rapport and connections is what makes the space symbolic, namely, constructed of elements pieced together, linked in one way or the other. The space is symbolic on account of the nexus that prevails between all the components.

    By isomorphism we understand a logical link, a semantic affinity, a structural correspondence, a logical connection that explains for the possibility of dialogue, contention, reference, borrowing and reinterpretation between the various forms, levels and domains. Without such isomorphism, no interaction would be possible. There is no dialogue between idioms that semantically have nothing in common.

    The concept of isomorphism proves helpful in this regard to understand three general features that constantly characterize the cultural forms studied in this volume. These features ought not to stand as stumbling blocks against our effort of insight to their nature and communicational function. They are, on the contrary, essential to processes of interaction and interbreeding that is–shall we emphasize it again–essential to the civilizational progress of humankind.

    First, it is particularly relevant to recognize that each symbolic device is permanently subject to the demands of environmental changes, the urge from within, of internal expectations at variance with established norms, and the challenge of external counter-currents and alien pressures. All cultural forms and meanings are a mix resulting from the interplay of a complex historical dialectics. The strength of an individual or collective cultural configuration–its capability to meaningfully and purposively confront these changes, survive and progress–is a function of their competence to reconstruct and integrate the alien within their own symbolic systems.

    Second, one may be struck by the performative nature of popular cultures. here, we roughly use the term ‘popular’ in reference to cultural forms that originate from, and are specific to, powerless social sections, such as the working class in industrialized societies, and in those cohesive communities grounded in ‘traditions’ that circulate by word of mouth only; the folk and its lore as opposed to the dominant classes of literati. People's cultural forms do not appear nor stand as theoretical statements, abstract representations and value judgements per se. They enact and represent.

    Such is the case with all the cultural forms represented in this volume as much as the previous ones. A song, a tune, a drama, an image at home, a poster on the street, a narrative, a film, a ritual, a deity, a domestic health practice, a traditional agricultural technique, a craft, an occupational skill, a village festival, a pilgrimage to a holy places, a carnival, folk art, bazaar art, street drama and the like perform: they carry out something by procedures. People's cultural forms are practices that do not dissociate a form, meaning, human rapport and social status. They do not incorporate a concept; they directly act out an insight. They are an event that members of a human collective identify with or belong in. This may be the secret of their power: their competence to create a community, a class, a group or, in other terms, their communicative efficiency. This gives each cultural form the status of a symbolic device binding people. Culture is communication in the sense that the communicative efficiency of a cultural form is what distinguishes a cultural form as performative of a collective from a means of communication, which is nothing more than a carrier of information.

    Third, we may analytically identify seven levels or cultural forms of expression and communication and consider, at first sight, that their tight semantic interlinking and determinant correspondence is specific to lively and resilient popular–whether ‘old’ or ‘new’–traditions. This is what the minute studies in this volume will show as they often simultaneously touch upon the following various modes and strategies of communicative interaction:

    • practical know-how: occupational skill such as birthing practices, handicraft and farming methods;
    • physical forms: material culture such as artefacts, traditions of performing arts, customs and lifestyles;
    • networks of relation: links and interactions binding individuals into particular social configurations, such as a body of laws applied in a given community or at a given period in the life of that community;
    • representations: mental forms and immaterial images associated with various kinds of practices;
    • rituals and symbolic conducts: corresponding to the previous levels;
    • narratives and discourses: that carry theoretical and ideological framework and account for the different types of conducts, systems of social regulations, legal codifications and jurisprudence and
    • means of preservation, transmission and circulation: such as songs, proverbs and sayings that specifically encapsulate and carry knowledge.

    All these cultural forms act in unison as communication vehicles, each of them in its specific capacity to build and maintain cohesive collectives, binding individuals into distinct communities, and also the various communities into an integrated social fabric.

    Eventually all these considerations may suggest a complex–that is to say, anything but linear–model likely to emerge from the studies in this volume with regard to processes of culture substantively construed as a matter of communicational transitivity against all essentialist approaches. The eighteen case studies bring an abundant and purposively varied material for a broad and open-ended framework to be furthermore systematically chalked out, on the one hand, as the secret of any vigorous or/and overpowering cultural constellation, whether traditional or modern, and, on the other, as a key to apprehend the communicational efficiency of any such constellation of cultural forms.

