Showing posts with label globalization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label globalization. Show all posts

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speaking on Digital Cultures at Collège des Bernardins in Paris


This international conference at the Collège des Bernardins was on the topic of "L’humain au défi du numérique". Basically, it focused on digital & cultural diversity. Following the work of Milad Doueihi, the Chair of the Collège des Bernardins on "The human being with the digital challenge", the study day "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" proposes to examine the digital experience in other regions of the world and the possibility of thinking differently, using different methodologies and categories of thought. Can we still study digital culture, or produce an audible discourse on it, without systematically discussing the issue of digitization, encoding, mapping, data and usage? The meeting of computer science with the human and social sciences seems to have tightened the perimeter of the latter. The suspicion that weighs since their origins on their scientificity and their social utility is thus based, at a time when public funding is always demanding more "results" applicable.

Faced with an institutional restructuring in progress, which imposes laboratories a hard model of scientificity, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" draws from diverse voices. What should a number of academic disciplines (anthropology, communication, etc.) and actors (artists, engineers), usually little understood, have to tell us about digital culture? How does the latter, for example, work our perception of ethnic groups? What relationships do we have with these "non-human" robots? What are the alternatives to western platforms, such as Google or Facebook, and what new culture do they create? Etc. The notion of "diversity" is thus to be understood in two ways: diversity of approaches to studying digital culture; Diversity of its "inhabitants", which deserve our attention.

To respond to this program, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" of the Collège des Bernardins brought together international actors whose work focuses on several issues (activism, robotics, standardization of Internet standards, etc.) and Other parts of the world, such as Asia, the Middle East or India.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Review of my paperback out: "The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0"

When we write books, it seems to take forever and yet, once published, it is amazing how quickly it disappears from our horizons as we move to the next project. The academic rat wheel I guess. So it is always a pleasant surprise to encounter a positive review of one's book, reminding one of all the energy and passion that went into the makings of the book.

My recently published book, The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0  was reviewed for the Journal of Popular Culture by Kiranjeet Dhillon of University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Here is an excerpt: “Readers will value Arora’s argumentative advances from chapter to chapter. Arora thoroughly explains and articulates The Leisure Commons and appeals to a vast inter-disciplinary audience of media, rhetorical, visual culture, critical/culture studies, history, and geography scholars. In particular, media and rhetorical scholars will find that Arora’s metaphorical framework offers insight in regards to the digital public sphere, leisure space, virtual activism, online privacy, digital labor, and globalization of virtual networks. Media and communication scholars will appreciate this insight, which illuminates and compels readers to analyze and theorize the rhetorics of the public sphere, digi-tality, and leisure space through a new heuristic vocabulary.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New Book Out! Crossroads in New Media, Identity and Law: The Shape of Diversity to Come


After our highly interdisciplinary conference on The Shape of Diversity to Come at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2013 where we had a phenomenal line up of keynote speakers including Saskia Sassen, Julie Cohen, Chandran Kukathas, Jos de Mul, and Emmanuel Melissaris, we decided that we should have a book out that really takes on interdisciplinary thinking on this issue, exploring tensions as identity and law confront new media developments.

So we are proud to now share the volume publised by Palgrave called Crossroads in New Media, Identity and Law  The Shape of Diversity to Come. Here, you will find provocative chapters by Sassen, Cohen, Vermeylen, deMul, and more! 

In a nutshell, this volume brings together a number of timely contributions at the nexus of new media, politics and law. The central intuition that ties these essays together is that information and communication technology, cultural identity, and legal and political institutions are spheres that co-evolve and interpenetrate in myriad ways. Discussing these shifting relationships, the contributions all probe the question of what shape diversity will take as a result of the changes in the way we communicate and spread information: that is, are we heading to the disintegration and fragmentation of national and cultural identity, or is society moving towards more consolidation, standardization and centralization at a transnational level? In an age of digitization and globalization, this book addresses the question of whether this calls for a new civility fit for the 21st century.

Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Digital Crossroads Conference on Media, Migration & Diasporas in a Transnational Perspective


I recently attended and presented at my first Netherlands conference at the University of Utrecht on Media, Migration and Diasporas in a Transnational Perspective. It dawned on me that after three years of being in the Netherlands, I've not actually attended a local conference until now. Partly its because I believed somehow that these linkages within and between universities in the Netherlands would happen organically since its such a densely knit and small country. Ironically, I believe now that because of these factors, these linkages are far weaker as the Dutch tend to reach out rather than within to build networks across Europe and beyond. So its not a coincidence that this 'local' conference was deeply international as it was the culmination of a grant project entitled “Wired Up: Digital media as innovative socialization practices for migrant youth”, carried out by the Faculty of Humanities (project leader Dr. Sandra Ponzanesi) and the Faculty of Social Sciences (project leader Prof. Dr. Mariette de Haan) at Utrecht University in collaboration with Vanderbilt University, USA (Dr. Kevin Leander, Peabody College for Education).


