Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Media scholarship in India

As a researcher looking at the Indian media, you may encounter certain impediments. The first is the ostensible lack of media scholarship. A lot of the extant scholarship comes from the pre-1990s era, and a sizeable portion of that lacks rigour. There are several reasons for this. Media studies have not gained an academic foothold yet. Journalism and mass communication courses do cater to the professional requirements of the industry, as they should, but do not focus too much on the need for consolidating scholarship on the media. A part of this has to do with the nature and constitution of academia in India - the resistance to innovation and scholarly forays into new fields; administrative suspicion of traditional academic values such as creativity, learning and old-fashioned erudition; the corporatization of education and reformulation of what constitutes a "good education"; and the somewhat more basic and worrisome lack of a strong research culture. Apart from this, one is compelled to acknowledge over time, in opposition to Amartya Sen's understanding of the "argumentative Indian", that Indian culture and society neither promote nor seem conducive to rigorous intellectual enquiry, either formal (as institutional academia) or informal (as the less quantifiable but more important constituent of civic life conceptualized as the "public sphere"). There are many ways to argue this point but a simple way is to point out that most students, including students of the Humanities, are indifferent to reading the newspaper or watching the news, believing, as some do, that what happens in politics and society does not affect their daily lives. What does it all mean for the student of media? Plain old grumbling about the lack of this and the poor quality of that? No. It means that you are looking at a very specific kind of social framework - the framework of the anti-intellectual society, wherein bureaucratic demands and market forces subsume knowledge and learning; as also a framework that privileges politicking, sub-standard quality over learning and talent. If, as a researcher, you find yourself embedded in this framework, you need to understand what this means for you and you need to come to terms with your limitations. There is no one answer and there is no position of "privilege" if you seek meaningful ways of understanding your society. On the issue of writing and reportage, even the way language is constructed and constituted in the public domain impacts its overall meaning - the sometimes unclear and difficult-to-read reportage of newspapers reflects on the nature of society too.

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