Communication Processes, Volume 2: The Social and The Symbolic


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

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

    Other Books in the Series

    Volume 1: Media and Mediation

    Volume 3: Culture and Confrontation


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    Overture: Recasting ‘the Social’ as ‘the Symbolic’

    Society as System of Symbolic Relations

    The binding of individuals into a collective exists on the strength of language. The symbolic function consists in capturing the world through turning it into signs which are events of expression to be exchanged (Tarot 1999: 59). This process is specific to the way human beings articulate their thoughts with the aid of languages. A group must express itself to exist. To that effect, in the human world—the subject of all social sciences—everything can become a signifier, that is, carry significance. In the beginning of man is the muthos or logos, the word or the discourse—namely, an exchange of signs which carry, or rather incorporate, a significance. The sign which is exchanged is a symbolon, which is, according to the etymology of the Greek term, ‘an object divided between strangers, who could come to recognize each other when the pieces are fitted together’ and tally (M.A.U.S.S. 1998: 56, n. 36).

    The symbolic function of language makes individuals relate to one another as a social grouping, establishing networks of mutual relationship. Symbolic thought is relational by nature (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xlvii). It inserts itself between man and nature as a distinct order of reality, a province of its own distinct from nature, functionally necessary to the constitution of a human world. It provides meaningful patterns of behaviour and relations which, imperatively shared by all, design and govern the rapport between individuals, binding them into a collective of members of human society.

    The symbolic function as being competent to produce meaningful signs is at the heart of the social. It originates the symbolic as a collection of symbols. Communication, an exchange of symbols, is the societal essence of the human collective. The social is identical to the symbolic, and its persistence is secured by the acceptance and transmission—which is tradition—of common symbolic codes. Society constitutes itself through the exchange of expressive forms which associate its members through the forms being shared because they incorporate systems of meanings. The significations that they enshrine stimulate the affects and pattern the relations that prevail between all those who partake of them. Their meanings weave a social order by articulating relations between individuals and norms of behaviour.

    But symbolic forms should not be mistaken for collective representations. A human collective, in relation to the world, constitutes itself not only by defining and fixing its own representations; it also has to constantly negotiate and design these representations through exchanging them in comprehensible forms. Human minds transact with one another only by means of symbolic mutually intelligible intermediaries which they share—dance, rhythm, sound, tune, image, art, technical skill, custom, institution, occupational habit, linguistic resource, myth, belief, performance, ritual, health care practice, birthing practice, etc. Thus, the symbolic is more than a mental representation and ‘the symbols are more real than what they symbolize’ (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xxxii). The symbolic does not simply reflect mental states. Common signs are external to the mental states of individuals, and their symbolic meaningfulness goes beyond the subjective states they contribute to create. Communication as sharing of symbolic forms is a form of action, as it does not merely represent or describe but actually moulds and symbolically constitutes society through the articulation of symbols that are exchanged and shared (Tarot 1999: 13, 242, 272).

    Symbolic forms do not only express representations, excite to action, mould, fix and transmit significations: this transmission also binds those individuals who assent to this common value into a distinctive group, and accords to the latter social substance. Constrained to live collectively, to relate to one another, human beings cannot dispense with consenting on common symbolic forms that make sense to all of them, and instrumentalize their quest for agreement, relation and exchange.

    There is in any accord a subjective truth and an objective truth; and in any sequence of such symbolic accords a minimum of reality, namely, the coordination of these accords. And even if these symbols correspond only in imagination and arbitrarily to things, they at least correspond to human beings who understand them and believe in them, and for whom they are useful as total expression of these things and of their knowledge, of their logics and of their technics, as well as of their arts and their affectivities. (Tarot 1999: 277)

    While owning and internalizing the symbolic forms that it creates, the group accedes to a collective conscience that governs it, and can at any moment identify itself in the mirror of its symbolic devices: the symbolic is the sine qua non of its own self-recognition as a social reality. The conducts of individuals grouped together do not automatically constitute a collective: they are only elements upon which a symbolic system which constitutes the collective is built up. It belongs to the nature of the social to express itself and construct itself symbolically through its customs and institutions (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xvi). The nexus of systems of symbolic forms and structures of social agency constitutes a human collective. The foundation of the social rests upon the consent given by human participants to systemic sets of symbolic forms—rules of behaviour to be observed, rituals to be performed, representations to be honoured, norms to be followed. Social facts

    are bound to the sharing of mental states, representations and beliefs, which have an efficiency of their own, are sometimes objects of enthusiastic attachment, attract upon themselves energies which have not been heard of; it happens that men prefer their values, their culture, their beliefs and the representations of their life to their own life itself. (Tarot 1999: 239)

    Although there are rules only for a subject, social rules are neither subjective nor imaginary because, to the extent that they are not deprived of communication through language and are handed down along generations, they institute a symbolic order that imposes its reality on all the partners in the collective. Attitudes towards the world are created, articulated and conveyed through the construction of symbolic and expressive systems.

    The Symbolic Constitution of the World

    Three features characterize the function of symbolization and, as a consequence, the symbolic constitution of the world of humankind.

    The first feature: as anything may become a sign, the symbolic function that specifically defines the human mind gives rise to an indefinite number of forms of exchange that can hardly always be reconciled with one another.

    On the one hand, symbolic thinking is the source of, and reason for, any exchange in any of its forms, whatever its contents. The exchange of signifiers creates human societies as distinct systems of symbolic communication, or systems of social relation. These systems get their singular unity from the internal equilibrium or intrinsic arrangement of the various forms of exchange that they comprise of.

    But, on the other hand, the concord that substantiates the reality of a particular society is far from a consensus even within the limits of a given collective, let alone with other collectives. Language necessarily turns objects of the world into signs—this is its essence and raison d’être because human beings need to live in groups. But the processes of symbolization are arbitrary. Human reason appears fragmented in an indefinite multiplicity of cultures, values, cognitive systems and goals. The social is never universal, always particular. Human reason appears scattered, torn apart.

    This feature raises two questions: The first is that of the legitimacy of the arbitrary symbolic orders considered by collectives, or sections within collectives, as distinctive parameters for identity. This points to the issue of the parameters of power within groups and communities and between collectives. Collectives cannot avoid facing, in one way or other, dissidence from within and confrontation from without. In the absence of free assent, the acceptance of common symbolic systems is likely to be enforced by the dominant actors, both insiders and outsiders. We shall come back later to this point, as it impinges significantly on all the studies in this book.

    The second question is about the possibility not only of general theoretical statements about particular human collectivities—namely, to discover the exact rules presiding in any society over the creation of cycles of reciprocal relation and to dispel the initial impression of arbitrariness—but also mainly of one universal human reason and the unity of the human race. Humankind presents itself in fragments that often do not cohere. Reason does not manifest itself in one universal symbol in which all the symbolic formations integrate or match with one another.

    Nevertheless, the scientific utopia of social knowledge is that of transcending the multiplicity of facts, qualities and modalities, and of being capable of the same rigorous construction of the social world of men analogous to that of the physical world by natural sciences. The dream is to carry through a conceptualization of the symbolic so as to reach deeper realities of an intellectual nature, mapping of symbols that reveal systems, fundamental forms and the laws of their transformations in the course of communication processes. The scientists’ firm conviction is that the multiplicity of forms of social communication and processes of symbolic exchange can be reduced to the smallest possible number of communicational patterns and exchange operations.