The concept of 'migration' here is heavily influenced by Appadurai's construct of the flows and disjunctures between people, places and ideas. Some interesting discussions and questions followed, particularly as social sciences are placing the "e" before a range of socio-cultural and political issues and domains such as e-Diasporas, bringing to the fore the legitimate question of to what extent is this field transforming with its digitalization? Are 'Diasporas' a construct imposed online as group formations and communities are formed across transnational settings or should we be looking at different kinds of lens such as cosmopolitanism to understand these social practices? Undoubtedly, there were several case studies especially amongst asylum seekers and minorities that emphasized the alternative and more fluid characteristic of  SNS spaces,  facilitating the integration of these marginalized communities in their material surrounding. Of course one should not negate the fact that within SNS, there are strong hierarchies that dictate the process of socializing and membership within their communities but even with this criteria, it still appears to allow for more mobility than in real world settings. What was particularly fascinating was the reminder that in spite of the lack of physicality within online forums, the participants embody and manifest discourses that subscribe to the body form such as racial, ethnic and gender slurs. These were seen as social bonding mechanisms for the 'core' community, at once excluding and including. Overall, an illuminating experience.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Capitalizing on Contested Identities in this Digital Age

I am currently at the West-Asia North Africa (WANA) Forum in Amman Jordan that is sponsored by the Nippon Foundation on the subject of Social Identity and the Regional Common. I spoke on the topic of "Capitalizing on Contested Identities in this Innovation and Digital Age" in the morning session on a panel that was comprised of some fascinating people listed below and Chaired by the Royal Highness El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and Chairman of the WANA Forum.

  • Fredrick Chien, Chairman of the Cathay Charity Foundation, Taiwan
  • Mona Makram-Ebeid, Member of the Advisory Board to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Egypt
  • Munira Shahidi, Chair of the Shahidi International Foundation for Culture, Tajikistan
  • Omar Christidis, Founder of ArabNet, Lebanon
  • Munir Fasheh, Founder of The Arab Education Forum, Palestine
All these panelists talked about aspects relating to how this region could experience transition and the role of identity in this process. Below are some of my thoughts that shaped my speech on this topic where I extrapolated on the harnessing of contested identities for novel business opportunities in these emerging markets
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A professor I met a few years ago at a conference in India came to visit me in the Netherlands as she had just moved to Europe. She and I were having dinner when of course I asked her what prompted her to move. She shared the news that she married a man who was doing his postdoctorate research at a cancer lab that was situated in Leuven, Belgium. Of course I asked how they met. She went onto explaining that her parents did the work for her. They went online the popular matrimonial online site called shadi.com and looked for a man for her. But what guided their search? Well, apparently caste was of most importance. They looked for a man who was of the same caste as hers, Brahmin, the priestly upper caste and from Mangalore in the South of India. They also consulted the astrology charts. And of course, he was to be of good financial standing and have potential for earning. He fit the criteria. They then contacted him and expressed interest. He responded positively. She said things have changed though these days. ‘It’s rather modern you know,’ she said. She did not right away meet him like in the traditional arranged marriage classic scenarios where parents meet and approve or disapprove of the match. She instead started IMing him and skyping before they both decided that the families should meet. After a few months of digital romancing, they were happy to proceed to the next level. He flew down and the girls parents and her went to their house to make this formal. Shortly after, came marriage.

Now this seems to be an interesting case of multiple and contested identities, one may argue. To start with, there is a strong identity of caste, in this case the upper caste Brahmin or priestly caste. There has been strong belief particularly in the West that with modernization, education and globalization, these particularities and local practices will fade away. However, its far from gone. In fact, a few years ago, the digital boom in India not only created the typical outsourcing hubs but also e-entrepreneurship to satisfy social needs such as this which is highly lucrative. From one website a few years ago, this practice has burgeoned into several competing matrimonial websites such as Jeevansathi.com, 123Matrimonials.com, to IndianRishtey.com


And if we are to open a newspaper in India, you would see two to three full pages on horoscopes and astrology related matters. Then there is the regional identity as they both are Mangalorean and share the same dietary and linguistic and other social preferences. The tightening of community along regional lines has become more paramount in this fast changing world. Migration patterns and diaspora communities reflect this need to serve as a social glue. Localizing ones identity is becoming more of a pathway into tight and intimate communities to strengthen their social capital. And of course there is the upper class and well educated identity that comes with its privilege and international access and exposure as we can see here in this case where she is now part of this global diaspora. So from being deeply local to being highly international oriented, one can well rest a case that this is indeed a case of multiple identities.