    Conflicting Stakes: Power and Ambivalence

    A second serious handicap of a theoretical nature stands in our way once we set to go beyond the cultural forms in themselves: that of communicational efficiency, that is, the way these forms are instrumentalized to shape a social fabric. All our case studies point in this respect to the importance of two characteristics that are particularly significant and run across all of them as golden threads, those of power and ambivalence, if not even ambiguity.

    From a communicational point of view, ‘the fundamental form of power is the power to define, allocate, and display’ reality, that is, to construct it in expressive forms–cultural artefacts and communicative practices–and then to convince by getting them actually shared by others:

    [I]n our time, reality is scarce because of access: so few command the machinery for its determination. Some get to speak and some to listen, some to write and some to read, some to film and some to view. It is fine to be told that we are the species that actively creates the world and then simultaneously to be told that we are part of the subspecies denied access to the machinery by which this miracle is pulled off ….

    Therefore, the site where artists paint, writers write, speakers speak, film makers film, broadcasters broadcast is simultaneously the site of social conflict over the real. It is not a conflict over ideas as disembodied forces. It is not a conflict over technology. It is not a conflict over social relations. It is a conflict over the simultaneous co-determination of ideas, technique, and social relations. It is above all a conflict not over the effects of communication but of the acts and practices that are themselves the effects. (Carey 1989: 87)

    Ambivalence, let alone ambiguity, is the second characteristic feature of the use of cultural forms in processes of communicational intercourse. Instead of clear-cut polarization, we observe deep, multifarious and farreaching moves of transaction, whatever be superficial and temporary evidences to the contrary. An amazing and bewildering variety of terms crop up in the minds of a number of scholars studying various moments in the history of intense civilizational encounters.2 They all eventually point to moves of articulation, negotiation, interweaving, reinterpretation, etc. All these attempts could be categorized as multilateral transitivity, the implication being that in the process the forms are genuinely exchanged to the extent they are invested in the transaction with a more or less different value. As a result, the same form is shared, but with a difference. Ambivalence is an unavoidable mode of cultural exchange, reappropriation and contention (Poitevin 2001, 2002: 81–87).

    The relevance of both these parameters is determinant in the studies in this volume and essential to the broad model that is implicitly or explicitly reflected in them.


    1. The controversy raised by huntington's article is well known. he was accused of grossly simplifying reality, neglecting the role of states, implicitly nurturing a covert indulgence towards forms of extremism by recognizing them as a real force, putting the West on alert, seeing the increasing interaction between eight civilizations (Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, hindu, Orthodox Slav, Latin American and African) as a cause of crisis and deterioration, assuming a demise of ideologies, and even hiding a North American agenda by providing the United States with an alibi for enforcing a globalization ultimately meant to shroud the planet in a blanket of cultural uniformity, thereby permanently eliminating all further prospect of inter-cultural war–let us read cultural diversity and autonomy, inter-cultural confrontation and interbreeding (Sauquet 1997).

    2. Students of various domains substitute models of complex negotiation to antithetic conceptualizations, for instance, in the history of Indian nationalism (Chatterjee 1986; Dalmia 1999; Jaffrelot 1999) and in cultural anthropology (Nandy 1983; Poitevin and Rairkar 1996; Richman 1992; Thapar 2000).