    In this regard, the firm conviction of Lévi-Strauss (1960: xxxvii) is well known: ‘Exchange is the common denominator of a great number of social activities apparently heterogenous to one another.’ Exchange is the original phenomenon that the multiple discrete operations of social life tend to fracture. Exchange is the primordial logical principle that explains the circulation of symbolic forms. It is the rule that catalyses and organizes the social processes of symbolic communication that constitute social life as a set of systems of relations. ‘The unity of the whole is still more real than that of its parts’ (ibid.: xxxviii), although that totality may not be perceived. ‘Exchange is not a complex construction built up on the basis of obligation to give, receive and give in return, with the help of an affective and mystic cement. It is a synthesis immediately given to, and by, the symbolic thinking’ (ibid.: xlvi).

    All the essays in this book, each in its own particular, analytic way, are attempts to apprehend the deeper symbolic resources that various forms of social communication and exchangex—occupational and economic, political and social, cultural and religious—are built upon. Three areas have been purposely selected for their particular relevance in communication studies: identity, work and health—although, or rather because, this relevance is hardly recognized.

    Six essays intend to recognize the symbolic landmarks that communities—the Minas in Chapter 3, the Vaḍārs and the Måṇg in Chapters 4 and 5, a nation, India, as construed by a school of its nationalist leaders in Chapter 1, and even marginalized individuals in Chapters 3 and 6—construe as essential references of their distinct identities as social entities. No wonder that the symbolic appears equally crucial in almost all the other chapters whenever the theme of identity recurs, as the symbolic is the milieu par excellence in which groups and individuals find the resources needed to invent their identity. Identity is by essence a communicational effect—and possibly the most significant effect of communicational interactions—resulting from shared accords on forms of symbolic exchange.

    Seven essays concern themselves with the symbolic grounds of systems of occupational relations that define the social status and identity of artisans in Chapter 7, peasants in Chapter 8, Vaḍār stone-breakers in Chapter 9, Parī⃛ washermen in Chapter 10, and birth attendants in Chapters 13, 14 and 15. Practices of work and division of labour are—secondarily—markers of socio-economic collectives and class or gender relations, primarily due to the symbolic value that a society invests them with. Occupational partitions and labour relations are shaped by symbolic motives that monitor the social forms and systems of work communication.

    Six essays unearth the various symbolic foundations based on which antithetic forms of health care practices and institutions are planned and shaped. Chapter 2 lays open the symbolic foundations that modern medical power thrives on. The five essays of Part 3 display indigenous and traditional ways of human communication through social bonds of health grounded in the different ways that human life is perceived. The age-long birthing practices in the world at large in Chapter 13, in Rajasthan in Chapter 14, and in Maharashtra in Chapter 15, are extensively reviewed for their symbolic relevance. These essays bring attention to the human body and, in particular, the biological dimension of human life as the most effective signifying sensible material to construct systems of symbolic communication and to enforce social orders.

    The second constitutive feature of the function of symbolization is that the various series of symbols form chains and aggregates that link up to form composite constructions through correspondence. The symbolic of a group or community is a network of sets of signifying forms. As a consequence, a relation of translation prevails between the various symbolic configurations, to the exclusion of any causal determination (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xvi).

    The symbolic is not a layer added to other levels or components such as, for instance, those that regulate the exchange of gifts according to the rules of religious or secular rituals, the circulation of women as per the kinship rules, the trading of commodities in terms of the rules of economic systems, the commerce of words and cultural productions according to social stratifications, etc. The symbolic is what accounts for the social to become an arrangement of multiple layering so as to correspond to one another by multiple semantic affinities (Tarot 1999: 639). In other words, the symbolic is the rule of organization and circulation of material and intangible goods. But it is independent from that which it organizes and buttresses.

    This is the perspective of Mauss’ Essay on Gift (1960: 143ñ 279) which, in the view of Lévi-Strauss (1960: xxxv–xxxvii) opens up a new era for the constitution of the social sciences (Douglas 1994), but the promises of which the community of social scientists has not yet fully appraised.

    For the first time in the history of ethnological thought, an attempt is being made to transcend the empirical observation and reach more profound realities. For the first time, the social ceases to be a matter pertaining to the domain of pure quality: anecdote, curiosity, object of moralising description or erudite comparison, and becomes a system between constituents of which connections, equivalences and solidarities can be discovered. The products of social activity (technic, economic, ritual, aesthetic or religious—tools, manufactured products, foodstuff, magic formulae, ornaments, songs, dances and myths—are made comparable with one another on account of the common character that all possess of being transferable, according to modalities which can be analysed and classified, and which […] are reducible to more fundamental forms, which are general. (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xxxiii)

    Comparison is only the first step. Beyond it, the products of social activity can be substituted to one another, as different values can take the place of one another in the same operation. What matters, above all, through the events of social life, are the operations which, despite their diversity, can always be reduced to a smaller number of processes in which one can find, ultimately, the fundamental terms of an equilibrium specific to each type of society. Then once defined by intrinsic characters which are no more qualitative but rational, types of society may be compared with one another with reference to the number and arrangement of constitutive elements in each type (ibid.: xxxiii–xxxiv).

    The third characteristic of the symbolic constitution of the human world is that the symbolic is not grounded in an analogy of the object and its figure: it originates in an activity of the human mind that takes hold of disparate world elements and organizes them in meaningful systems of signs. This means that the symbol does not mainly refer to the thing or the object for which it is a substitute, but to other symbolic forms—one language, in fact, refers to another language. The symbolic differs in this respect from symbolism: the resemblance between the object and its sign is often problematic, or may even not exist; it is, in any case, not required (Tarot 1999: 621–22). Symbolic systems are bound to communicate with one another as they are all expressive configurations of the same collective constructing its own language.

    All forms of exchange derive from the initial relational nature of symbolic thought, which constitutes the human mind. Symbolic thinking reflects itself subjectively in many forms of exchange that it stimulates and regulates, such as, for instance, the taboo against incest, matrimonial rules, the discrete formation of phonemes, the rules of economic exchange, language formations, etc. The origin of language, its essential means, might even be found in the anteriority of the signifier to the signified, when, all of a sudden, the universe became signifying, although it did not become better known. The universe started being significant much before mankind could know what it could signify. Then, from that moment, the human mind could perceive signs—and not only signals—as linked to other signs through the agency of language, and everything in the universe became potentially signifying, and channels of communication were created. An indefinite number of signifiers could be carved into the experiences open to the senses, and an equivalently indefinite number of human collectives constituted through the sharing of experiences. Everything could, and ought, to say something while aggregating human beings into communities. Although the signified might not be immediately given (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xlvii–xlviii), it remained available for the endless hermeneutical investigations into what human beings exchange, share and communicate.