 Now why would this be a case of contested identities? Did this professor demonstrate a struggle with these multiple identities? Did she express deep anguish with such different roles of being educated, international oriented and being traditional by subscribing to the arranged marriage through caste and astrology? There is belief that as education increases, so will our courage to dispel traditional practices that have anchored us or chained us perhaps.  There is belief that traditional practices evoked traditional identities which fragments us as communities, societies and nations and in this global era, it is paramount to move forward and not be entrenched in the old ways of belief and ritual. It seems that identity has found its way somehow on the evolutionary chart where the end point is something of ‘beige,’ where the starting point seems to be more of a spectacle of color.

Just to clear matters up, the professor was by no means troubled by these multiple identities. In fact, it seemed rather natural to her and social media was a mere facilitator of this seamless way of being. It appeared to be more content than contest in nature. Yet, others may perceive this as deep contradiction which brings me to another point. Identity is not something which is intrinsic and innate but that which is perceived by oneself and others. So why should it matter if someone else perceives this as a contested identity? It would theoretically not matter at all. However, practically, based on the position of the group perceiving it, it would matter a great deal or be of complete inconsequence. For those who have the power, be it governments, business groups, social groups of higher standing, policy makers, consumers, and the like, these issues can reach center stage. 

While undoubtedly the hierarchy of identities have had serious political, social and cultural ramifications, I focus on the side that has often been overlooked, its potential for innovation. Take business for example. Why wasn’t match.com , a company with 20 million members in 25 different countries, the platform that initiated shadi.com or other such Indian matrimonial sites and instead left a space for more home brewed Indian companies to enter the fray? That brings me to the third point which is that multiple identities can be seen as problematic say for documentation purposes, for surveys, for politics and interest groups, for sharing of resources and the like or can be seen as an opportunity. Stereotypes can offend undoubtedly but can also provide the opportunity to compete with company giants with narrowed worldviews.  In fact, local knowledge of caste and astrology and other categories that matter to the Indian demographic has been harnessed by local entrepreneurs. They have seen that in this information age, it’s not just about how much information is accessed but rather how relevant is this information to their target group that gives them a competitive edge. How information is indexed, searched for, organized and connected is very much a big business and essential if local communities are to stay competitive in this global and innovation era. So basically, diversity of identities, if harnessed and catered to rather than being looked at as mainly problematic can open new avenues and opportunities for business practice. Instead of balancing the traditional with the modern, we need to recognize that diversity is opportunity, not a hindrance. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

IDEAPLAY: New Media, Society & Change

Recently I was invited by the Department of Education at Michigan State University to give a public lecture and some interviews on how people learn to leisure and labor with new technologies in rural India. They did a wonderful job in capturing the interview through their multimedia portal IDEAPLAY, an excellent way to disseminate and share conversations that take place at this department. Below are the links for the interview:

IDEAPLAY: Payal Arora on New Media, Society and Change 

Learning to leisure and labor with new technologies in rural India

There is an intricate relationship between leisure, labor and learning. Much is revealed from eight-months of ethnographic fieldwork on computer-mediated social learning in rural India.  The role of educational institutions against informal learning spaces such as cybercafés in fostering digital engagements is explored. Issues of global knowledge constructions, plagiarism, and collaborative/peer based learning with computers is analyzed in this unique emerging market context.  The researcher gained employment at popular cybercafés to capture the spectrum of youth learning with new media spaces. It is found that leisure occupies a central position in the embracing of new media technologies and much labor goes into such playful and creative processes. Through Orkut, music downloads, instant messaging and dating, these cybercafés transform into recreational hubs while incidental learning occurs. New media spaces it is seen allow for new exposures and opportunities for learning; yet, what constitutes as ‘good’ learning is subjective to the nature of mediations, both social and technical. Collaborative and informal learning are liberated from formal curriculum and yet, such freedoms bring with it deep and persistent (mis)education. New kinds of expertise are created online that compels us to re-examine the role of the teacher as authority in knowledge construction. World knowledge is locally designed and is often not shared, creating cosmopolitanisms in global education. In essence, it is found that learning through digital spheres is indeed creative but not necessarily ‘correct’ by formal education standards nor compatible with global understandings.  Thereby, through a series of specific digital explorations and encounters by the youth, we learn that interaction does not necessarily equate to understanding, learning with new technologies can be peripheral and fleeting and that which gets learnt can diverge far from what is expected to be learnt.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