    References and Further Readings
    Carey, J.W.1989. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge.
    Casteigts, Michel. 2002. ‘Les paradoxes de l’évaluation des politiques de développement durable dans les sociétés duales’, Institut International des Sciences Administratives, Deuxième Conférence Internationale Spécialisée, New Delhi, 5–9 November.
    Chatterjee, Partha. 1986. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse?New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Dalmia, Vasudha. 1999. The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Jaffrelot, Christophe. 1999. The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics 1925 to the 1990s. New Delhi: Penguin Books.
    Huntington, Samuel. 1998. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    Martin, Denis-Constant. 2001. ‘Pratiques culturelles et organisations sym-boliques du politique’, in D.Cefaï (ed.), Politiques culturelles, pp. 117–35. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
    Martin, Denis-Constant. (ed.). 2002. Sur la piste des OPNI (Objects politiques non-identifiés). Paris: Karthala.
    Mills, Margaret A.1991. Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
    Nandy, Ashis. 1983. The Intimate Enemy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Poitevin, Guy. 2001. ‘Myth and Identity’, Indian Folklore Research Journal, 1 (1): 81–122.
    Poitevin, Guy. 2002. ‘Popular Traditions, Strategic Assets’, Indian Folklore Research Journal, 1 (2): 81–109.
    Poitevin, Guy and HemaRairkar. 1996. Stonemill and Bhakti. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.
    Richman, Paula. 1992. Many Rāmāyanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Sauquet, Michel. 1997. ‘Preparatory Memorandum towards an Intercultural Series for the Future’, Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind, 23 October.
    Stiglitz, I.E.2002. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton.
    Thapar, Romila. 2000. Cultural Transaction and Early India: Tradition, and Patronage. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Waring, Marylin. 1988. If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics. New York: harper and Row.
    Waring, Marylin. 1999. Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies, and Global Economics. A 94 minute documentary by Terre Nash (Canada), produced by Kent Martin, available online at (accessed in 2005).
  • Epilogue


    The most significant aspect of communication pertains to the form of social relations specifically set up by the various modes of exchange, circulation of knowledge and cultural practice at large. As a consequence, any attempt of transmission of knowledge, and its representation, may take the measure of its efficiency only through evaluating the social processes it actually engineers. The social process mediated by a medium–and the way cultural practice is socially produced and consumed–are more important than the message/symbolism they carry. Communication being conceived as a dialectical encounter, the means and message in themselves or in isolation are only instrumental to this, and, therefore, of secondary significance. Besides, there is never any cultural creation (producing a thing, here, a meaning, from absolute nothingness), but only transformation and re-creation. This transformational approach is grounded in the refutation of an essentialist approach by which ideas would be disseminated through the channels of ‘works’, ‘authors’, ‘influences’ and the like. This classical vision of the history of ideas, challenged by Foucault (1969), was unable to cope with the discontinuities, disruptions, singularities, and patterns of dominance and resistance that characterize the circulation of ideas.

    New Research Perspectives

    Anthropologists have long pointed to oral traditions as substantive references forging bonds of thought, conduct and action, especially in communities bereft of a written script. It has been observed that collective memory is not a result of a word-to-word orality; rather, it operates with variations, to the extent that mnemonic procedures are rarely perceived as necessary (Goody 1977). However, one may point out that mnemonic procedures become necessary when associated with the maintenance of power structures: the orality of the Vedas is mnemonic, while that of grindmill songs is not so. Thus, in preindustrial cultural practices ‘power’ seems to mechanize orality in a manner strikingly similar to how it homogenizes representation in the industrial mass media. While sociologists in the last two decades have found substance in popular oral narratives, common sense and shared representations (Ariès 1988: 167–90; Hinchman and Hinchman 1997: 7–50), historians have recognized these as epistemologically ‘valid’ and valuable sources for constructing their interpretations (Carr 1986). Collective memory, the raw material of history and identity, represented through a cumulative wealth of oral, written or symbolic forms, has become a fish tank for the conscious historian to draw from, for the critical social scientist to draw upon, and for the ‘unconscious’ persons to draw on in their everyday lives. Since ‘source material’ is invariably contentious, its wider catchment might well expand the topography and geology of confrontation in the years to come.

    Although not as its primary, explicit objective, this anthology on communication processes contributes to the body of critical knowledge seeking to finally bury the 1970s notion of ‘traditional form, modern content’–along with its stimulant, ‘modernization’ and its agency ‘development communication’. While so far the notions of tradition and modernity were considered oppositional and mutually exclusive, it has long been realized that we actually stand at a crossroads, wherein their dialectics yield a set of merging or overlapping articulations. The notion of multilateral transitivity enumerated at the beginning signals the methodological rationale for such a departure from the sterile dualism (uncritical dichotomy) hitherto ingraining communication writing and policy. Related to this is also the pointlessness of arguing over the superiority of one cultural form over another–performance over media, pre-industrial over electronic media, speech over print, song over speech, as each is rooted in its own institutional potentialities and limitations. It would be more appropriate to analyze whether with the universalization of dominant norms marginalized figures of symbolic activity survive by becoming increasingly insular or increasingly osmotic–as survive they will as long as the aggregate of their productive base survives.

