Communication, Culture and Confrontation 30/07/2010

The following book review appeared in VIDURA



The kaleidoscope




Edited by

Bernard bel

Jan brouwer

Biswajit das

Vibodh parthasarathi

Guy poitevin

SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd.

New Delhi


The  book under review  on Communication Processes   specifically  focuses  on symbolic forms that tend to shape  the dialectics, that is to say, the dialogue, interaction, links, rapports, osmosis, encounters between human beings under the spell of the systems of domination and /or appropriation that control them. The  editors  in their introduction to this volume aver that  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, Warring(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.

The book which is divided into four parts has  an introduction to each  of them and  the   contributors who range from academic scholars to grass roots  social animators  have given a fresh approach to   the  subject  and have included a number of case studies.

 Part 1, titled “Conflicting Stakes” has three contributors, Guy Poitevin, Vinodh Parthasarathi and Karine Bates. Guy Poitevin, a Ph.D from Paris university  who  had settled in Pune and was the Director of the CCRSS, Pune till his demise in 2004, in his chapter “ From the Popular to the People discusses how culture struggle starts with the very definition of the concepts of “culture” and “popular culture.”  For instance the identification of “highbrow” or “classical” and “normative” as “written”,  opposed to “popular” or “folk” and “unruly” as “oral” is a simplistic categorization leading to wrong stereotyped classifications, feels he.  His down to earth approach  conforms to empirical observations which maintain  that  oral and written communication are  not  two separate and opposite extremes, but  two poles of a magnetic field. Poitevin  continues with this  thread  of argument  in his essay citing examples and quoting extensively to reinforce  his point.

Vibodh Parthasarathi, Associate Professor, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, JMI, New Delhi, in his essay “Interventionist Tendencies in Popular Culture” traces the term  “popular culture” to having been initially used by European social historians to indicate the history of the “inarticulate.” He adds  that  in the last decade the term has gone through various redefinitions, been the subject of critique and has benefited by conceptual clarity and expansion. In his theoretical  essay  he  talks of the media  and its culture  and  makes use of  the term “alternative communication” with reference to “media processes arising from and associated with counter cultural politics.”

Karine Bates, an Assistant Professor in the field of Anthropology at Montreal  University  in her  essay The  Indian Legal System: A Unique Combination of Traditions, Practices And Modern Values  traces  the legal   history of India, discusses the Legal System  in Post-Colonial India  and   throws light on Womens’ Rights in general  with particular  emphasis   on Local variations of Widows’ understanding of their rights and community norms in rural  Maharashtra. 

Part  2 titled Power of Orality consists of  three chapters: Terrains of Rejuvenation;  Memory and Social Protest and  Say it in Singing! Prosodic Patterns and  Rhetorics  in the Performance of Grindmill  Songs.

In the  first  chapter,The Donkey: A Mirror of Self-Indentification which runs over 40 pages,  Guy Poitevin takes the mythical story of The Donkey  from the Vaar community  in  Maharashtra  for  a minute study of three narratives collected from this marginalized community, the Vaars who are traditionally earth diggers, stone breakers and stone cutters in central India and  this state. He proceeds with the assumption that a myth is an oral narrative, a social form of symbolic communication.

The first among the three narratives   begins with the jump of  Hanuman, son of Vayu, to swallow Surya, the sun, and ends up with an account of  the relentless plight of the donkey, the Vaadars’ faithful carrier whose life of toil is explained as a curse, a result of its self conceit  and breaking its word.  Table 4.1 on pages 120-21 beautifully  delineates the sequential form of this mythical story.  The reason for the   unsightly flat nostrils of the Donkey  are explained  in the  second story but the third  narrative  that the donkey is an incarnation of Hanuman, as reported by an old man seems  to have no basis and hence appears rather farfetched.

In the chapter Memory and Social Protest, Badri Narayan, a lecturer in Social Cultural  Anthropology, G.B.Pant Social Sciences Institute, (Allahabad)  through the popular myth of   Chuharmal of the Mokama and Bhojpur region of Bihar  tells us how this folk memory is still  kept alive  by certain communities, social protests notwithstanding.

