Internet, Society & Space in Indian Cities - A Call for Peer Review

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Feb 14, 2011 06:30 PM |
Pratyush Shankar's research project on "Internet, Society & Space in Indian Cities" is a part of the Researchers @ Work Programme at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore. His monograph explores the trajectories of transformation and perception of cities in India in context with the rise of Information Technologies for communication and presence of an active digital space.

There has been, in the fields of design and architecture, a close link between the shape and imagination of the city spaces and the dominant technologies of the time. The study of space (architecture, public places and city form) can lead to very interesting insights into the expression of the society with respect to the dominant technologies. Manuel Castells argues that space is not a mere photo¬copy (reflection) of the society but it is an important expression (Castells, 2009). Fredric Jameson, in his identification of the condition of post-modernity demonstrates how the transition into new technologies is perhaps first and most visibly reflected in the architecture, as physical spaces get materially reconstructed, not only to house the needs and peripheries of the emerging technologies but also to embody their aesthetics in their design and built form (Jameson, 1991).

Earlier technologies have led to new understandings of the notions of the public and commons. Jurgen Habermas argues on how the emergence of print cultures and technologies led to a structural transformation of the public sphere by creating new and novel forms of participation and political engagement for the print readers. Within cinema studies in India, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Madhav Prasad have looked at the 'cinematic city' — how material conditions of the city transform to house the cinema technologies, and how the imagination of certain cities is affected by the cinematic representations of these spaces (Rajadhyaksha, 2009). Mike Davis' formulations of an 'Ecology of Fear'(Davis, 1999) and Sean Cubbit's idea of 'The Cinema Effect' (Cubitt, 2005) also show the integral relationship that technologies have with the imagination and materiality of urban spaces.

I wish to explore the trajectories of transformation and perception of cities in India in context with the rise of Information Technologies for communication and presence of an active digital space. The issue of imagination is an important one here as much as the material realities of our cities. However, to begin with one needs to look at the very idea of cities in the Indian context. The fundamental idea of a city and that of a space becomes important here and has been explored in the chapter on cities. The issue of representation as related to ideas of 'social space' and 'abstract space' (Lefebvre, 1992) has been used as a methodological framework while analyzing cities. The social space of a city here refers to the production of space that is biomorphic and anthropological. From this perspective people and history and memory along with social economic processes play a strong role in its definition. Hence, city spaces cannot be understood as a collection of building and other material production alone but rather as an act of social production involving people over a long period of time. The appropriation and representation of cities is another important concern as it creates an imagination structure and often justifies the material transformation.

The research is primarily concerned with first creating an understanding of the cities in Indian context from the point of view of their social, technological and material productions. The ideas and representations of space therefore, become critical issues of exploration to understand the nature of imagination of space with reference to Indian cities. An empirical study of issues of spatial transformation was conducted in Bangalore and Gurgaon to find certain patterns and its correlation with the present discourses on the technology and the city. The issue of perception of lived in space, cartography and myth became important issues to understand the nature of the imagination of space and positioning of the digital space. The contradiction of a networked geography with the present spatial arrangement of cities that is the centre of a larger territory becomes important shifts to be accounted for while understanding the new geography. The patterns and possibilities in these new geographies of information technologies have been understood by studying three building programmes in the city. The question of transformation and future of cities and the position of digital space in these times then became an important one to answer. The initial study concerns with laying out a framework for examining the techno-spatial discourses in cities in general while establishing the key characteristics of its narration in the Indian context.

The Researchers At Work Programme, at the Centre for Internet and Society, advocates an Open and transparent process of knowledge production. We recognise peer review as an essential and an extremely important part of original research, and invite you, with the greatest of pleasures, to participate in our research, and help us in making our arguments and methods stronger. The first draft of the monograph is now available for public review and feedback. Please click on the links below to choose your own format for accessing the document.

We appreciate your time, engagement and feedback that will help us to bring out the monograph in a published form. Please send all comments or feedback by April 5, 2011 to [email protected] or you can use your Open ID to login to the website and leave comments to this post.

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Prasad Krishna

Prasad Krishna previously worked in a newspaper and some reputed publications. He is MA in English, PGD in Journalism and LLB from the University of Delhi.