    Cultural studies and the sociology of communication have predominantly been obsessed with cinema and television. This general tendency could be explained by looking at its reactive and proactive roots–the former indicative of investigators being swayed by the discursively dominant locales of the mass media, and the latter reflecting recent academic inroads made by globally trendy frames of criticism. The resultant writings have sidelined scrutinizing communication as a process; in addressing a part of the whole, the emergent writings have come to be unidimensional. Furthermore, dominant approaches herein have failed to grasp the fact that the often celebrated diversity of symbolic forms and the resulting multiplicity in modes of communication are, in their essence, indicative of the fission and fusion within contemporary culture-scape.

    This third, ‘cultural’, panel of our triptych may have addressed some of these shortcomings. In doing so, while this anthology highlights various modes of the ‘remnant’ and the ‘preserved’, the imposed and the hybrid, it equally addresses ways in which such symbolic configurations emerge in interrelationship with specific individual motivations and altering social contexts. What gains significance is not the multiplicity of cultural forms per se, but the role of the multiple dialectics shaping the rapport between human beings, and the corresponding articulation of social relations on longstanding practices and particular moments of symbolic production and reproduction. Revealed implicitly in this arrangement of issues is also a semantic elasticity of ‘culture’ and ‘communication’–sometimes construed as a means of the social transmission of information, knowledge and ideology; other times as cognitive systems capable of exchange with one another and with established systems of interaction (Carey 1989).

    All through these seemingly varied explorations seek to locate, and thereby view, communication as part of larger, interrelated social processes of the past and the historical present. Nevertheless, what is also hinted is that ‘communication’ and ‘culture’ cannot designate a separate subject of investigation. For, their activities must be approached within the larger historical fabric and structures of cognition in which they unfold on the one hand, and with reference to the particular social agents who intervene with their own competence and authority on the other. Therefore, a more accurate operationalization of communication as a social science concept has been necessarily grounded in its multidisciplinary dimensions. In doing so, the horizon of questions on ‘communication’ has to cover and measure up to the whole system of social relations that a particular form of symbolic activity incorporates.

    Hints Towards Social and Political Change

    To study such symbolic forms and practices implies to analyse the articulations that cultural interventions, first, project by themselves on account of their internal structuring, and, second, tend to inaugurate at the level of society at large. As a corollary, analytical tasks ought to bear upon the nature of the particular social rapport that distinctive practices of communication implicitly, overtly, unwittingly or otherwise shape, while simultaneously unveiling its interventionist purposes. In doing so, one needs to be cautious that abstract consciousness and its purely verbal assertion may yield a non-productive discourse as long as it does not incorporate concrete forms of human relations and symbolic configurations commensurate with the historical intent of social transformation.

    This perception of the absolute importance of the use–and not the content–of forms by speakers/discourses tends to empty any form as such and focus on the power intentions (cultural hegemony, domination, or resistance and inversion, let alone perversion, etc.) by those who instrumentalize them. Having said this, can the methodological considerations of our critique claim any relevance to the agents of communication and culture, be they practitioners or theorists, in their interventionist objectives? Equally, in an era exemplified by the seduction of appropriating post-industrial technological means, have our substantive considerations prevented losing sight of the way in which pre-industrial cultural practices are being reappropriated, especially independent of ‘hitechnology’?

    Future research may well benefit from the methodological considerations pursued in this anthology, especially those seeking to give the exercise of research itself the shape of a critical communicative process. For, first, it has been realized that the more discrepancy between the informant's and observer's cultures, the greater the danger of ethnocentric misrepresentation by an alien framework of interpretation. In other words, a relation of dominance and subjection resulting in heteronomy and dependency may easily, though unknowingly, characterize forms and procedures of knowledge production in the field of cultural studies. Second, and often as a consequence, it may be evident that these writings are not concerned with analytical objectives alone, but equally with tempering a defiant cultural action–something that a conceptually informed, analytically critical and methodologically cooperative approach can better serve. Through such a reappropriation (both deconstruction and reactivation) the validity and relevance of research becomes a function of the quality, equality and intensity of the interaction within, and integral to, the design and procedures of the research exercise. Thus, communication–in form and content–and its study as a social process, proves to be a constitutive dimension of the relations of the production of knowledge itself.

