Essays on #List — Selected Abstracts

Posted by Puthiya Purayil Sneha at Sep 03, 2019 10:25 AM |
In response to a recent call for essays that social, economic, cultural, political, infrastructural, or aesthetic dimensions of the #List, we received 11 abstracts. Out of these, we have selected 4 pieces to be published as part of a series titled #List on the r@w blog. Please find below the details of the selected abstracts. The call for essays on #List remains open, and we are accepting and assessing the incoming abstracts on a rolling basis.


1. Manisha Chachra

2. Meghna Yadav

3. Sarita Bose

4. Shambhavi Madan

Manisha Chachra

MeToo in Indian journalism: Questioning access to internet among intersectional women and idea of rehabilitative justice in digital spaces

The advent of LoSHA and MeToo era witnessed an intriguing intersection of technology, politics and gender. The list and name-shame culture of social media has not only displayed changing power dynamics in digital space but an increasing movement towards engendering of internet spaces. The social, political and economic matrix defined by power relationships -- a patriarchy reflected in internet spaces, percolating in our interactions confronted a major challenge when women rose up to claim the same space. Internet space cannot be called a virtual reality as it is a sharp mirror into what is going in the power dynamics of society and politics. My paper broadly seeks to examine this engendering of spatial reality of digital space by looking at various conversations that took place on Twitter around MeToo in Indian journalism. MeToo has been widely understood as narration of one’s tale and how that experiential reality is connected with other women. However, a universalisation of such an experience often neglects intersectional reality attached to women’s experiences -- belonging to different caste, class, ethnicity and other kinds of differences. My paper attempts to question how far MeToo in digital space accommodated the differential aspects of woman as a heterogeneous category. The spatial realities of technological spaces function like a double edged sword-- liberating as well as mobility paralysing. I use the term mobility paralysis to denote a contradiction in digital space-- which might be equally available to all sections of women but not fairly accessible. The accessibility is often a reflection of deep rooted patriarchies and kinship relationships that bind women in same voiceless zone. MeToo in Indian journalism is a case study of how women of different backgrounds access digital spaces in questioning this mobility paralysis and inch towards a certain kind of emancipatory politics. Examining MeToo from the perspective of a social movement emerging on Twitter and Facebook, I aim to scrutinise scope of rehabilitative justice for the accused. The emergence of lists, and claiming of spaces is attached to the question of justice and being guilty or innocent of allegations. Online spaces in the recent times have also emerged as platforms of e-khaps (online khap panchayats with certain gatekeepers of the movement) where screenshot circulation, photoshop technology could be used to garner a public response against a particular person. It is interesting how after MeToo the question was not whether the person is guilty or accused rather how they should abandon their social media accounts and probably go absent virtually. In such a context, it is crucial to question the relationship between justice, one’s digital identity and who owns this identity. If rehabilitative justice is not an option, and apology-seeking is not available, what are we hoping from MeToo? The aim of any name-shame movement must be to reclaim digital space, narrate experiences and also to leave scope for others to respond, and seek justice. The question of justice is also closely linked with how women from intersectional backgrounds access internet, and emancipate themselves.

Meghna Yadav

For most people, the Internet is now synonymous with social media. Likewise, consumption of content on the Internet has shifted. We’ve moved from an earlier design of explicitly going to content-specific websites, to now, simply “logging in” and being presented with curated content spanning multiple areas. The infrastructure for consuming this content, however, remains predominantly screen based, implying a space constraint. Websites must, hence, decide what content users are to be presented with and in what order. In other words, social media must generate itself as a ranked list of content.

In the classical theory of social choice, a set of voters is called to rank a set of alternatives and a social ranking of the alternatives is generated. In this essay, I propose to look at ranking of content as a social choice problem. Ranking rules of different social media platforms can be studied as social welfare functions for how they aggregate the preferences of their voters (i.e. users). Current listings of content could be modelled as the results of previously held rounds of voting. Taking examples, Reddit is built on a structure of outward voting, visceral through ‘upvotes’ and ‘downvotes’, constantly displaying to users the choice they have to alter content ranks on the website. TikTok, on the other hand, relies on taking away most of the voting power of its users.

As the Internet tends towards centralisation, studying how different list ranking rules aggregate our choices and in turn, alter the choices presented to us, becomes important to design a more democratic Internet.

