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The politics of internet infrastructure: communication policy, governmentality and subjectivation in Chhattisgarh, India

Bhat, Ramnath (2020) The politics of internet infrastructure: communication policy, governmentality and subjectivation in Chhattisgarh, India. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004175


This thesis examines the role of internet infrastructure and its associated discourses in processes of governmentality and subject formation in low and middle-income countries of the global South. Using data collected in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh as its core case, it asks questions about the interrelationship between policy and political discourse, new information and communications infrastructure, private capital, and how citizens come to know and/or experience internet infrastructure in their everyday lives. Since 2014, The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN, which began in 2011 under the then UPA government) has been reshaped and rebranded as part of ‘Digital India’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his far-right Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Alongside the cables and connectivity, the BJP and allied Hindu extremist organisations have targeted minorities and women through mob violence and (on and offline) hate speech, while a small number of crony capitalist corporations have seen immense profits. Unpicking the links between these processes, the thesis argues that internet infrastructure has become crucial to expanding a particular unregulated brand of capitalism and to narrowing civic subjectivities. Infrastructures constellate and circulate material and symbolic goods in an institutionalised manner to produce collectivities. Using discourse analysis shows that since the late 1980s, in a context of increasing neoliberalism, internet infrastructure emerged within a discursive regime marked by the fetishisation of systems rationality, enumeration, scientism and economism to produce what can be called digital governmentality. Digital governmentality enables and reinforces a centralised Hindu nationalism mediated by digital technologies and networks. Using semi-structured interviews and participant observation in the city of Ambikapur, and close to 50 villages in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, data chapters describe a wide range of ‘infrastructural practices.’ The analysis centres on how subjects imagine, frame and experience these practices. Dominant caste groups in Ambikapur seek to subvert governmentality in practice but also uphold and reproduce the rationalities that drive governmental authority – such as efficiency and transparency. Adivasis (indigenous groups) who reside in surrounding rural areas are subject to a political economic regime overdetermined by coal mining and destruction of their land, forests and water resources. Internet infrastructure is non-existent or broken, along with other missing infrastructural substrates such as electricity and water. Adivasis face infrastructural control as a specific mode of governmentality where power is exerted not from the top in directly coercive ways but rather through mundane infrastructural practices, thereby exerting authority in procedural ways. In other instances, Adivasis’ processes of subject formation are entangled with (the reality and promise of) internet infrastructure in complex ways – ranging from cruel optimism to social haunting. The thesis makes an original contribution to the emerging sub-field of infrastructure studies by providing a new way of studying communicative infrastructures involving: a renewed emphasis on relationality (infrastructures, governmentality and subjectivation as relational processes and practices); situating internet infrastructures within broader infrastructures; and a historical analysis of how infrastructure is caught up in exercise of power relations. With significant emphasis on the concerns and interests of indigenous peoples in India, the final chapters of the thesis also contribute to a decolonisation of media and communications as a field, and to avoiding orientalist essentialism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Ramnath Bhat
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Willems, Wendy and Banaji, Shakuntala

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