The Sounds of Politics in South Asia (with Aswin Punathambekar and Sriram Mohan)

In this week’s episode, guests Aswin Punathambekar and Sriram Mohan discuss their article “A Sound Bridge: Listening for the Political in a Digital Age” which analyzes how catchy sounds become sonic cues for political participation. In their analysis of the popular refrain “Why This Kolaveri” (“Why This Murderous Rage”), the authors demonstrate how a sound’s availability, performativity, and resonance enable it to be picked up by a variety of journalists, politicians, and citizens engaged in popular protest movements. Punathambekar and Mohan argue that understanding politics in the digital age requires attending more closely to sonic modes of participation.

We offer a model for how to trace a particular sound as it becomes a communicative infrastructure that can host all kinds of other expressions, aspirations, desires, that can span the spectrum from the progressive to the reactionary and everything in-between. But it’s not enough to just stop there. We also have to think, “Well, does this suggest that there is a much larger shift happening in terms of the cultural foundations of media and citizenship?”

Episode Transcript (opens as PDF)

Show Notes

00:35 Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia by Aswin Punathambekar and Sriram Mohan

10:43 the Tamil film 3 (2012)

12:01 Why this Kolaveri Di? official music video

13:20 overview of the 2011 anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare

14:15 an introduction to the Tamil film industry

17:10 Listening Publics by Kate Lacey

19:05 Cassette Culture by Peter Manuel

19:15 Other Voices: The Struggle for Community Radio in India by Vinod Pavarala

19:30 Rahul Mukherjee and Abhigyan Singh on microSD cards, Jennifer Lynn Stoever on the sonic color line, and Nabeel Zuberi on listening while Muslim

27:30 “How Culture Works” by Michael Schudson

29:30 An overview of the concept of “azadi” (freedom)

33:00Deeper Data” by Andre Brock

38:20Take It Easy Urvashi” (Tamil song from 1996)

41:22 Hoichoi, Bengali streaming service

About the Guests

Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. His research and teaching focus on the impact that globalization and technological change have on the workings of media industries, formations of audiences and publics, and cultural identity and politics. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (NYU Press, 2013), co-author of Media Industry Studies (Polity, 2020), and co-editor of Global Bollywood (2008), Television at Large in South Asia (2013), and most recently, Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia (2019). He is currently working on a co-authored book, provisionally titled The Digital Popular: Media, Culture, and Politics in Networked India. He serves as an editor of the peer-reviewed journal Media, Culture and Society and co-edits the Critical Cultural Communication book series for NYU Press.

Sriram Mohan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication and Media, and Rackham Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research examines digital media cultures, political expression, and state-citizen relationships in South Asian contexts. His work has appeared in journals like Television & New Media, International Journal of Communication, and International Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the co-author of the edited volume Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia (University of Michigan Press, 2019) and serves as an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies.