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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

Year Degree Awarded

2015

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

Briankle Chang

Subject Categories

Critical and Cultural Studies | Mass Communication

Abstract

My dissertation is an attempt to construct a theoretical framework for the distinctive nature of the mass media in the postcolonial political context through an engagement with the theoretical legacy of Indian political theory and historiography, especially the Subaltern Studies school. I draw from Partha Chatterjee’s conceptualization of Indian politics as divided into the two spheres of civil and political society and interpret these political categories through the rubric of mass media and televisual discourse, both to locate the mass media in the discourse and practice of politics, and to also locate political practice as it takes place in a mediatized context.

To extend Chatterjee’s understanding of the postcolonial polity, I map these political categories to Jean Baudrillard’s understanding of human communication that is divided between the symbolic and semiotic domains. I trace Baudrillard’s theoretical trajectory from Durkheim and Marx through social anthropology and media theory. I also try to interpret his categories through Marx’s concept of the subsumption of labor under capital as a metaphor to understand how the thread of capitalist modernity runs through them.

I posit that the nation-form is the essential embodiment of capitalist modernity in the context of a mediatized political sphere where the nation is essentially what Baudrillard calls a simulacrum, and I try to understand it as a semiotic discourse that is located within the realm of civil society. I explore this aspect of the relationship between media and politics through instances of the mass-mediation of the symbolic domain of political society.

Finally I argue that it is the symbolic domain that is the dominant aspect of communication in the postcolonial context, and it is a recovery of the symbolic that will provide a political challenge radical enough to destabilize the semiotic realm of capitalist modernity. This recovery can only take place if the mass media shifts its location from civil society to the democratic challenges of political society. A radical theory of the media in the postcolonial context will be one that will enable this shift by critically engaging with the absences and silences of the symbolic within current media discourse.

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