November 16, 2005

Technology in India

Category: Anthropology,Research,Tech — @ 10:46 am

My friend Sareeta is teaching a class on Technology in India, which looks fanstastic. If you are an undergraduate student at U of C, I would not miss it!

Here is the class overview:

Course Overview: Indian Technologies

How has technology shaped the Indian nation-state? How does our understanding of the meaning of technology change when discussed from the perspective of India? These two questions will serve as guides for the duration of this course on the relationship between technology and Indian political society. Seminal readings on technology inaugurate the course. Starting with Heidegger’s distinction between techné and technology, we will discuss the philosophical notion that those objects that mediate the relationship between humankind and nature contain both a promise and a threat—the promise of the full development of human capacities and the threat of the destruction of humanity. We will then consider Foucault’s analysis of techniques of political power through his concept of governmentality. This concept will reappear later in the course when we examine the cases of slum clearance, census, and population control during week 7’s discussion of Emma Tarlo’s Unsettling Modernities, an historical ethnography of the Emergency. Marx’s writings on alienation and industry labor round out the first set of readings, providing us with a theoretical tool kit with which to approach the particular histories of technology in India.
Gandhi and Nehru had in the main opposing views on the benefit of technology to India. The readings for the second and third weeks of class put their views in the context of Indian nationalism and the British Raj. From here we move on to investigate the causes and consequences of industrial and agricultural development by considering Akhil Gupta’s book about the Green Revolution and indigenous agriculture, Postcolonial Developments, and Veena Das’s seminal essay on the relationship of the industrial disaster in Bhopal to ideologies of the nation-state, “Suffering, Legitimacy and Healing”. The authors take up our twin themes of promise and threat and apply them to the future and fate of a free and democratic India.
Mid-quarter, we consider the development of India’s nuclear bomb. These readings reflect the place of science in the national imaginary of India, and situate developments in India in an international context. In the next set of readings, we explore how traditions of governance developed under the Raj vis-à-vis colonial subjects continue to influence the Indian state’s relationship to its subaltern citizens. The readings for this week both help expand the notion of technology to include techniques of enumeration and classification, and interrogate the nature of post-colonialism. Arvind Rajagopal’s ethnography, Politics after Television, illustrates the role of new technologies in political mobilization. It makes the argument that television as a tool of politics also corresponds to a new kind of voting Indian public. We will use these readings to open up a debate on the nature of democracy and its relationship to new technologies. The penultimate set of readings addresses a much-lauded but little understood technological phenomenon, the Indian software boom. The question of the legacy of Nehruvian technological projects will be revisited and the relationship of computer technologies to inequality will be explored.
In the final week, we will review materials covered in the course and test their limits. Marx’s writings on the British in India will be posed as a problem to any critique of technology that seeks to apply his theories unaltered to India, while Vidhu Verma’s article on gender and development will be used to re-think our readings on economic and technological progress.

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