    Assuming that any act of ‘culture’ is an intervention in sculpting social change, cultural criticism must incessantly review the direction to such change. This may entail uncovering the critical modalities conducive to processes of interbreeding between contrasting symbolic forms and semantic systems, and sketching ethnographic accounts of social actors’ metamorphosis from unconscious agents of a counter-political culture to pivots of a counter-cultural politics. In either case, the broader aim would be to congregate human entities on the ground of permanently dialectic communication processes, without a break of continuity either in time–opposing the ‘traditional’ with the ‘modern’–or in space–opposing collectives with communities as isolated systems of symbolic exchange.

    A cultural form is only a medium that gets its semantics from its use and not the reverse, as we usually believe. Of course, the medium has its own internal structure and cannot always easily be put upside down from within. This structure means semantic constraints in reuse, and we may concede that we cannot say anything with an arbitrary form. Still, the processes of reappropriation, reinvestment, manipulation, etc. would lead to stressing the great malleability to which cultural forms are subject.

    This opens up the possibility of ‘cultural progress’, which is of great relevance to political and social change, at a time there is a growing awareness that the problems humankind is faced with cannot all be circumscribed in the field of economics. It is time to dig out ways of thinking–‘cultural objects’–and understand ‘not merely what people thought but how they thought [and communicated]–how they construed the world, invested it with meaning and infused it with emotion’ (Darnton 1985: 3) This approach has the potential to reconfigure the political landscape by displacing its focus from the economical to the multitude of ‘unidentified political objects’ (Martin 2002). ‘The political can no longer be circumscribed in the sole field of politics…. it outflanks it from both sides through multiple ethical demands’ (Caillé 2002).1 In his pamphlet ‘Beyond the Left’, Caillé (ibid.) argues that political disputes limited to the economical battlefield are bound to obfuscate the most important cultural issues displayed as seemingly unrelated multiple identity crises:

    The historical Left singled itself out with the belief that all the inequalities it must fight would be ‘in the final analysis’ associated with the economical disparities between the owners and the deprived. However, the main disputes over the past twenty years have been based on entirely different disparities, which were actually not displayed as disparities, but rather in the form of identity assertions: identity of gender, of sexuality, skin complexion, culture, habitat, religion, nature, etc.2

    This ends up in exacerbating claims for individual freedom and shaking the very roots of democracy:

    The political scene is becoming less and less attractive for the simple reason that it is still structured around the sole economical disparities. As such, it is not really able to give voice and shape to the other ones, except by multiplying rights, sometimes even the right to have rights. Because it fails to articulate with a renewed idea of democracy, this headlong rush might quickly turn self-destructive. The rights of all cannot be multiplied ad infinitum without sinking into a widespread exacerbated utilitarian individualism in which the only thing that counts is everyone's pleasure. (ibid.)3

    The blindness of politicians and citizens to the cultural dimensions of power and social communication unavoidably dissolves the dialectics of political change into their passive surrender to economic rationality and market forces:

    After all is said and done, the only system that acknowledges in(de)finite rights is the market. Provided that these rights are only those of the consumers and that they are proportional to the purchasing power. Here things come full circle and we are back in the face of economical disparities of the old Left. (ibid.)4

    In contrast to this submissive attitude, remoulding the ‘cultural’ as the ‘contentious’ amounts to understanding, evaluating and re-appropriating the symbolic forms underlying the social systems of relations, as demonstrated in multiple ways throughout this series on communication processes:

    It results that ‘the symbolic’, in politics, should not be reduced to the manipulations that may be engineered by people in power to obtain the obedience and submissiveness of the governed. It extends to the entirety of power relations, among which it may be distributed in numerous roles. (Martin 2002: 25)5


    1. Original text: ‘[L]e politique ne peut plus être circonscrit au seul champ de la politique…. il le déborde de part en part à travers de multiples exigences éthiques.