Sarita Bose

Mapping goes local: A study of how Google Maps tracks user’s footprints and creates a ‘For You’ list

The ‘Explore Nearby’ feature in Google Maps has three sections – Explore, Commute and For You. Of this, ‘For You’ section contains ‘Lists based on your local history’ as mentioned by Google itself. The Google Maps auto tracks a user’s movements and creates a digital footprint map and lists up events, programmes, restaurants, shops etc for the user. This research will focus on the ‘For You’ feature of Google Maps and its cultural and social dimensions. The work will focus on how the mapping is done and the logic behind drawing up the list. It will try to find out how the economy of Google Maps works. Why some lists shows up while some doesn’t. What kind of ‘algorithm – economy – user’ matrix is used to make up the list? The work will also try to understand cultural dimensions based on mind mapping techniques of Google. This research will follow three dimensions. The first is the mapping of user’s footprints itself and how the distance covered by a user becomes the user’s own digital existence. The Google Maps automatically asks for reviews of places the user might have visited or passed. The question is what algorithm is Google using to ask for the review? Is it pre-pointed or post-pointed? Thus, we come to the second part. Is Google only listing places that paid it or is it trying to digitally map a user’s area of geographical reach in general. If so, why? This brings us to the third dimension of the research work. What kind of cultural mapping is done of the user? The list the user gets is based on his own history and as more data is added, the more mapping is done. These three dimensions are intricately woven with each other and the work will try to establish this relationship.

Shambhavi Madan

List of lists of lists: Technologies of power, infrastructures of memory

Lists make infinities comprehensible, and thus controllable. By virtue of the ubiquity of cyberspace and the digitized information infrastructures curating reality within these infinities, we are increasingly subjected to curatorial efforts of individuals as well as codes – algorithmic and architectural.

Statistical lists are Foucauldian technologies of power in modern societies; tools for the functioning of governmentality – not just in terms of state control over population phenomena but the governmentality of groups or individuals over themselves. The framework of biopolitics identifies a bureaucracy imposed by determining social classifications through listing and categorizing, within which people must situate themselves and their actions (Foucault, 2008). Thus, the authorship of lists is often reflective of power that allows for the perpetuation of hegemonic constructions of social reality, making the lists themselves sites of struggle.

This paper seeks to contextualize (public-oriented) lists as forms of biopolitical curation that often lie at points of intersection between collective consciousness and social order, through an approach that problematizes the socio-technics of agency and the subjective objectivity of authorship. Although list-making acts such as the National Population Register, NRC, #LoSHA, the electoral roll, the census, and Vivek Agnihotri’s call for a list of “Urban Naxals” all differ in terms of content, intent, and impact, and contain different asymmetries of power, the lowest common denominator lies in their role as producers of public knowledge and consequently, infrastructures of public memory. This approach allows for a reinterpretation of the fundamental duality of lists of and within publics: the functionality of enforcing/maintaining social order, and the phenomenological practise of publicly self-presenting with a (semi-material) manifestation of a collective identity. The former sees the use of lists as tools of population management, enacting citizenship and belonging through forms of inclusion and exclusion; the latter is reflective of the workings of self-autonomy – redefining the authorship of justice and punishment – in networked societies. Thus, a secondary theme in this paper would be to question the change and significance in the role of authorship through a phenomenological comparative of lists that are institutionalised practice versus those that are open and collaborative.

Both the act of list-making and the lists themselves are framed as coalescences of material and imaginary, by juxtaposing the idea of infrastructures as primarily relationalities – i.e. they can’t be theorized in terms of the object alone (Larkin, 2013) – with Latour’s relational ontology of human and non-human actors. The list itself is a non-human object/actant that after emerging as a product of co-construction, takes on an agential role of its own (Latour, 2005). Each of these lists can be considered as a quasi-object, a complex convergence of the technological and the social. Both #LoSHA and the NRC are not mere placeholders being ‘acted upon’, but real and meaningful actors acting as cultural mediators and not intermediaries. The integration of a socio-technical, infrastructural approach with one that emphasizes upon the aesthetics of authorship and public memory allows the subject to be seen as constitutive of an embodied, relational experience as opposed to just existing as a dissociative (re)presentation.


Foucault, M. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979. Trans. G. Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Larkin, B. 2013. "The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructural." Annual Review of Anthropology. 42:327-343.

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Puthiya Purayil Sneha

Sneha is a Programme Manager at CIS, and co-leads the researchers@work programme. She is engaged in a mapping of the emergent field of Digital Humanities in India, and is also interested in questions on the nature of textuality, reading, and writing practices in the digital sphere. She can be reached at sneha[at]cis-india[dot]org.