The subsequent chapter is  shared by three contributors: Bernard Bel, a computer scientist, Genevieve Caelen-Haumont, a linguist and specialist of speech prosody, and Hema Rairkar, an economics graduate actively associated with action groups of peasant women in villages of Pune district. They   bring  out the significance of  the tradition  of  singing at the grindmill, as a  mode of expression by  peasant women in Maharashtra. This  medium  of oral communication  with complete involvement of  the  illiterate  singers  is in no way inferior  to the written word –this message comes out loud and clear in this very informative essay.

Part 3, Contours of Creativity  is divided into two sections. In the  first, Scenarios of Stress, P.J.Amala Dos, a Therukoothu Folk Artist, in his short article talks about his plight as a folk artist as well as how this traditional medium has been neglected  due to the  technological advancements in the media. To add to this  marginalization, there exists rampant discrimination in their remuneration as well, he says. As evidence  of this  exploitation he mentions the name of a female  artist who is paid rs.33,000/ for a show, where artists like him are paid  a mere rs.3,000/ for the same.          

The second section, Scenarios of Appropriation has three chapters. Shashi Bhushan Upadyaya, a Reader in History at IGNOU  discusses in his essay on Resisting Colonial Modernity the  powerful theme  of   Premchand’s RangaBhoomi, written in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Non cooperation Movement.

The other two chapters, Street Theatre in Maharashtra by Hema Raikar and Action Theatre  in Belgium by Paul Biot, co-founder and manager of the Centre du Theatre Action in Belgium   are almost similar but  the latter has an edge  as the very name suggests.

Part 4  is divided into two sections: Intruding Orders and Contending Idioms. The first  is titled Ephemera, Communication and the Quest for Power: Hindutva in UttarPradesh. The  authors, Jayathi Chaturvedi and Gyaneswar Chadurvedi, both  political scientists  approach their paper  from a political perspective  and includes a lot of illustrations. The second  essay, The Ritual Management of Desire in Indian Bazaar Art  by Kajri Jain, who teaches  in  The Centre for Visual  and Media Culture, Toronto explores how pictures of  Gods and Goddesses are turned into objects  for  using  in calendars by companies to  promote products of diversified nature. The names of some of these  companies are mentioned and also the visuals used on calendars which  appear  in no way connected to the product used or consumed!

On the way to Pandhari by Jitendra Maid, (involved in VCDA)  and Guy Poitevin like the earlier chapter on  Donkey…..  again stands out for its rich narrative technique  and vivid description of  the pilgrimage   undertaken  by the devout  not only from Maharashtra  but the rest of India.

As a school boy, Poitevin says he was  fascinated  watching  people walking in great numbers while proclaiming the names of Jnanadev and Tukaram  and  he had wondered  what was so great about this pilgrimage that they call vari? Subsequently he visited Pandharpur twelve times, four times with his parents, twice on school excursions and six times for research purposes. Twice he had a chance to go as a pilgrim accompanying a palanquin, in the month of Asadh (approximately in july). He takes you  along on this pilgrimage  narrated in 40 odd pages and by the time you  come to its end ,you get  to know   all about  the religious significance of undertaking this arduous  journey   and what  terms  such as   Varkari and  Dindi mean.

The  volume concludes with the chapter, The Famous Invincible Darkies by Denis-Constant Martin, a Ph.D. from  Sorbonne. His essay  about the New Year Festival among the coloured in Cape Town, an occasion that  is religiously celebrated  despite opposition from  the white  rulers in  Pretoria touches your heart.

This well  researched and well got up third volume in the series coming after the first two whose focus has been on the Media, technique and technology of communication  and Relations of Communication is a good reference  book for  not only  students pursuing disciplines of sociology, communication Arts and Culture but to the faculty  involved in teaching these  subjects.

N.Meera Raghavendra Rao

The writer is a freelance writer based in Chennai.


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