    Communication, a Category of Symbolic Exchange

    Any culture can be considered as a singular constellation of systems of symbolic exchange of which language, matrimonial rules, economic relations, art, science and religion form the highest echelon. Each of these systems tends to express some disparate aspect of the totality of the physical and social reality. But, still much more significantly, they reflect the relations that both these types of reality entertain with one another, and those that the symbolic systems themselves entertain with each other (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xix).

    The view that ‘society is a system of symbols’ (Pickering 1984: 281) which incorporate ‘a range of social statements’ (Thapar 2000: 28) implies a decisive methodological perspective regarding the categories of social communication. These categories can by no means be mixed up with descriptive and classificatory terms such as ‘means’ and ‘procedures’ of communication. These designations have no analytical value and yield no critical insight: they are just an inventory of a profusion of techniques, material systems and levels of transportation of information over time and space.

    Moreover, communication becomes a social science concept only when we demythologize the rhetoric of the communication revolution, people's participation through the diffusion of knowledge, communication development and universal understanding, transparency and democratization, etc., generated by the technological explosion of the communications media. Communication technologies do not provide a readymade panacea to the shortfalls of mass education. Communication networks are not an easy democratic alternative to the stranglehold of the communication industries and state controls. Communication certainly cannot bring about equality in human rapport as long as we deceive ourselves by mistaking the means for the ends. Communication is no guarantee of transparency when its forms are mainly construed as aesthetic issues. Communication theories are neither substitutes for social dynamics nor alternatives to power contests (Innis 1950, 1951, 1952).

    Simply put, communication processes as modes of symbolic exchange are a kind of human agency operating with forms of expression, structuring sets of social relations. To describe communication is not merely to describe an arrangement of practices that enshrine and determine those ideas, but it is also to describe a constellation of practices that enshrine and determine those ideas in a set of technical and social forms (Carey 1989: 86). This classification of communication overlaps with civilization and categories of culture utilizing symbolic systems. It stresses the function of the symbolic as constituting the social through exchange. This articulation of communication processes through symbolic exchanges holds the concept of the symbolic as the key to the constitution of the social.

    Social life, understood as a system of symbolic relations (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xl), begins with that rapport between human beings that is not amenable to biological mechanisms or instinctive drives, but is articulated by compulsory symbolic rules. Two features signal the advent of the social among animate beings: control, or mandatory regulation; and reason, or symbolic import. Social facts are intrinsically symbolic: their significance cannot be separated from their reality under the pretext of preserving their factual, objective nature. To separate fact from meaning is to delete sociality. Meaning and values are not side effects, because social facts exist to express and perform. The term ‘social’ qualifies the rapport between human individuals to the extent that these relations make sense—that is to say, they are not left to the immediacy of sensuous attractions and genetic codes but amenable to language and reason.

    Chapter 1, ‘Negotiating Modernity with Symbolic Resources’, by Guy Poitevin, acquires through this perspective the value of a methodological exemplar. It shows how a complex strategy of identity- and nation-building worked through the instruments of ethno-religious symbols. Two main symbols are considered—Hindu Science and ‘Mother’ India—with the purpose of understanding how they developed their logic and created means efficient enough to forge a Hindu nationalist identity, and to legitimize their right to an independent nation-state. This strategy was closely associated with a tiny social and political elite largely influenced by Brahminical values, which proved effective in manipulating these symbols among the masses during the struggle for Independence. The purpose was to integrate into a single Indian entity a number of different communities, and to build upon this symbolic integration a socially and politically united nation. The multiplicity of expressive levels and systems of relation, and their integration into one totality by networks of symbolic correspondences, is obvious: the symbolic is the key to the constitution of the social.

    This book also explores two issues that this model of the social leaves open; the first issue is one of entitlement: who has authority to manage, control or appropriate symbolic resources; the second issue if one of interaction: how do contrasting symbolic claims negotiate their unavoidable encounter? Elaborating on both the issues will help locate the symbolic within a broader theoretical framework, and directly introduce the essays in this book.

    Control over the Symbolic: A Crucial Power stake

    The coordination of accords gives reality its social substance and constitutes a human world. But the symbolic, while being a matter of collective acceptance, is not only, or always, a matter of autonomous assent. If the fundamental form of power is the power to define, allocate, and display reality in expressive forms and communicative practices, then in our time—predictably, no less and no more than in other times—

    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…. (Carey 1989: 87)

    The symbolic is ‘the site of social conflict over the real’ (ibid.). This contention is not a dissension over the effects of communication. 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’ (ibid.). A will from within to ascendancy pervades and prompts symbolic communication processes. A will to domination and authority perceives the symbolic as a determinant in the stake for power. Control over, or appropriation of, the symbolic brings competition and confrontation between social actors.

    Several contributions collected in this volume accordingly focus on the parameters of power of the relations of symbolic communication. Communication processes are no less than the constitution of the symbolic, and, for the very same reasons cannot be considered in isolation from the relations and networks of power. We may assume that the contingency of the systems of symbolic communication—the extent and the modes of their control over the social fabric—mirror the systems of power relations. Is it not obvious that there is no communication at the individual or collective levels without communicators intervening as social agents with definite, contrasting, if not opposite, intentions? Symbolic communication is a field of interactive processes constantly oscillating between dominance and defiance. This is why communication is a modality of politics. Individual and collective human agents, in a will to control the whole social fabric, engineer social processes destined to transform and reorder the existing systems of knowledge and relation. Issues of legitimacy, leadership and the validity of interpretation are among those that acquire prominence. What is at a stake is the right and the authority to monitor the structuring of the whole social dispensation, primarily to lay its symbolic foundations.

    Chapter 2, ‘Symbolic Facets of Medical Power’, by Bernard Bel illustrates our methodological perspective. Systems of medical and health care practices can be categorized as social systems of symbolic communication for three reasons: first, they turn physical well-being into a social reality called ‘health’, and make it the sign of one of the most deeply appealing symbolic forms of modern societies; second, the symbolic form of ‘health as language’ operationally mediates a relation between nature and culture—it turns the human body into a signifier of life and death, while the systems of medical practices symbolically manage the will and the reasons to live; third, practical systems of health care work as worldwide social systems which integrate various levels of symbolic communication—knowledge, research, economic exchange, industrial activities, value systems, authority, power systems, etc. This essay should not be read only as an overview of the manifold visible and invisible abuses of medical power, which should be viewed as social markers, and the essay understood as methodological model for a critique of systems of symbolic communication as power-brokering.

    More particularly, as exhortations to patients to become aware and active partners in their relation with the various systems under our consideration, the essay points to the extent of alienation that symbolic consensus could lead to. The specific importance of this detailed study is to expose the modalities and the extent of the tremendous alienation that power could exercise upon the common man by monitoring the networks of symbolic representations that define his mental states. This intractable effect appears due to the ingenious monitoring of a number of correspondences that, consciously and unconsciously, link together several sets and chains of symbolic systems that the language of health interconnects into a wide network. The study illustrates the disalienating power of a deconstructive approach.

