State, Subject and the ‘Text’: The Construction of Meaning in Television
Ph.D. Thesis, under the supervision of Dr. Ashis Nandy, CSDS, submitted to the Department of Sociology, Goa University, 1993
The broad concern of the present work is with the negotiation of meanings and subjectivities that emerge from the encounter between the discourses of the State, as exemplified by Doordarshan, and a community of viewers situated within a specific socio-political space. Television has been chosen as the entry point for questioning the notions of subjectivity underpinning the development project of the State, and for counterposing these notions with the constitutive strategies and interpretative technologies that viewers might bring to bear on televisual discourse. The reason for this choice stems in part from the perception that, with the proliferation of technologies such as photography, cinema and television, ‘seeing’ has become increasingly the mode by which people relate to the outside world and to themselves. The ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger, 1972) that might inform the export of televisual technology from the First to the Third World, as part of a package of development, form the starting point for this inquiry. What new ways of seeing does this technology involve? What forms of subjectivity does it posit? How do the ‘targets’ of this package constitute their identities in relation to the televisual discourses of development? These concerns impel this thesis to occupy a position outside the space of mainstream development communication research. The wide array of identities and interpretative strategies that emerge from the study of a specific community of viewers, in a working class neighbourhood in a port town in Goa, India cannot be subsumed under the rubric of many formulations of audience, such •as the simple, traditional masses of early development ‘communication theory (Lerner, 1958, Schramm, 1964), the myopic victims of the culture industry or western cultural imperialism (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1977, Flora, 1980), or the sovereign consumers of more recent ‘marketing’ development variants (Singhal and Rogers, 1989). The first two approaches, attribute an awesome power to the media, denying agency and resistance to viewers, while the third focuses narrowly on audience uses’ of the media, disregarding the implications of this for networks of power and ideological frameworks. What unites these seemingly disparate approaches is their instrumental view of the media, that elides the constitution of subjectivities and the construction of meanings by audiences. The focus of this thesis is not on the discourses of television per ae, but rather on the processes by which viewers relate to these discourses. While it problematises a specific conjunctural moment within the emerging public cultural space in a Third World society, its approach and findings would appear to have implications that extend beyond television or communication research. This work seeks to demonstrate that the study of this cultural space would involve, firstly, the recognition that it is 1 a constantly negotiated, fluid terrain of power flows, not institutionally or textually determined; secondly, an appreciation of the modes of resistance which the everyday life of its actors entails; and thirdly, a focus on the techniques of pastoral power. exercised by the Third World State (Foucault, 1986, Nandy, 1989). The present work looks at certain aspects of these questions. In the first chapter: Television, Power and Resistance, it attempts to briefly map out the discourses of planners and media experts involved in the introduction and growth of television in India, and the theoretical underpinnings of these discourses. It also attempts a periodization of the development of television, placing this within a politicoeconomic context. In relation to this, it delineates the perspective being adopted in this thesis, and its relationship to other work on the media from structuralist, post-structuralist and cultural studies perspectives. Chapters two, three and four discuss various aspects of the construction of subjectivity vis-a-vis the ways of seeing posited by television, within the specific context of a multi-ethnic, blue-collar working class neighbourhood in a port town in Goa. Chapter Two: The, Situated Spectator, explores the constitution of distinct ethnic identities in the Goan context and the ways in which these identities are affirmed by as well as mediate the readings of televisual discourses. Chapter Three: The Familial Spectator, discusses various aspects of the construction of identity within familial networks of power. It relates the televisual discourses on the family to the struggles . and aspir’ ations of the workingclass family, as a whole, as well as of its individual members parents and children, men and women. Chapter Four: The Citizen Spectator, looks at the constitution of identities vis-a-vis the discourses of the ‘public sphere – – the outside world and the State (as seen through the genre of news) and the market (as presented through advertising). The final chapter, The Spectator-Subject, attempts to synthesize the various aspects of the construction of subjectivity discussed in the previous chapters to delineate the strategies invoked by viewers as they constitute themselves as spectator-subjects.
The Speaking Subject, A Preamble to Vedanta
Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, 1989
This thesis is a preamble to Vedanta, a preamble traversing two different planes: Western and Indian thought. The bifocalness of this movement is the measure of the paradox we live with as ‘Indians’, bringing us perilously close to the question: What is Indian Philosophy? It is to the discomfiture this paradox generates and the subsequent thematization that this work addresses itself – an attempt we qualify as a preamble. The subject as a construct is the core thematic of Advaita Vedanta to which our interpretation is committed. Advaita as a darsana is committed to the debunking of the dualist metaphysics that precedes it.
Philosophical structuralism is perhaps one of the major schools that pursues the problematic of the `subject’ within Western metaphysics, a problematic that finds its way to the writings of Lacan , Kristeva and Foucault. A pursuit on similar lines interrogating dualist metaphysics and according primacy to language emerges in the writings of Heidegger and Gadamer. This work embarks upon the consolidation of some of these traditions to reinterpret Advaita Vedanta.
The arguments developed during the course of this work are as follows:
i. Philosophical structuralism attempts, among other things, a denial of the speaking subject and postulates an a-historical system with primacy over the speaking subject. [Chapter I: The Dissolved Subject]
ii. This inquiry traces the history of this denial to a vehement and categorical assertion of the subject in Transformational Generative Grammar. This assertion is viewed as consequential to the structuralist enterprise of edging the subject out, a hiatus that Transformational Generative Grammar tries to bridge by salvaging the Cartesian ego to fill in the vacuum opened up between the signifier and the signified. [Chapter II: The Competent Subject]
iii. The post-structuralist critique of Saussure emphazises the need to rethink the status of the speaking subject. In Lacan and Kristeva’s work the attempt is to designate the subject as an ideological insertion into signifying practices, threatened with relentless reconstitution at the site of marginal discourse .As opposed to this general theory of subjectivity, Foucault chooses to address himself to the specific modes by which human beings are “made subjects”. [Chapter III: The Fragmented Subject ]
iv. Foucault’s distrust of theoretical inquiries into subjectivity leads on the need to go beyond these categories, towards a critical ontology of the self. This marks the transition into the second part of this thesis, namely , a movement towards ontologies of the subject that attempt to transcend the dualist metaphor of subject/object. Hence, we pursue the fundamental ontology of Heidegger characterized by the analytic of Dasein. This endeavour also leads us to specific issues precipitated by this ontology, namely the current debates within hermeneutics. We identify that the impasse in hermeneutics today is centred around the question of validation of interpretations : the question about an effective process of critique.[Chapter IV: Dasein ]
v. Having said this, we attempt, in the chapter on Advaita, to view Vedanta as a fundamental ontology and a critical practice. Adhyaropa Apavada as a methodological strategy is an attempt at comprehending the formation and history of the subject ; the process is termed adhyasa. Untying this adhyasa is a dialogical textual possibility. Whereas Kristeva concludes with the realization that any marginal discourse is the site of this subversion, Advaita goes on to show the characteristics of this discourse. Any discourse that reveals that the ‘I’ is spurious knowledge, is a Sruti, a realisation at the site of Brahmajijnasa that warrants not only an eternal validating principle but also the fecundity of interpretations, and manifold exegetic possibilities. The impasse in hermeneutics is resolved in Advaita by its potentiality to situate itself as an ontology, rooted in an eternal critical practice of ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this) that subverts the legitimization of traditioned meanings. [Chapter V: Jivatman]