    2. Original text: ‘La Gauche historique s'est caractérisée par la certitude que toutes les iné-galités à combattre se rapportaient ‘en dernière instance’ à l'inégalité économique entre possédants et dépossédés. Or, les combats principaux des vingt dernières années ont porté sur de toutes autres in-égalités, qui ne se présentaient d'ailleurs pas tant comme telles que sous la forme de l'affirmation d'identités, identités de genres, de sexualités, de couleurs, de cultures, d'habitats, de religions, de natures, etc.’

    3. Original text: ‘Si le jeu de la politique peine de plus en plus à mobiliser les passions, c'est parce qu'il reste profondément structuré par la lutte autour des seules inégalités économiques et ne sait pas trop comment donner voix et forme aux autres, sauf à travers la multiplication des droits, voire des droits à avoir des droits. Or, faute de s'articuler à une pensée renouvelée de la démocratie, cette fuite en avant risque de se révéler rapidement autodestructrice. Les droits de tous ne peuvent pas se multiplier à l'infini sans s'affaisser dans un hyperindividualisme utilitariste généralisé, où seul compte le bon plaisir de chacun.

    4. Original text: ‘En définitive, le seul système qui reconnaisse des droits in(dé)finis, c'est le système de marché. Mais à la condition que ces droits soient exclusivement ceux des consommateurs et qu'ils soient proportionnels au pouvoir d'achat. Où la boucle se boucle et où l'on retrouve les inégalités économiques de la vieille gauche.’

    5. Original text: ‘Il en résulte que la présence du symbolique en politique ne saurait être réduite aux manipulations qui peuvent en être faites par les puissants pour obtenir la passivité, la soumission des gouvernés, mais qu'il parcourt la totalité des relations de pouvoir dans lesquelles il peut être distribué en d'innombrables rôles.

    Ariès, P.1988. ‘L'Histoire des mentalités’ (A History of Mentalities), in J.Le Goff (ed.), La Nouvelle Histoire (The New History), pp. 167–90. Paris: Complexe.
    Caillé, Alain. 2002. ‘Au-delà de la Gauche’ (Beyond the Left), Politis, 12 December.
    Carey, J.W.1989. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge.
    Carr, David. 1986. Time, Narrative, and History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    Darnton, Robert. 1985. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Vintage Books.
    Foucault, Michel. 1969. L'archéologie du Savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge). Paris: Gallimard.
    Goody, Jack. 1977. ‘Mémoire et apprentissage dans les sociétés avec et sans écriture’, L'HommeXVII: 29–52.
    Hinchman, Lewis P. and Sandra K.Hinchman (eds). 1997. Memory, Identity, Community: The Idea of Narrative in the Human Sciences. Albany: State University of New York Press.
    Martin, Denis-Constant (ed.). 2002. Sur la Piste des OPNI (Objets Politiques Non-identifiés) (Tracking OPNIs [Non-identified Political Objects]). Paris: Karthala.

    About the Editors and Contributors

    The Editors

    Bernard Bel is a computer scientist with background in electronics. He came to India in 1979 to conduct a multidisciplinary scientific study of classical music. In 1986 he joined the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) to develop new models and techniques in the field of computational musicology. Between 1994 and 1998 he was deputed to the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH, New Delhi) to carry on projects in musicology and social-cultural anthropology. He then monitored a programme on the relations between power, communication and culture. At present, he is at the Laboratoire Parole et Language (CNRS, Aix-en-Provence), member of a team focusing on speech prosody. He is also in charge of a web service for a free exchange of linguistic data and resources (CRDO).

    Jan Brouwer recently retired as Professor of Cultural Anthropology from the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong. He is presently Professor of Anthropology at the University School of Design, University of Mysore and Honorary Director at the Centre for Advanced Research on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CARIKS, Mysore). He has many published works to his credit and is currently working on the concept of autonomy and death as a social relation.

    Biswajit Das is currently the Director of Centre for Culture, Media and Governence, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He has over two decades of teaching experience and specialized research in communication studies, during which he was also a visiting fellow at the Universities of Windsor, Canada and Hawaii, USA. His research has been supported by various foundations and institutions in India and abroad such as Indo-Canadian Institute of Advanced Studies and Charles Wallace Trust.