    Let us remember as a warning that the accord of ‘a subjective truth and an objective truth’ both of which constitute a social reality, may actually prove an alien determination and not an autonomous resolve of human subjectivities. In the course of his reflection on the symbolic, Lévi-Strauss observes that, for normal thinking, the construction of a symbolic structure can be carried through at the level of social life alone for the following reason:

    For it is the one whom we call mentally sane who, actually, alienates himself as he consents to exist in a world which is defined only by the relation of me and the other. The health of individual mind implies participation to social life, as the refusal to do so (still in forms imposed by that life) corresponds to the emergence of mental disorders. (1960: xx)

    Constant Negotiation across Symbolic Boundaries

    The symbolic is held in check on many fronts. One essential reason is that all symbolic forms are confined by limits. Their relevance is sooner or later bound to be contested. A society always exists in time and space, and is, therefore, subject to the challenging impact of other societies. A society is bound to its past and previous stages of development, and is, therefore, committed to own a particular symbolic heritage: this legacy carries with it elements that might not compare with one another, and might, moreover, prove inadequate to cope with newly emerging impelling forces. The intrusions of history introduce alien elements in prevailing symbolic systems of communication, and pull groups and societies off their moorings towards exploring novel homelands. In such circumstances, the relations between various sets of symbolic systems and the interplay of their correspondences is likely to appear problematic, as systems may not measure up to one another, or may not evolve at the same pace. Equivalences become elusive and translations unmanageable (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xix–xx). Societies forced to transit through historical commotion, or encroached upon by external forces, are prone to perceive the latter as jeopardizing their identity and threatening their undisturbed evolution.

    The result is that no society is ever integrally and completely symbolic. No collective ever succeeds in offering to all its members, and at the same rate, the means to fully dedicate themselves to the construction of an encompassing symbolic structure which, for normal intellection, can be possible only at the level of social life, as we were just reminded by Lévi-Strauss (1960: xx). As a consequence, all societies happen to be shaken from within by contentions between those who were roughly categorized as the ‘Ancients’ and the ‘Moderns’. Even as social communication fragments, this breach of communication is often nowadays emblematically articulated in the opposition of ‘Tradition’ and ‘Modernity’. Both are socially staged as two symbolic worlds pitted against one another, as if this partition were obviously demarcating the two alternative idioms between which social actors were actually making decisions, or within which they ought to choose their exclusionary concepts.

    What, then, happens in a universe where inevitably groups and individuals find themselves, as it were, out of the system or torn asunder between irreconcilable systems? The constitution of symbolic systems and their implementation implies the possibility of violence—the violence of dogmatism by those in control of the symbolic when they are able to prescribe particular symbolic forms as undisputed, and the violence of resistance by those who refuse to assent to the violence of the powerful (Tarot 1999: 635–36). The contributions in this book suggest several communicational scenarios to manage antagonistic situations, avoid violence and restore social communication.

    The recent social and cultural history of Modern India is a case in point: negotiation is one of the first methodologies and keys put forward by various scholars to circumvent the misleading opposition of Tradition and Modernity. The book purposively opens with an elaborate presentation of strategies that resort to symbolic resources precisely to negotiate social conflicts and individuals’ identity ruptures, and hopefully avoid frontal oppositions in the context of the overall civilizational confrontation faced by contemporary India. For Traditionalists, baffled by the dilemmas of Modernity, and for Modernists, stymied by the ramparts of Tradition, Tradition and Modernity are theoretically supposed to stand as two antithetic symbolic universes. Against the conflictual historical context of the emergence of ‘Modern India’ as a background, and with particular reference to the elaboration of a legitimate representation of a nationalist identity, the opening Chapter 1, ‘Negotiating Modernity with Symbolic Resources’, tries out the analytical relevance of the concept of negotiation as an alternative to the sterile opposition of hidebound symbolic systems and formal civilizational constructs.

    The dilemmas are not those of Modernity, but—against a historical background of dominance versus defiance—a dialectic of Domination versus Appropriation, which can be staged in terms of negotiation between symbolic forms. Indian nationalist thinkers are neither Traditionalists nor Modernists. They are simply emblematic of the logic of the communication processes that are construed in this book as political events. They build up their representations of an Indian national identity by instrumentalizing those symbolic resources that are found to have, at this point in time, a reliable exchange value with their ideological convictions and will to authority, ascendancy and supremacy. Social and political confrontations are substantively grounded in symbolic contentions: adversarial actors disseminate antagonistic symbols with a view to build up a social fabric and a national, or collective, entity of their choice.

    The theme of Domination versus Appropriation is the leitmotif that gives a substantive unity to all the studies on communication processes in this book. It will be no surprise to observe that, every now and then, the discursive logic of the dominant consists in camouflaging the nature of the communication processes by representing them in the ideological garb of a paradigm of Tradition obstructing Modernity. This is a concealment strategy that avails of a variety of related idioms such as backwardness hindering creativity, ignorance preventing innovation, custom forbidding variation, illiteracy holding back transformation, etc.

    All the contributions in this book disprove concepts of Tradition that leave out the processes of interbreeding of Tradition and Modernity, whose connotations, whether negative or positive, only serve various hegemonic purposes. They condemn to sterility communication studies—indeed, social communication itself—by assuming essentialist conceptions of identity that, in fact, conceal attempts to control and rule. This dissimulation nowadays turns problematic, and possibly dangerous, even in the use of the word ‘identity’. As the word occurs time and again in the chapters of this book, lets us warn the reader to read into it with caution. All we should do is roughly recall the main misleading avatars of the concept of Tradition and simply delete them from our minds, once and for all.

    The commonest blunder has been the isolation of tradition per se, and its glorification as a potent patrimony. Although bound to die under the spell of modernity—or possibly because of an impending onslaught—‘heritage’ is displayed and made to shine as a venerable memorial to be revisited with emotion, sometimes sought to be repeated without further consideration, or even forcefully revived. The respect for obsolete traditions (rituals, dramatic forms, aesthetic objects, myths, and beliefs and practices particular to a community considered ‘archaic’, ‘ethnic’ or ‘exotic’) may blend with another attitude: that of a condescending regret for their inanity. As a consequence, traditions may be easily equated with ‘folk’ and ‘ethnic’ objects fit only for entertainment, or turned into trade commodities by market forces to meet or create a variety of needs.

    For similar reasons, one may simply forget, purposively discard or look down upon tradition as a continent of irrationality replete with the lack of a scientific outlook, of superstitious beliefs and magic rituals, doomed to disappear sooner or later. On the contrary, some would visualize the traditions of yesteryears as a pool of unadulterated potentialities to be resuscitated in order to outplay modern decay. Traditions might become stakes for countercultural (anti-modern) reconstruction. Post-modernism, by definition, might provide further advocacy to them in terms of chances for mankind's survival.

    Many are satisfied with simply archiving and preserving a sociocultural patrimony for the sake of curiosity and the knowledge of succeeding generations.

    Privileged Sources of Symbolic Constitution

    Negotiation denotes innovation through interbreeding, modification through the blending of given symbolic forms, the rearrangement of internal elements and semantic reinterpretation. If we raise the question of the main sources of such processes of symbolization, the symbolic forms documented in this book seemingly point to three closely related human capabilities: speech, memory and imagination.

