“Digital governance of social movements in contemporary India”
For social movements, the digital acts as both a tool of contestation and a tool of oppression. This is especially the case in the Global South, where digital governance stems from both the state and the Global North. In India in particular, strict measures have been introduced in the name of digital sovereignty, but often with grave implications for internet freedom, and democratic process. Now living in the internet shutdown capital of the world, activists in India offer unique perspective on the developing nature of digital governance, through their experiences of navigating and confronting it.
Within my PhD research, I looked at the experiences of internet shutdowns, shadowbanning (the algorithmic de-prioritising or hiding of content without the user’s knowledge) and doxxing (the sharing of personal identifying information, particularly contact details, without the user’s consent) with feminist activists in northern India. I found that activists do perceive of the digital sphere as colonised, but in a complex interaction between the state government, multinational technology corporations, and pro-government activists. This has implications for theorising digital governance and (post)coloniality in contemporary India and beyond. Existing research on digital governance largely fails to consider the perspectives of those being governed. This Fellowship will therefore allow me to consolidate my existing work through dissemination, and extend the scope of the research through exploratory work with related social movements in India: in particular the internet freedom movement.
The Fellowship is funded through an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Grant as part of the White Rose DTP.
The project is mentored by Professor Sara de Jong.
“Social movement politics: postcolonialism, feminism and the digital in India”
In this thesis I argued that postcolonial theory provides the analytical tools to explain the Eurocentric bias in social movement theory by highlighting the universalism, historicism and institutional bounding of knowledge production. I further deployed postcolonial theory to address difference within social movements, and presented a framework of digital political ethnography to approach this question. Through my fieldwork with feminist activists in northern India, I found that social movement theories of identity, narrative and governance are inadequate, especially for understanding contemporary digital politics. Postcolonial approaches have greater explanatory power specifically due to their sensitivity to difference; this can be studied between but also within movements. My methodological commitment to ‘assertion’ – the way in which individual and collective actors represent their own intentions - provides a more nuanced and rigorous understanding of their politics. This acts as a useful intervention in the structure-agency debate in the study of social movements, and resistance more broadly. I argued that in a digital context, these limitations in social movement theory are more evident due to a lack of social and political theory about the ways in which time, space, and power mediate movement politics. Studying social movements in this way both highlights existing limitations in social movement theory and reveals new transformations, and I presented empirical detail of how feminists construct, navigate and contest their own identities, histories and realities, and experiences of governance.
The PhD was funded through the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Fellowship programme “Interrogating Visions of a Post-Western World”, based at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.
The project was supervised by Professor Humeira Iqtdiar, Dr Poornima Paidipaty and Dr Paolo Gerbaudo.