    Vibodh Parthasarathi maintains a multidisciplinary interest in the creative industries, cross-national communication policy, business history of the media and governance of media infrastructure. Currently, he is Associate Professor, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi). He was earlier associated with the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies also at Jamia Millia Islamia, Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (CCRSS, Pune) and Manipal Institute of Communication (Manipal). He is the co-editor of L'idiot du Village Mondial (Editions Luc Pire/ECLM 2004), Media and Mediation (Sage 2005), and The Social and the Symbolic (Sage 2007). His work has attracted support variously from the India Foundation for the Arts, the Netherlands Fellowship Programme, Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation, Charles Wallace India Trust and Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. Periodically on assignment with the media industry, his last documentary Crosscurrents: A Fijian Travelogue (2001) explored the underbelly of ‘reconciliation’ following a decade of military coups in Fiji. His nominations include Board Member, Centre for Internet and Society (Bangalore), Non-Executive Director, Kadam Films Ltd (New Delhi), Independent Director, Centre for Social Ecology (Jaipur), Founding International Member, Intercultural Library for the Future (Paris) and Member, Academic Council, Institute of Social Studies (the Hague).

    Guy Poitevin was born in Mayenne (France), settled in Pune since 1972 and naturalized as an Indian citizen in 1978. He was a graduate in Philosophy (Sorbonne and Gregoriana) and Theology (Gregoriana), and taught philosophy before obtaining his Ph.D. in Social Sciences from Paris University. He created and animated grassroots action groups in rural Maharashtra. Till his demise in 2004, he was the Director of the CCRSS (Pune), which he founded in 1982 for researches on social and cultural dynamics specific to the subaltern and people's oral cultures, and for experimenting to this effect with alternative research practices called ‘cooperative’ and meant to jointly harness the researcher and the activist to goals of social transformation.

    The Contributors

    P.J. Amala Dos is a Therukoothu folk artist, President of the Folk Artists Federation of Tamil Nadu. He was nominated by the Governor of Tamil Nadu as a member of the State Academy, Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram, which conducts festivals and imparts Therukoothu and folk arts training to members of voluntary agencies, students and university teachers. He works at present for and with the folk artists with the conviction that as the artists remain the owners of their media, they can help awake people to their rights and organize themselves in their own way for emancipation.

    Karine Bates is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Université de Montréal. She works in the field of legal anthropology. Inspired by her training in law (B.C.L., LL.B.) and anthropology, she has developed an ethnographic methodology to grasp the nuances of women's discourses and practices in the process of obtaining their property and inheritance rights through the state legal bureaucracy in India. Also, her research focuses on the interplay between formal and informal factors of access of justice and the role of para-legal women's organization in the mediation of conflicts occurring at the level of the household. So far, her fieldwork took place in Maharashtra and Kerala.

    Paul Biot is co-founder (in the beginning of the 1970s) and now manager of the Centre du Théâtre Action, an agency that coordinates projects carried out by the fifteen Belgian companies of the Action Theatre movement operating among the French-speaking population in Belgium. The companies’ members help collectives to perform according to their aims. Every alternate year they organize a festival ‘Theatre on the Path of Resistance’, to which they invite from other parts of the worlds, groups which share the same objectives. They also create their own performances with no limitations on forms, but those forms only which are imagined, created, produced collectively, and played by the very people who created them for social change. Paul Biot is a Doctor in Law too.

    Geneviève Caelen-Haumont is a linguist and specialist of speech prosody, currently affiliated to the Laboratoire Parole et Language (CNRS, Aix-en-Provence) and the International Research Center MICA (Hanoi Institute of Technology).

    Gyaneshwar Chaturvedi is Head of Department, Political Science, St. John's College, Agra, and has been engaged in an ongoing field research on ethnic violence in Kanpur. A graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, his main research interests are in identity formation, especially in the context of cross-cultural encounters and multiculturalism. His present concerns include the interrelationship between image and reality.

    Jayati Chaturvedi was Reader & Head, Department of Political Science, St. John's College, Agra, India. She has been a Rotary Fellow, worked for a while as a Consultant for CARE (Cooperation for Assistance & Relief Everywhere), travelled internationally on academic assignments and believes her strength lies as a field researcher on identity issues. She now lives and teaches in London.