    The fact is that the processes of social communication studied here are essentially vocalized events that transmit oral traditions: narratives, myths, linguistic contraptions, religious poetry, melodic prosody, trade discourses, mass media propaganda, occupational skills and associated cultural representations or religious rituals transmitted by word of mouth. The vigour of symbolic forms is that of the rhetoric of speech. We would not consider it a small achievement if these studies could compel attention back to orality as the most significant and determinant asset in any process of human communication. The act of speech and oral transmission are articulation events only in the present. Communication as a process cannot belong to the past or to the future. It belongs to, and in, the present.

    The paradox is that while all the oral traditions studied in this book as communication events are speech acts in the present, they draw upon traditions received from the past. But if the rigorous phenomenological reduction of traditions apprehends them as components of the past, this apprehension is itself a modality of the present. In its essence, the past is a potential horizon of reactivations permanently available in the present alone (Housset 2000: 107).

    This eidos of tradition confirms and justifies the scientific judgement of the historian for whom ‘traditions are not self-created’ but ‘consciously chosen’ ‘to suit our present needs’ (Thapar 2000: 23). They are ‘socially controlled both in their making as well as in the selection from them of what is required for contemporary purposes’ (ibid.: 25).

    Tradition may well turn out to be our contemporary requirements fashioned by the way we wish to interpret the past. Interpretations of the past have also come to be treated as knowledge and are handed down as tradition. (ibid.: 8)

    This should prevent anybody from ‘juggling’ with history in the name of Tradition. One appeals authoritatively to tradition actually out of a will to forcefully imprint ‘on the perception of the present’ reactivations of the past selected with a purpose and reconstructed with a definite design (ibid.: 23). Practices of patronage (ibid.: 25–40) are particularly instrumental to the negotiating of traditions whenever a definite interpretation is sought to be imposed, here and now.

    Chapter 3 on ‘The Minas Seeking a Place in History’ substantiates the view of historians for whom historical traditions (Thapar 1984: 294–325) are carved into ‘building blocks in the construction of contemporary identities’. They ‘cannot be viewed merely as some kind of mystic communication from one generation to another, where the people involved are mute recipients’ (Thapar 2000: 40).

    Now, tradition is a matter of the mind; its embedment in history may be useful but not necessary in a society which refuses to dissociate history from myth. India is a society which has made full use of its plural culture by interpreting and reinterpreting its myriad pasts. And this tradition of using traditions continues. (Nandy 1980: v)

    These observations do not only stress the important role of memory in communication processes—they mainly point to the nature of this constitutive role. Anthropologists have long pointed to the fact that, among populations without scripts, the particularly significant role of collective memory consists in giving a seemingly historical foundation to the existence of the ethnic community. Memory tends to equate myth and history while narrating the story of origins, the ‘mythic charter’—as termed by Malinovsky—of tradition (Le Goff 1988: 112–13). Chapters 4 and 5 on the dramatic/semantic reappropriations of myths would certainly not disown the particularly significant role ascribed to memory in the construction of ethnic consciousness, but would question the implied statement that this role is due to the lack of script. Rather, the role of memory is to be understood in relation to the determinant function of speech and orality in the symbolic processes of social communication, whether the community does or does not avail of written devices. Memory secures to communities a communication with itself along spans of time and, thus, provides them with a corpus of their own to share. There would be no communication without social transmission or tradition through language, that is, without a memory of symbolic forms.

    Moreover, anthropologists point to the third dynamic—the imaginative dimension of the processes of communication through the exchange of symbolic forms—when they stress the fact that, contrary to what is generally believed about societies without script, memory is not a word-for-word transmission. It operates with variations, and mnemonic procedures happen to be rare. A word-for-word repetition is rarely perceived as even necessary. This mnemonic technique would apparently be a practice related to writing, while societies without script grant more freedom to memory. In these societies, the operational modality of the collective memory seems to be a sort of generative reconstruction and not a mechanical memorizing. In Goody's (1977: 34) opinion, ‘The support of the rememorisation is not to be found at the superficial level where the word for word operates, neither at the level of those deep structures that many mythologists unearth.’ It seems, on the contrary, that the important role is played by the performative dimension of any narrative tradition, and other factual structures of oral performances (Le Goff 1988: 114).

    The creativity of oral performances affects all processes of human communication and defines its dynamic features. In this respect, the epistemic function which historians themselves recognize nowadays with regard to oral traditions significantly differs from the imaginative dimension that anthropologists observe in them. ‘Memory is the raw material of history. Mental, oral or written, it is the fish-tank for historians to draw from’ (ibid.: 10–11). Then, once they recognize popular oral narratives, collective memory, mentalities (Ariès 1988: 167–90) as valid sources for constructing people's history, historians are confronted with new epistemological queries regarding the way they should process and relate to them (White 1987; Canary 1978). But human collectives are not ‘historians’. They are not concerned with constructing their past history. They are busy shaping in the present their identity with that wealth of symbolic forms that they have been carrying for generations (Ricœur 1983; Singer 1997). This shaping is not a repetitive exercise but an imaginative rebuilding.

    This is the moment when the boundaries between history and myth become uncertain. Both coalesce at the call of the creative imagination of speakers communicating with their audiences. The distinction between fact and fiction is irrelevant in communication studies, which are concerned with the sole act of speech, its rhetoric, its logics and its impact. This holds good, particularly, with the mythical narratives of origin and identity transmitted by word of mouth in cohesive societies allegedly deprived of historical memory. Myths are one of the means of passing on information in societies where the oral tradition is the most functional methods of communication. But once we have reclaimed orality as the most characteristic structural feature of communication processes in human societies, our attention is drawn towards the dimension of the mythical or imaginative creativity of these processes.

    In this regard, two attributes characteristic of the transmission of mythical or imaginary stories in cohesive societies may hold good as attributes of communication processes in general. First, they are subject to constant adjustment; myths from earlier periods are recast in conformity with the social assumptions of later periods. Second, the question is not of validating them through ascertaining their historical authenticity; it is, conversely, of probing the reasons of their acceptance as grounds for social validation of beliefs, rituals, values, norms and particular historical actions.

    In a historical tradition the themes of myths act as factors of continuity…. Myths made the past intelligible and meaningful, but it was intelligibility and meaningfulness which related to the present, for the continuity of myth is largely with reference to the present…. As validating charters myths have a close connection with social organization, not only representing as they do, the assumptions about the past but also under-pinning the social relations of the present. (Thapar 1984: 296–97)

    Method and Themes

    As a result of the variety of symbolic forms, modes of negotiation and discursive logics, communication studies cut across the boundaries of all disciplines. Any particular disciplinary framework falls short of the theoretical resources required to cope with a chaotic wealth of observations. Our attempt of rational ordering tries to transcend the superficiality of descriptive, classificatory clichés. Prompted by a firm faith in a unique human reason, we attempt to identify, within a baffling empirical multiplicity, comparable processes, deeper general forms of exchange that bring human beings together. This is how we see our attempt as scientific.

    Communication is a human agency striving to bring closer beings scattered throughout the world. But the essays in this book would have us perceive communication as a primeval human drive rather one powerless to reach its ends. The very attempts of rapprochement often clash with one another. This is the first internal paradox that a science of communication is bound to raise but would be unable to answer. Our studies give just a hint of this and take small steps towards identifying a few uneven and contrasted modalities of rapprochement. But their reconciliation cannot be visualized. This is what makes communication studies as exciting as a fascinating if broken puzzle.

