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From telegraph to fibre optics: governmentality, subjectivation and communicative infrastructure in India

Bhat, Ramnath (2021) From telegraph to fibre optics: governmentality, subjectivation and communicative infrastructure in India. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 25 (3). pp. 329-350. ISSN 1369-801X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/1369801X.2021.2003230


Internet infrastructure is deeply implicated in the winds of change sweeping India and many other countries across the world. Amidst growing economic inequality both globally and within India, and set in a historically caste-structured society, communicative infrastructure has played a crucial role not only in the economic domain but also in a new architecture of rule in terms of governing state-subject relations. I draw on relevant scholarship from the disciplines of history and anthropology to emphasize the productive possibilities of theorizing infrastructure’s intimate involvement in practices and processes of governmentality and subjectivation, i.e. in exerting of authority over others and construction of the self. Taking up economic and institutional arrangements in the telegraph system (in the nineteenth century), the telecommunications sector (in the late twentieth century) and the contemporary fibre optic networks (in the early twenty-first century), I argue that communicative infrastructure has enabled a new architecture of rule in India. This new architecture is based on capacity to centrally control the disbursement of financial resources to individual citizens who can be selectively targeted as beneficiaries for electoral gains, an affective systems rationality, capacity to produce new subject positions and exert procedural control both selectively and indiscriminately, rather than only rely on overt oppression. I suggest that although the focus of this essay is on communicative infrastructure in India, the theoretical framework can be useful as a method for scholars to investigate the role of infrastructure in the interlinked processes of governmentality and subjectivation in their own societies.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2021 10:57
Last Modified: 23 May 2024 23:18

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