    Kajri Jain teaches in the Centre for Visual and Media Culture and the Graduate Department of Art at the University of Toronto. Her research is on popular image-cultures in India, with a particular focus on the interface between religion, visual culture and vernacular business cultures; she is the author of Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art (2007). Initially trained as a graphic designer at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Jain has a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Sydney, held postdoctoral fellowships with the Australian Research Council and the Getty Research Institute, and has taught in departments of Art History, Cultural Studies and Film Studies in Australia, the US and Canada.

    Jitendra Maid, the fifth of six brothers and one sister, and son of a labourer father in the Market Yard of Shirur (Pune district), did odd jobs to finance his graduate degree in Commerce, Communication and Journalism. He joined a local action group committed to social awakening through street theatre. Now fully involved in VCDA activities as coordinator, he monitors a workshop of self-learning for rural grassroots action groups and their network all over Maharashtra. He also participates in the research activities of the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (such as grindmill songs, oral myths, caste memories, Dalit literature, people's culture and communication).

    Denis-Constant Martin has degrees in Sociology, Political Sciences and African Linguistics (Swahili), and a Ph.D. from Sorbonne. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the African Studies Centre, Science Po Bordeaux, Université de Bordeaux. He was the founder and first director (1980) of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA). He has taught at the Institute of Political Studies (Paris) and Sorbonne, and conducted abundant field research in Eastern and Southern Africa as well as in the Commonwealth Caribbean. In recent years, his focus has been on the relationships between culture and politics, with a particular interest in popular festivals (carnivals, for instance) and popular music, emphasizing on the political expression of communal identities.

    Badri Narayan is Lecturer in Social Cultural Anthropology, G.B. Pant Social Sciences Institute (Allahabad). A social historian by training, he later turned to cultural anthropology. Central interest include the invisible drives that structure the social fabric, forms and ways of social protest, popular culture and popular memory, Dalit literature, language and symbolic power. He is a committed organizer and cultural activist involved in the preservation of popular culture in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh society.

    Hema Rairkar is a graduate in Economics who worked at the Gokhale Institute of Economic and Political Sciences (Pune) but left in 1991 to get involved in the research projects of the CCRSS. She is actively associated with action groups of peasant women in villages of Pune district. Since 1983 she has conducted a vast systematic research in the Marathi-speaking areas of western India on the women's tradition of grindmill songs. She has organized seminars and debates in colleges and villages on folk culture and knowledge cooperatively with peasant animators in a spirit of reflexive reappropriation of one's heritage.

    Kusum Sonavne is a leading animator of the rural action group Garib Dongari Sanghatna (GDS) or ‘Poor of the Mountain’ (Pune). Born in a very poor Dalit family, she was eager to go to school, but her mother forced her back to tend cattle. Deserting school after Standard I, she was married at 12 to a boy working as a stone crusher at Mumbai with his parents. They returned to the village when strikes resulted in loss of jobs, where Sonavne worked as maidservant in various houses. Fond of singing to overcome fatigue and find strength, she started to attend GDS meetings in 1980 with her 3-month-old baby in surrounding villages. Gradually, she learnt to raise local groups to fight local issues. Presently, she works at launching similar groups in other areas of Pune district.

    Tara Ubhe was born in Kolawde (Mulshi taluka, Pune district), and forced to leave school in Standard III. She was married at 14, and was 19 when her third and last son was born. Her family are very small farmers producing mainly paddy on half an acre of land, living from land and agricultural work. She joined the GDS in 1985 of which she is one of the leading women animators on issues of tribal communities, rural employment, organization of labourers, primary health education, gender issues and network of rural social workers in Maharashtra. She has participated in the action research of the CCRSS on grindmill songs.

    Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay is a Reader of History, Indira Gandhi National Open University (New Delhi). His publications include Existence, Identity and Mobilization: The Cotton Millworkers of Bombay, 1890–1919, and a volume (co-edited with Imtiaz Ahmad) Dalit Assertion in Society, Literature and History. Besides these, he has published articles on the working class, Dalits and Premchand.

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