    Our conviction is that the concept of the symbolic suggested by Marcel Mauss in social anthropology provides a theoretical horizon appropriate to the construction of a concept of communication in social sciences. The Maussian category of the symbolic, with its more impressive Lévi-Straussian outgrowth, is all the more adequate in that it pre-empts the very possibility of any definition and study of communication within the limits of any particular discipline of knowledge. It announces a radically new reordering of our social science concepts that may take time to emerge. The eclectic expertise and multifaceted competence of Marcel Mauss lead him, by a kind of intellectual instinct, to outline a comprehensive framework of intelligence of the social that was bound to prove adequate to the eclectic nature of communication processes themselves.

    The disciplinary multiplicity holds good as well with regard to levels of writing and methods of exposition: abstract theoretical discourses go together with case study narratives, personal testimonies and the recording of experiences. We feel that the practice of social science research should not be afraid of facing the chaos of a multitude of concrete human experiences as soon as these experiences are ready and able to represent themselves reflexively. The two write-ups of Chapters 4 and 5 on ‘Vaḍār Narratives: Dramatic Reappropriation of a Myth’ and ‘Māṇg Narratives: Semantic Reappropriation of a Myth’ are examples of this subjective reflexivity. And these experiences should not be straitjacketed in order to mould themselves into a format and a rhetoric acceptable to the professional scientist.

    In this respect, the reader may sometimes feel that such ‘simple’ feelings as those of an illiterate leprous woman in Chapter 6, ‘Bhakti: A Faith for Rehabilitation’, or ‘local views’ such as those expressed by a small farmer in Chapter 8, ‘The Mother Earth of the Mawal Peasant’, sound ‘native’, as if they had been projected by 19th century Orientalists or, currently, politically-correct Films Division texts broadcasted on Doordarshan-1. Similarly, the authors of the contributions in Chapter 9, ‘Vaḍār Communities: Traditional Skills in Changing Times’, and

    Chapter 10, ‘Parī⃛ Communities: Occupation and Survival’, may be perceived as naively activist social workers more than social scientists.

    However, discarding spontaneous expression on the ground that they depart from broad theoretical phraseology might amount to denying indigenous voices the right to positive self-assertion in their own ways, the capability of valid analytical reflection of their own and a cognitive entitlement of theirs to articulate a critique differently. When we listen to the discourse of the deprived and the oppressed, in particular, the forms and modes of representation of their assertion, reflection and critique cannot but be deeply affected by environmental constraints, to the point of even becoming hardly recognizable. Chapter 6, ‘Bhakti: A Faith for Rehabilitation’, is a significant case, in this respect. An effort of refined discernment is needed on the part of the professional scientist. Short-sightedness with regard to the specificity of the ‘popular’ may simply miss genuine people's dynamics, particularly those that operate as cultural potentialities enabling people to face adverse conditions. People's culture is the perception of self that a common man articulates through personal means when he tries to enunciate his own representations, beliefs or fears. It is simply his view of life. It becomes ‘popular’ only for the elite. Any view of life should be allowed to speak for itself, even if self-reflective discourses of the common man might defy, or might not match, academically-sanctioned categories and concepts.

    As a matter of fact, the question is not one of undue disregard of the social scientist for the layman. It is a matter of epistemology regarding the very nature of the object of the social sciences, the ‘total social fact’ of Mauss. The latter means, first, that a number of elements of different natures—the various modes of the social: legal, economic, aesthetic, religious, etc.; the various moments in the history of an individual from birth to death; the various forms of expression from physiological reflexes or secretions to conscious representations and unconscious categories—can acquire a global signification and become a totality only as social fact (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xxvi), thanks to the symbolic function of the human mind. It means also, and above all,

    that in a science where the observer is of the same nature than his object, the observer is himself part of his observation…. The particular situation of social sciences is of another nature [than that of physical sciences], which has to do with the intrinsic character of its object of being equally object and subject, or, to speak the language of Durkheim and Mauss, ‘thing’ and ‘representation’. (Lévi-Strauss 1960: xxvii)

    Moreover, strategically concerned with breaking open the impasses that stifle communication studies, our attempt is to jointly incorporate in our communication debate the voices of professionals and the experiences of social agents actively engaged in the field. Concretely, we wish to bridge the distance that separates the two worlds—the literate and the illiterate, the reason and the image, the concept and the practice, the fact and the emotion, the event and the theory, the conduct and the insight. Both the poles should interact. Life testimonies from the deprived, religious feelings of a lonely woman, the innate attitudes of a peasant, the quest of dignity of untouchables, etc., offer a germane opportunity for an interface of observation and categorization. They let the alien gaze meet the inbred voice, whereby ‘monologically authoritative interpretations’ are identified and rejected (Mills 1991: 17).

    For instance, in the type of knowledge represented in Chapter 7, ‘The Communicating Goddess of the Artisans’, we have the elaborate theoretical explanation produced by a professional researcher with abstract cognitive forms, crafted in an alien, scientific language that addresses itself to a chosen audience of academics, members—colleagues, in fact—of a society of scholars. In other contributions, we have a direct articulation of reflexive practices by members of local communities. They express an indigenous understanding of themselves. Both modes of representation hopefully complement one another.

    The voices of artisans, manual workers, traditional midwives, peasants, marginalized communities, ostracized untouchables, the urban proletariat and destitute women, are not inserted here to raise the non-mediated consciousness of the native and challenge the theoretical constructs of the anthropologist. First, consciousness is by all means an insight mediated by signs which, as tools of cognition, are symbolic, interpretive constructs. Consciousness without them would simply not exist, nor would culture at large. Claiming to hoist ‘immediate popular representation’ against ‘artificial conceptual constructs’ is simply an oxymoron, since any sort of representation, concrete or abstract, implies a cognitive mediation, an arbitrary sign—namely, a creative symbolic conception.

    Communication in such circumstances means a sharing and confrontation of differently constructed forms of social knowledge. The difference opens up a space of transaction between forms and calls for the translation of discourses for two reasons: first, symbolic forms differ; second, they lend themselves to constant reinterpretations.

    This Overture and the following chapters (1 and 2) outline and experiment with the theoretical pertinence of the comprehensive cognitive framework opened up by the category of the symbolic and its analytical conceptual tools—symbolic forms, symbolic function, symbolic communication, symbolic systems of social communication, etc.—to grasp the overall substance of social reality. They specifically ascertain the validity in social science of a category of communication as symbolic exchange, with reference to two case studies: nationalist discourses in India, and medical power in the world at large.

    The purpose of the other chapters is analytical: they focus on various symbolic processes to highlight modalities, identify structuring logics, discover or invent operational concepts and discern cognitive patterns through which the symbolic function designs its communicational forms and systems of exchange, and, thus, ultimately builds up the social. Essentially, scenarios of transaction and multiple transitivity among alien symbolic forms reveal various kinds of dynamics such as interbreeding, instrumentalization, interpretation, inheritance, etc., with a variety of results and objectives that range from resistance to surrender, assertion to submissiveness, contention to cooptation.

