The digitalization of urban governance in India: Techniques, ideas, practices
Convenors: Stéphanie Tawa Lama, CNRS-CSH and Khaliq Parkar, CESSMA, Université de Paris
This two-day , online workshop was born from the observation that the rich literature on the digitalisation of urban life paints starkly contrasting pictures of the potential impact of technology on the public sphere. of such phenomenon: fFor instance, while the literature on smart cities sketches a digitally enhanced urban utopia, surveillance studies warn us against the dystopian dimension of the same digital technologies. This dichotomous vision strongly suggests that digitalisation has essentially ambiguous effects. The workshop precisely aimed to capture and document this ambiguousness inherent in the digitalisation of urban governance, by assessing its actual, observable impact on local democracy in the Indian context.
This ambition requires context-sensitive investigation of the relations between technologies, ideas and practices. One must treat digitalisation as a process, and consider how new technologies fit in, disrupt, expand or bypass existing governance equations. It might be fruitful, in this regard, to think about digitalisation in terms of dispositives (Foucault), assemblages (Deleuze, Haggerty et Ericson 2000), or instruments (Lascoumes et Galès 2005), as: all these three concepts have in common the fact that they invite researchers to consider together technologies, with their representations and their uses. The case study method also appears particularly suited to investigating the multi-dimensional process of digitalisation, and accounting for actors who are located beyond, or between, government and citizens.
The workshop thus brought together seven original case studies focusing on the actual impact of digitalised governance on urban democracy, with papers that focused on specific technologies (CCTV cameras, mobile phones, mobile applications, WhatsApp and other social networks, mobile applications…); specific actors (the GAFA[AS1] , political parties, neighbourhood associations, bureaucrats…); specific policies; and specific cities.
The workshop was attended by about approximately 40 participants and generated rich discussions. Organizers are now working on a collective publication.
Digital capitalism in India, the State and the people: the Aadhaar battle (2009 – 2021)
Since its launch in 2009, the digital ID scheme (also known as Unique ID or Aadhaar) has been highly controversial in India and elsewhere. It has embodied the interplay between technological progress and control of public expenditure on the one hand, and privacy and social rights protection on the other. At the first glance, it appears to be a dream for scientists, civil servants, merchants and politicians, but it could turn into a nightmare, especially under authoritarian regimes. In the 13 years since its inception and roll-out, this ID has attracted both praise and criticism, in what is now an impressive corpus: thousands of newspapers and blog articles, hundreds of journal articles, book chapters and pieces of gray literature, at least five books and three journal special issues dedicated to it, several Acts of the Parliament, and two landmark Supreme Court judgments.
In order to make sense of these numerous empirical data, Nicolas Belorgey (CNRS-CSH) undertook a survey, using several approaches. The first one was a sociology of the supporters and opponents of the project, based on prosopography and interviews based throughout India and a few abroad. It was conducted mainly in English, and partly as a joint project with Christophe Jaffrelot. Analyzed alongside with the above-mentioned corpus, this survey allows one to draw a precise history of the Aadhaar project, in its technological, economic and political dimensions.
The study of coastal areas in the Indian Ocean, A new interdisciplinary research field at IFP
Coastal areas are ecosystems that are rapidly changing physically, ecologically, socially and politically, transformed by policies and practices of the populations. They have become crucial spaces needing to be critically observed. Since 2018/19, IFP teams have focused part of their new research on analysing the transformations of these spaces, drawing on its interdisciplinary skills in ecology, natural resource mapping and social sciences. This research makes it possible to account for the vulnerability of coastal territories in the context of a growing number of factors whose impact is spatially visible: increasing salinity, water management problems, degradation of plant cover, coastal erosion, increased frequency of cyclones and floods, etc. The studies are based on the analysis of various spatial data (public vector data, time series of remote sensing images, field surveys, collection of archives) and generate databases that allow the production of vulnerability maps for example (or various other indices) and the transfer of this knowledge to a wide audience.
Among the recent programmes that have emerged at IFP is SEDRIC (Socio-ecological Dynamics in Rapid Economic Development: Infrastructure and Coastal Transformations in Sri Lanka, a FSPI-funded project under the aegis of the French Embassy in Colombo), which ended in late 2021. Also a new interdisciplinary approach to biodiversity conservation in the Coromandel coast, in particular the endangered tropical dry evergreen forest and the wetlands around Pondicherry that have been disrupted in recent decades. The following points are examples of 2 more detailed projects on these fragile areas, which will end this year.
