Report on the Fifteenth International Conference

“Media and Utopia: Imagination, History, Technology”

December 16th – 19th

Hotel Kanha Shyam, Allahabad  

The Forum’s fifteenth International Conference on “Media and Utopia: Imagination, History, Technology” was held from December 16 – 19, 2012 at Hotel Kanha Shyam, Allahabad in collaboration with the Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Allahabad. About 110 participants from across the world attended the conference. The conference sessions formally commenced on Monday morning with a welcome address by Professor S. C. Dubey, Head, Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Allahabad . Prafulla C. Kar, Convener, Forum on Contemporary Theory spoke about the Forum and its activities. Arvind Rajagopal, Professor of the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University in the thematic introduction to the conference, suggested ‘utopia’ and ‘media’ as the essential determinants in exploring the new possibilities and different readings in global futures and the undercurrents that largely define them. The inaugural address was delivered by Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission of India, New Delhi .  

Arvind Rajagopal introducing the Theme of the Conference  

Satyananda Mishra delivering the Inaugural Address

The Chandigarh Conference Volume The Virtual Transformation of the Public Sphere edited by Dr. Gaurav Desai was released by Professor Arjun Appadurai.  Following the inauguration Arjun Appadurai, the Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University in his keynote address, “The Landscape of Hope in Contemporary Hindi Cinema” discussed the inevitable yet foggy relationship between the lived experiences and the realm of possibility as projected in the Indian Cinema since Indian independence through certain vocabularies and registers.

Arjun Appadurai releasing the Chandigarh Volume  

Matthew Connelly, Professor of History, Columbia University , New York discussed in his keynote address titled “Media, Dystopia and Disaster: How Forecasts and Future Scenarios Have Been Used to Rule the World” how in the progress towards utopian visions lurks within the process of decline. His talk explained the juncture where the world appears to be coming together and coming apart simultaneously, on one hand the glorious dreams of globalization and at the same time it is haunted by ecological and scientific threats. On the third day of the conference, Christopher Pinney, Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London, in his keynote address titled, “The Civil Contract of Photography in India ” brought in the subtle relationship between the utopian possibilities in media and the contemporary social scenario. Besides the keynote addresses the plenary talks also gave a suitable direction to the topic of the conference.    

Matthew Connelly

Christopher Pinney

            The Fifteenth International Conference featured as plenary speakers renowned scholars from across continents and disciplines. On the first day, Chandan Gowda, Professor of Sociology, Azim Premji University , Bengaluru and Anupama Rao, Associate Professor of History, Barnard College , Columbia University , New York shared the session in the first half. Chandan Gowda in his talk, “Invocations of Kaliyuga in Violent Kannada Cinema” attempted to illustrate the journey that began with the triumph of evil, overpowering it and their implications for the present and future Kannada communities. Anupama Rao in “Urbanity and Utopia: On Dalit Forms of Life” explores the discordant link between global Marxism and Dalit critique and its impact in forming a distinct Dalit consciousness of urban subalternity.

Chandan Gowda and Anupama Rao giving Plenary Talks

In another, Satish Deshpande, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University and Arvind Rajagopal, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University shared the plenary session. Satish Deshpande in his talk “The Western University as Utopia: Mediating the Politics of Location?” demonstrated the western universities as a utopia, where the monopoly of the west is supplemented by the cosmopolitan and inclusive outlook along with other factors. Arvind Rajagopal in “Between Utopia and Dystopia: The Banal and the Extraordinary in Contemporary Indian Publicity” spoke on the issue of publicity in India as tacitly under strict supervision by considering certain episodes like, Radia Tapes expose, terror attacks in Mumbai, and the Anna Hazare campaign.  

Satish Deshpande  

On the plenary session of the second day Bishnu N. Mohapatra, Visiting Senior Fellow at the South Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore, Jyotirmaya Tripathy, Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Guru Charan Behera, Professor of English, Banaras Hindu University , Varanasi spoke on Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Chha Mana Atha Guntha. On similar trend, another plenary had a thorough discussion on Flesh and Fish Blood between the author of the book, S. Shankar, Professor of English, University of Hawaii at Manoa and Gaurav Desai, Associate Professor of English, Tulane University , New Orleans , USA , the critic. The plenary speakers on final day were On Barak, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Middle Eastern & African History at Tel Aviv University and Rey Chow, The Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University , USA . On Barak in his paper “On Innocence and the Uneven Mediation of Utopia” captured the turbulent anti US protests in the Arab world and tried to see beneath it the levels of tolerance, violence, freedom, speech, humour and censorship. In his view the film The Innocence of the Muslims presents the contestations of the shared future of Muslim militants, Western liberals, non- violent protesters and American diplomats. It was an exploration of certain kind of futures in the given political present. Rey Chow’s presentation brought out the contemporary Chinese women into the world of cinema, advertisement and other visibilities that seek to question the fetishized femininity. Rey Chow’s paper was presented in absentia by Professor Arvind Rajagopal.  

Plenary Session on Fakir Mohan Senapati's Chha Mana Atha Guntha  

On Barak

Besides the keynote addresses and plenary speakers, the conference hosted a diverse range of paper presenters. The conference received a good number of papers that were arranged under five panels of New Media, Ideology, Film, Literary Texts and the Future of Utopias. Keeping to the main ideas of the conference the papers reflected on various disciplines and notions that lend a wide approach and space for new insights. Regarding New Media, presenters addressed subjects like the politics of representation of the female body in Cyber Pop culture, simulation social games which usher the players into heterotopic, hyperreal space, and contexts and also how new media shelters the queer community in Bangladesh .  

Parallel Session

Under the sub-theme of Ideology, participants covered topics ranging from the role of textile trade before 1800 AD and how the Indian weavers shaped the course of world history. The question whether nationalism has unfolded as a Utopian idea today in the changed circumstances of sub-nationalism, particularly in a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic society like Assam have also been highlighted in one of the papers. Cinema and history also featured as a thought provoking issue. Several literary texts received focus, and to mention a few were the Ramayana and its prospects of retelling and ideological mediations, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Matigari as a study of the role of media and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures studied as an apparatus of negotiating hegemonic power for establishing a utopian social structure.

A Section of Audience

The evenings were scheduled for spectacular cultural programs. Ghazals of Firaq Gorakhpuri and Poems of Nirala were sung by O. P. Malviya, retired Professor of English, University of Allahabad on the first day. The film “The Undying Flame: A Documentary on Mahima Samaj” directed by Manoranjan Dash was screened on the following evening. The film deals with the Mahima Dharma, a living religion of Odisha that connects people through faith in equality and justice. The 3-day long conference came to its end on 19th December 2012 with the valedictory session addressed by Professor Prafulla Kar, M.P Dubey, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Allahabad , and Professor Susheel K. Sharma of the department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Allahabad .