    The symbolic is the milieu par excellence in which collectives find the resources needed to confront challenges that threaten their very survival. Broadly speaking, three horizons of symbolic constitution are explored: self-identity, work relations, and health care practices, and three types of signifiers are selected accordingly.

    In Part 1—‘Fonts of Self-Identity’, attention is focused on the discursive and narrative processes of emergence and the construction of personal and collective identities, either in reference to, or in defiance of, prevailing models imposed in the name of dominant traditions, through myths, linguistic innovations, religious idioms, stories and traditions of marginalized communities.

    In Part 2—‘Grounds of Work Relations’, attention is focused on occupations and vocations, work experience and practices, and associated representations and rituals of peasant and artisan communities—all manual workers of low social status in western India—at a time when the constraints of modern civilizational contexts disrupt integrated lifestyles.

    In Part 3—‘Bonds of Health Practices’, attention is focused on the health care practices and knowledge of traditional communities, mainly the expertise of traditional women birth-attendants in the Indian countryside. This autonomous knowledge of a majority of the women in India becomes the target of medical power and its hegemonic ethos, generally not through direct rejection or modes of exclusionary communication, but typically on the strength of inclusive and cooptative ways of communication. The latter are logically identified as contrary to the modes of the critical reappropriation of one's own heritage advocated by attempts to empowerment through interactive forms of communication.

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  • In Lieu of an Epilogue


    This book is like the central panel of our social science triptych on communication.

    On our left hand-side we started our investigation with, as it were, a first ‘technical’ panel focusing on means and technology. This ‘instrumental’ view of communication appeared short-sighted, scientifically sterile and above all, purposefully misleading. ‘Communication explosion’ diverts the attention from the networks of power which put to use powerful means of transmission to circulate directives and serve vested interests. We have therefore been warned to remain decidedly suspicious about enthusiastic but naive discourses on communication delivering development and democracy, and other similar candid shibboleths.

    Communication appeared as a matter to be apprehended within the context of politics, that is to say, of networks of prestige, authority, influence and power relations. This imperatively brought home the fact that, in its essence, communication has to do with the modes of articulation of social relations between individuals in society. Still, the visualization of society as a global combine of systems of relations, and communication as their articulation, will sound redundant as a tautology as long as we do not construct the concept of this integrative articulation.

    The ‘symbolic’ central panel displays evidences arranged in the light of the category of the symbolic suggested by Marcel Mauss and heartily recommended by Lévi-Strauss. The panel let realize that this category proves the most appropriate conceptual framework to apprehend how communication holds the key to the articulation of the social as a totality. The ground of that totality is not the world but the function of symbolization specific to the human mind. This potency operates as an agency of correlation and conjunction of entities, elements and components of all possible sorts which remain distinct and stand apart for themselves in the very moment they are pieced together into a complex singularity, namely, a society of discrete human beings.

    This singular totality does not only associate human beings together in the world through ascription of status, recognition of identity, symbolic systems of social communication such as languages, myths, ritual practices, regulation of rapports. It correlates them together through and with their physical world itself, mainly their body and their work, wrapping men and nature into one single symbolic dispensation. Communication as symbolic relation starts when any object in the world is turned into a sign and made a symbolic form. The social articulation of communication is of a symbolic nature in the sense that it originates in the symbolic capacity of man's mind.

    The ‘symbolic’ central panel of our triptych invites us accordingly to shift our attention from kits of means of transmission of information towards the world as an inexhaustible mine of symbolic signs. Our scientific concern similarly shifts from technology of communication to the human mind as the sole agency capable of turning any element in the world into symbolic form of relational synthesis, theoretical and practical. This capacity operates through and manifests itself in, social systems of symbolic communication which are the heart of the social and consequently the very object of a science of the social in general and communication in particular. The processes, modalities, strategies and cognitive logics which preside in the construction of systems of symbolic forms, toward their interplay, structural homologies and confrontation are the common threads of the contributions of this central panel.

    However, the symbolic synthetic function, principle of correspondences, coherences, equivalences and relations, and translations of the one to the other and vice versa, appears as a kingdom divided from within. It displays itself in our central panel as fragmented into a multiplicity of symbolic social forms which do not always tally with one another as should the two broken parts of a symbolon. The function of symbolization is unable to congregate the distinct totalities it assembles. The indefinite multiplicity of the ‘signifying’—the signifiant flottant of Lévi-Strauss—allows a possibly infinite variety of ‘signified’ whose translation into one another is not always easy or even feasible. Social forms and systems of symbolic communication do not always or totally communicate with one another, and this holds good between collectives as well as within them.

    As no third mediating agency can be expected to reconcile from outside discrepant or conflicting symbolic forms of social communication, attempts of interaction, whether made out of free will or under compulsion, display modes of transaction which oscillate between the two extreme modalities of dominance and resistance. They are also not deprived of ambivalence and ambiguity. Clear antagonism may give way to negotiation, exclusion may be substituted by cooptation, autonomous appropriation may be inverted into inclusive domination, free assertion may prefer unbound flights of imagination to critical appropriation and realistic confrontation. Unpredictability and multiple transitivity characterize the ways symbolic totalities meet, compete and contend.

    Ultimately, the main conclusion to be drawn from this ‘symbolic’ central panel is that the rationality of the symbolic function is more often than not, willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly, surrendering to power processes which instrumentalize its potentials. Symbolic forms are stakes of conflicts of influence, authority and power. They are precious assets of social control. This was already the main conclusion of our first ‘technical’ panel. Power transcends the symbolic as much as the technique.

    Our third ‘cultural’ panel, on our right hand-side, will particularly draw the attention towards the multiplicity of the symbolic forms of social communication for the reason that ‘the cultural’ is the space of their fragmentation, meet and competition. It will display the ways of emergence of symbolic configurations with their specific motivations within given contexts. It will point to the diversity of forms of symbolic expression. Ultimately, again, it will focus on the modes of management of cultural confrontation over time and space within the context of given power contests. Recasting the social as the symbolic prompts to remoulding the cultural as the contentious.

    About the Editors and Contributors

    The Editors

    Bernard Bel is a computer scientist currently working at Laboratoire Parole et Langage, a speech research laboratory of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Aix-en-Provence, France. Between 1994 and 1998, he was deputed to Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), New Delhi, to carry on projects in musicology and social-cultural anthropology. During his stay in India he also took part in an enquiry on birthing in rural India conducted by his wife Andréine. He is currently involved in social activism for an improvement of maternity services in French-speaking countries.

    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 Professor and Director of the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He was previously Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia. He has over two decades of teaching and research experiences in Communication Studies, Development Communication and Sociology. He has been a visiting fellow at the University of Windsor, Canada, the East-West Centre, Hawaii, and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. His research has been supported by the Indo-French Scholarship, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, Charles Wallace India Trust, Ford Foundation, UNESCO, UNDP, University Grants Commission and ICSSR. He is currently finalizing two book length manuscripts ‘Media, Memory and Modernity’, based on fieldwork in Orissa, and ‘Social History of Radio in Colonial India’ on early broadcasting in the subcontinent.

