IRC18: Offline, Kandbari, February 22-24, 2018


04. #RethinkingTheVirtualPublic

Last updated on Nov 24, 2017.

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Context of the Session

The internet has given voice to the voiceless, enabling people to share their experiences with a vast network of people around the globe. Advances in information communication technology at the same time have become vulnerable to surveillance and interception. In the proposed session, we would like delve into the question of social construction of being ‘offline’ or ‘online. On/Off-line as constructed would be juxtaposed with the idea of public sphere; attempting to rethink what we already know as a Public sphere. Historically, the public sphere is understood as an area in social life where individuals get a platform to openly pose, discuss, identify, and influence social or political action. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas particularly defined it as "the public sphere as a virtual or imaginary community which does not necessarily exist in any identifiable space.” This session would rethink the public sphere to explore various ways in which bodies travel as texts susceptible to mass surveillance.

Beginning with such lucid understanding by modern thinker Habermas and his optimistic vision of modernity and commutative action, we would like to extend the horizon of modern public sphere; reaching to the sphere that Insta-world of internet and social media have created. The participatory sphere of internet, which claims itself to be #OpenForAll does not remain open to all across time and space. This so-called public sphere is a manipulative public sphere often under surveillance; either under concerned administrative whims or under the state itself. This follows that the fact of being ‘online’ or ‘offline’ is very often externally constructed. The argument of the ‘privilege of the resourceful’ to be online and part of the virtual world is being taken up in the recent years immensely. Our attempt is to take some steps ahead of it. This session will look at the various apparatus that contribute in being ‘offline’ while at the same time being permeable to surveillance.

Session Plan

The session will begin by conceptualizing ‘Public sphere’ and the state of being ‘offline’ in the virtual world. This will be taken up by Daisy Barman. The next session will be contextualizing ‘offline’ and the nuances of the public sphere which Aamir Qayoom will take up. He would critically engage with the idea of surveillance and its praxis in the virtual world. The question of silencing as well as augmenting voices in the virtual public sphere; shaped, controlled and curbed by moral, political and social apparatus. The session then will be open for questions and discussions. The presentations of the paper will be accompanied by power-point presentation.

Some principal questions that session will deal with are- Is the public sphere we all observe, participate or ‘ignore’ is actually a public sphere that Habermas’s optimistic modernism envisaged? Is the public sphere ‘public’ at all? If it is, then to what extent and under what circumstances an opinion or an idea remains public? How powerful is the virtual public sphere that demands constant administrative surveillance? How does one understand the digital mobilizing of dissent which bolsters the notion of virtual war and making e-enemies? Is being ‘offline’ always a choice? Should we rest with the idea of being watched by ‘Big Brother’ through Orwellian notion of ‘thought crime’?

Session Team

Daisy Barman is an M.Phil research scholar in Center for the study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi. Her research area includes Urban Sociology, Sociology of Religion, Contemporary Indian Sociology and Social Stratification. She has done her Bachelors in Sociology from Delhi University and her Masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Aamir Qayoom is an M.phil Research scholar in Comparative Literature, Delhi University. His research areas are Politics of representation, Women’s writings, Sexuality, dissent and subaltern narratives. His articles are published in numerous online magazines and newspapers. He has done his masters in English Literature, Jamia Milia Islamia New Delhi.