Ralph Schroeder, “Digital Media and Politics in India and China: Social Theory beyond East and West”

Blumer Room - 402 Social Sciences Building

This talk presents arguments from an ongoing book project that compares the role of the Internet in India and in China. For China, the main questions about the internet so far have been about censorship and surveillance, a rather narrow scope. For India, research about the role of the internet has been scarce. Social theories have focused on the internet in Western democracies, and there is abundant research. How are theoretical comparisons possible under these circumstances? I argue that certain dimensions, such as the responsiveness of elites to citizens via (digital) media outweigh differences like authoritarianism (or half-democracy in the case of India) versus democracy. Other dimensions, such as how groups can mobilize for social change, require highlighting the differences between the strength and coherence or otherwise of civil society and how demands for change find digital expression. These ideas will be illustrated with examples from Modi’s populist politics and ultranationalist politics in China. De-Westernizing social theory and theories of digital media must place rising China and India into the context of globalizing modernity, and its limits.