The interdisciplinary team at the IFP, in collaboration with partners from India, France, Norway, UK and Slovenia, was able to successfully secure the project ‘Fishercoast’ through the EqUIP call, which began in January 2019 and runs until June 2022. This project examines how coastal development policies have transformed the physical, ecological, and social character of coastal areas in India and select European countries, seen in relation to their impact on the wellbeing of fishing communities. While aggressive modernization of fisheries in the past decades aimed at economic progress, it also resulted in damage to marine ecosystems, increased inequality, and social conflicts. The research, which progressed over the last two years despite the pandemic, has focused on geophysical transformations on the coast, changes and impact of trawling, and the consequences of industrialization on the people of the coast. We have also attempted to reconstruct and curate memories of the coastal working people as oral histories. Scholars on this project are in the process of preparing a range of outputs both academic and non-academic, including a spatial information system to aggregate and visualize multidisciplinary data. For an online exhibition that weaves together examples of coastal transformations from India, Norway, the UK, and Slovenia, highlighting continuity and change through satellite images, statistics, life histories, ethnographic films, and archival and photo materials, please visit https://fishercoast.si
On RUSE, Urban and Socio-ecological Resilience of the Pondicherry Bioregion
Part of the RUSE research project, funded by the French Development Agency (AFD), is concerned with the urban transformations taking place along Pondicherry’s urban coastline, which is being increasingly targeted by projects to promote tourism through centrally-sponsored schemes such as AMRUT, Swadesh Darshan, and the Smart City Mission. One such project, ‘Extension of the Beach Promenade’, proposes to extend the existing seaside avenue from the ‘White Town’ area into the coastal neighbourhoods of Kuruchikuppam and Vaithikuppam, traditionally home to the fishing community, and which remain largely used for the everyday tasks of local fishing economy. The research attempts an in-depth study of the various implications of such a transformation; the reorganization of both the space and the routines of the neighborhood. This case study aims at exploring the conflictive dimension that tends to characterize the politics of the urban fabric, and tries to unpack the various stakes - social, spatial, and environmental - that lie behind such localized urban intervention.
The Haṭhapradīpikā (also known as the Haṭhayogapradīpikā), authored by Svātmārāma in the early 15th century, is arguably one of the most widely cited and influential texts on physical yoga, and is instrumental for the flourishing of haṭhayoga on the eve of colonialism. It survives in a large number of manuscripts in different scripts from across India and no edition hitherto has recorded their many variations. To tackle this huge task, a three-year research project entitled “Light on Hatha Yoga: A critical edition and translation of the Haṭhapradīpikā, the most important premodern text on physical yoga”, led by James Mallinson (SOAS), Jason Birch (SOAS) and Jürgen Hanneder (Philipps-Universität Marburg), has been approved by the British and German research funding agencies (AHRC and DFG). The EFEO has signed cooperation agreements with the SOAS University of London and the Philipps-Universität Marburg: University of Marburg in order to participate. Four research associates have joined the EFEO Pondicherry Centre on a homeworking basis. Paras Mehta, Harshal Bhat, Dibakami Krutarth and M.V. Muralikrishnan will collect, transcribe and collate the Haṭhapradīpikā manuscripts. A first workshop, on the Haṭhapradīpikā and on the potential benefits and difficulties of stemmatic editing, took place in Marburg, organised by Prof. Jürgen Hanneder, on 21, 22 and 23 September 2021, in which the EFEO research associates and Dominic Goodall participated via video conference.
Two private collections of palm-leaf manuscripts from the Tamil country
Suganya Anandakichenin (PI), Giovanni Ciotti (University of Hamburg) and S. A. S. Sarma (EFEO, Pondicherry) have been awarded a grant for a pilot project under the British Library's Endangered Archives Program, supported by the Arcadia Fund. Entitled “Preservation of two private collections of palm-leaf manuscripts from the Tamil country for posterity”, this ten-month project (August 2021-May 2022) aims to clean, digitize, and catalogue at least part of about 180 manuscripts belonging to two collections (called “Kalliṭaikuṟicci” and Villiampākkam). These manuscripts, several of which date from the mid-19th century, contain texts of various genres, in Tamil, Sanskrit and Manipravalam, written in Tamil and Grantha scripts. Previously neglected, these relics of the past will give us a clearer idea of the reading and study choices of a Tamil and Brahmin Vaiṣṇava scholarly family in the 19th century. Work on the project is currently being carried out at the EFEO, Pondicherry Centre. For more information, see https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP1294
An Intellectual History of Late Vedānta
A new 4-year research project has been launched on 1st September 2021, led by scholars of the University of Cambridge (V. Vergiani, J. Duquette, A. Barua) in collaboration with the EFEO (H. David) and funded by the Leverhulme Trust (United Kingdom). The aim of this project is to study the history of Vedānta, one of the most prominent intellectual and religious trends of the second millennium in India, from 1750 to 1900. By considering a vast array of little-known works preserved in manuscripts and rare printed books, the project will investigate the history of concepts, debates, literary genres and scholarly networks during this period. Challenging common ideas that Sanskrit scholarship lost its creativity during the colonial period and virtually “died out” (Sh. Pollock), the project will help reevaluate the significance of Sanskrit intellectual production at a time when Sanskrit ceased to be the dominant medium for scholarly discourse in India. Some attention will be given to the complex interaction of this tradition with new, Vedānta-inspired, discourses in vernacular emerging in the 19th century. A new research assistant, KSR Chakravarthy (see below “Arrivals”) has been hired by the project in November to specifically examine the situation in the Telugu-speaking region of Andhra Pradesh. In addition to the monographic study of major figures and centres, a database of Vedānta authors and works will be produced, which will help future research on Indian philosophy in the modern period.