    Vibodh Parthasarathi is an independent communication theorist and public policy consultant, occasionally foraying into media production. Trained in Development Studies and Mass Communication, his research interests lie in the political economy of the media. He has taught courses in communication theory at the Manipal Institute of Communication, Karnataka, and the Mass Communication Research Centre, New Delhi, and was the coordinator of a trilingual publishing project on ‘Communication and Citizenship’ involving writers and publishers from Brazil, France and India. ‘Crosscurrents—a Fijian travelogue’, his last documentary, explored the many faces of ‘reconciliation’ after the decade of coups in the tiny Pacific nation. His current research focuses on the music industry in India, both during its formative years (1900–1914) and in present times (1995–2005), the latter pursued as a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

    Guy Poitevin (1934–2004) was born in Mayenne (France). After studying to become a priest and graduating in philosophy and theology, he taught for twelve years in a seminary in Western France. He settled in Pune in 1972 and later became a naturalized Indian citizen. Along with his wife Hema Rairkar, friends and associates, he set up the Village Community Development Association (VCDA, in 1978 to support socio-cultural action in remote rural areas, and the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (CCRSS, in 1980 for the purpose of carrying out theoretically related activities. Besides numerous articles, he has written several books in English and French, including translated works from Marathi.

    The Contributors

    Andréine Bel began investigating ‘instinctive movement’ on the basis of the Seitai school in Japan after training in classical ballet. Later she felt the need to develop technical aspects in a thorough study of North Indian Kathak, for which she was taught by Pandit Birju Maharaj. In 1986 she returned to Europe and became involved in contemporary dance forms with a particular interest in choreography. From 1995 onward she has shifted her focus back to the fundamentals of human movement. She organizes self-learning workshops and takes an active part in discussion lists dealing with a critical appraisal of health care methods, both official and ‘alternative’.

    Prabhakar Ghare is a farmer from Jaul, taluka Mulshi, Pune district. He is the youngest of three sisters and two brothers. His father died in 1954 when he was 15 months old. His uncle then took over one and a half acres of their land, which forced his mother to become an agricultural labourer. Two of his sisters and a brother are no more. His third sister is married while his brother works as a coolie in the grain godown in Pune. Ghare joined VCDA in 1981. Working as an animator he began to understand the laws about land. He fought his uncle and got back their ancestral land, which is now two and a half acres. His family has further acquired two more acres, and is now self-sufficient. Thanks to a new percolation tank, they can irrigate their land, cultivate paddy, and grow double crops of wheat and tomato.

    Sanjay Jogdanda attended school up to class 10th (1988) when he failed in the exam. His father scraped the bottom of the river for pieces of gold and looked after the ashes of cremated human bodies. His mother would cut and sell grass. Sanjay worked as a daily labourer, loading trucks with manure, and so on, while being simultaneously involved in social activities. He was selected by the Village Community Development Association, where he narrated the experiences of his community in its training workshops. This led him to join the team of the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences, Pune, with youths of similar background. They share the aim of bringing to light the life, thoughts, struggles and visions of their marginalized and ostracized communities, in the very words and perspectives of their members. This has helped Sanjay to resume studies as a S.Y.B.A. student.

    Baban Khandbhor was born in a peasant family and remains an agriculturist of Mawal (Pune district). While helping his father in the fields, he studied up to class 11th, changing schools five times, and studying from second-hand books borrowed from friends, with only one set of clothes and no footwear. By attending the training meetings of Garib Dongari Sanghatna (Organization of the Poor of the Mountain), a regional action-group of similar village youth, his life has gained meaning. Along with a vast and critical knowledge on many burning issues, he has now the means to fight with courage and success, thanks to the collective self-confidence and efficiency of the GDS.

    Chandrakant Kokate earned his B. Sc. and B. Ed. (1995) from Boravake College (Shrirampur, Aurangabad district) while he worked, under the scheme ‘Earn and Learn’. Selected in 1988 by the college to take interviews of young students, he developed an interest in social movements and came in contact with various activists in Shrirampur. He then became active in a youth movement for social transformation (Chhatrabharati). Since March 1992 he is employed as a clerk in the same Boravake College. Though a science student, he feels he has found the right direction in pursuing social studies by coming in contact with the CCRSS, Pune, as member of a team of young activists committed to keeping records of the collective testimony of depressed communities.

    Suresh Kokate was born in a poor Parit (washerman) family. His father died when he was in class 6. He completed his education and graduated with B.A. and B. Ed. as his mother began to sell vegetables. Since childhood he has been deeply influenced by the movement Rashtra Seva Dal and worked briefly as a journalist during his college days. He was a teacher from 1984 to 1988, after which he was appointed as a full-time social worker with Asha Kendra, Puntamba. In 1991, while attending a self-learning in social action organized by VCDA, he found the motivation for an in-depth study of his Parit community, as a commitment to the past memory and future of his community. This study is now ready for publication.

    Tulsi Patel heads the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, her alma mater where she obtained her Ph.D. In 1978 she began teaching Sociology in Miranda House, Delhi University. Since 1982 she has taught at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. Her research interests have been gender and development and population. An interest in fertility behaviour has opened new vistas of studies to her, such as the study of social organization of child delivery. Her contact with the field has been very long and her work provides with additional insights every time her academic interests are linked with those in the field.

    Hema Rairkar graduated in Economics and worked in the Gokhale Institute of Economic and Political Sciences, Pune. In 1991 she became involved in the research projects of Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (CCRSS), in connection with action-groups of peasant women in villages of Pune district. Since 1983 she has conducted vast systematic research in Marathi-speaking western India on the tradition of women's grindmill songs. She organizes seminars and debates in colleges and villages on folk culture and knowledge, in cooperation with peasant animators in a spirit of reflexive reappropriation of one's heritage. Currently she is working on the expertise, social recognition and status of traditional midwives.

    S.A. Samy was born in an agricultural family. He joined AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation) during his college years. He became the full-time editor of a vernacular students’ magazine, publishing analytical articles on issues related to students. In the meantime, farming activities almost collapsed due to droughts and overuse of chemicals. Television sets and cricket games replaced childhood street games, village theatre and folk performances. Challenged by these disturbing trends, S.A. Samy joined the Centre for Culture and Development at Chennai.

    Datta Shinde was born in 1968 in a Chambhar community, in a village of Maharashtra with no school, dispensary, water supply, road, nor any means of transport. In class 7, he got a scholarship that enabled him to continue up to his M. A. and B. Ed. while working. He has been employed as a teacher since 1993. ‘The fifteen years spent in school to get a bookish knowledge have only made me going round the track as a horse in the circus with the eyes covered by blinkers on both the sides. Since my participation in several research activities of the CCRSS I have discovered what really means to study with a free mind. I realize that this has made me different from the other teachers.’

    Nandini Sinha Kapur is a Reader in History at PGDAV College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. The author of the book State Formation in Rajasthan: Mewar during the 7th-15th Centuries (2002), she was awarded Homi Bhabha post-doctoral fellowship for research on tribals and pastoralists in the historic setting of Rajasthan. She has presented lectures at the Universities of Harvard, Chicago and Columbia, USA, and at the London University. She was also invited to the Annual South-Asia Conference at Madison, Wisconsin University, USA, in October 2003.

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