EUR fellowship grant 2012-2014 for the research proposal, “Virtual parks: Conceptualizing leisure spaces in the digital age”

Dr. Payal Arora, a member of The Erasmus Centre of Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC) has received € 135,000 from the EUR fellowship grant scheme for 2012-2014 to study the conceptualizing of leisure spaces in the digital age. For the next two years, the recipient of this grant Dr Arora will be investigating how real and virtual leisure spaces can be comprehensively framed through a historical, transnational and cross-cultural lens. This project has also procured a book contract with the Studies in Science, Technology & Society Series of the Routledge/ Taylor & Francis Group. The forthcoming book will be published under the title, "Virtual and Real Leisure Spaces: A Comparative and Cross-Cultural Analysis." In essence, the early 20th century birthed a radical phenomenon across several cultures and nations- the demarcating of certain public space for primarily leisure purposes. From India to the United States, urban parks became a symbol of democracy, openness, and freedom as they emerged from a protracted struggle to shift from the hands of the State or imperial powers to that of the masses. There was much euphoria about their unregulated and public character, reflecting a new age of modernization and civilization. Yet, over time, it has been revealed how contentious the process of shaping, regulating, and sustaining of public parks can be as well as its pluralistic and transcultural nature. Interestingly, the 21st century is celebrating the birth of another leisure space that shares this rhetoric of being open, free, universal, non-utilitarian, and democratic: social network sites. As the Net shifted from the hands of the State to that of the user, its leisure spaces have been looked upon as sites where regardless of gender, age, and/or culture, people commune, browse aimlessly, socialize and share their views openly. Yet, two decades later, usage of these online spaces reveal its deeply political, commercial and socio-cultural character that opens debates of critical concern on what constitutes as openness, universality and democratic as governments and corporations are finding ways to architect and manage these virtual geographies and, users are harnessing these sites for a range of activities.
Thereby, this project draws parallels between urban parks and social network sites, and aims to highlight the historicity and plurality of public leisure spaces and provide a much needed rootedness in this highly speculative media discourse. While social network sites have a short history, the study of underlying structures, networks and its cultures have been of core preoccupation in the sociological and anthropological field for decades. Urban parks, be it the classic 19th century parks or more contemporary theme parks, corporate parks, walled and community gardens, and commercial parks serve as spatial metaphors to reveal different aspects of new media spaces. Metaphors have been used strategically in the social sciences and humanities to unpack complexity and normalize novelty by extending the meaning of content/context to which it is applied. Here, urban parks as a metaphor serve as a powerful tool to construct and comprehend virtual space by overlapping the physical onto these digital domains. This capitalizes on the now much accepted notion that the Net has spatial characteristics in common with real-world places and how we comprehend geographic space reveal insights and lines of enquiry into how we spatially comprehend Web 2.0 spaces.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Does culture matter? Business practices across the Netherlands and Middle East

A few months ago I was contacted by the Netherlands Institute of Beirut to see if I would be interested in talking about culture and business in the Middle East. This is part of their upcoming initiative to create bridges between the Middle East and the Netherlands, starting within an academic setting. Part of this commendable drive it seems to me is a response against this growing Islamophobia within Europe which is of course deeply troubling. What better way than to engage the youth across these borders in areas of common interest. I like the idea that instead of going there to be preachy about intercultural harmony and respect, that we choose a topic that the youth are genuinely engaged with and from there see how culture actually matters. So of course it’s of little surprise that the topic that youth in the Middle East seem to be interested in is that of business, social media and globalization. And for good reason. Like other young people across the globe, I believe they are more concerned about how to shape their identities online and are striving to capitalize on these new digital platforms to create collaborations and sustain relationships. Perhaps some of them want to embrace entrepreneurship and experiment with their ideas online given that they’re entering an economy that has little to offer them and instead of chasing unpaid internships indefinitely and pricy master and doctoral degrees, perhaps they can be drivers of their own fate. But of course it’s worth communicating ones skepticism about overplaying the role of social media in this process. Much like the over hyped role of twitter in the jasmine revolution, I definitely do not want to communicate that this is their digital ticket to liberation and freedom from the current economic plight. More importantly, I do not want to get stuck with exhausting notions of culture as nation bound which is common when one is doing a “bridging” of cultures where on either end of the spectrum lies the Middle East and the Netherlands. Before you know it, we often get ourselves wrapped up with the typical discourses on religion and values and social customs, exoticizing the other and walking away with a reaffirmation of difference rather than commonality. On the other hand, one does not want to discount it completely. So I was very excited to see the Economist article on the Magic of Diasporas where it talks about how the youth from emerging markets are leveraging on these digital platforms to circulate ideas and connections that foster trust and propels business opportunities. The bottom line here is that the migrant is not a dirty word and that current protectionist policy is doing more damage within borders by blocking flows of people (and thereby fresh thinking) from different cultures. It talks about how crossing real and virtual geographies enables creativity that is essential to staying ahead in the game. We need to shift from our monocultural outlook and comfort zone, allowing us to view the typical as something that could be exotic again. I liked the way it framed geographies of diasporas over nationhood, geographies of innovation and networks over the usual notions of class and culture. Anyway, I digress... So when I first started to prepare for these workshops at the University of Jordan and St. Josephs in Beirut, it started with a couple of innocent workshops with students. Now its grown to conducting workshops with the Leaders of Tomorrow, a non profit for the youth at the King Hussain Cultural Centre in Amman to the Chambers of Commerce in Beirut where I'll be addressing mainly business people from Lebanon. I am keenly aware of my dearth of knowledge of their context and their current practices. But that said, I believe that my vagabond lifestyle of moving from India to San Francisco to Boston to New York and now the Netherlands may be of some interest as well as the fact that I shifted careers quite dramatically and have leveraged on multiple social media platforms in my work and personal life to move ahead. I hope that by personalizing this talk and drawing from my range of cross cultural experiences in work and my private life, and providing ample opportunities for them to share theirs, we'll be able to jointly see what these bridges can look like…less nationalistic I hope and more about reproduced social practice that is shaped through certain policies and politics. Looking forward to this adventure...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When in India...swami style reflections in 2011



I left India 16 years ago. With every annual visit back to my hometown, Bangalore, there is a new version of the past created. The past becomes highlighted when the present changes. And changes are aplenty. Roads are constantly being expanded with colossal pillars for the fast train emerging smack in the middle. The guts of Bangalore are being opened up for the NammaMetro, “our metro” fast train, designed to control and digest the 7 million strong city residents. There is constant talk of the “center” being moved, given the construction of luxury gated communities and IT parks along the outskirts of Whitefield to Hosur road, with the future rotating around the new airport shaped after much championing for a new global image for this hybrid city.

And hybrid city it is as 60% of the residents come from across the country and NRIs (Indians who settled in the West) are making their way back to etch their place in this perceived dynamic market and simultaneously be close to their aging parents. The new ambition balances with traditional family values, working well for the Indian economy. On the other hand, the “center” remains entrenched and persists with the small fry shops that I grew up with, small corner comic book libraries, sweetstalls and jean shops surviving the onslaught of the new mall virus spreading across Bangalore. Within the last 5 years, malls have made their presence felt from 3 shopping complexes to now about 40 mega-consumer parks spread across the city. Marks & Spencer, Lush, and Nokia rests non-ironically with home grown stores within these new leisure park spaces, wrapped within the larger experience of masala popcorn and Bollywood in IMAX style.


Everywhere you go, you feel the presence of change. Sikkimese hairdressers, Malayali nurses, to Punjabi business people create the surround sound of the city. New policies emerge to streamline this dynamism be it new bank policies to stricter rules on getting a SIM card for the cell phone. Security measures have beefed up yet India has the knack of displaying ironies in the most entertaining of fashions. Pirated DVD shops, once hidden, now gain legitimacy as they take over a large shopping complex in the heart of Bangalore, selling “original quality” pirated movies of Sex and the City to Salman Khan’s latest big hit, Dabangg. What else? This city continues to hold the title of the “Garden City,” in spite of the systematic felling of trees and the “Pub city” in spite of recent year changes to pub timings to 11am, killing the liquor business to a great degree. Simultaneously, this city is being considered a serious contender from the typical Mumbai hotbed of cultural innovation, for Italian fine cuisine to fashion, expanding its reach beyond the software and call center nodes that represent it. With the New Year, new changes are felt. The city is a beast, consuming and being consumed at a faster rate than ever before. It is a lot to digest after all.