Samvaad Talk: Technology, Politics and Practice

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Prof. Bidisha Chaudhuri
February 19, 2018

Abstract: Is Aadhaar a technology of surveillance? Are Information communication technologies inherently more democratic? Are data merely tools for better decision-making or our identities now reduced to the sum total of the data we generate? These are questions that are equally debated in popular press and academic circles. These questions lead us to ask what is the relationship between technology and politics and how may we analyse this relationship? In 1980, in his seminal essay, “Do Artifacts have Politics”, political theorist Langdon Winner argued that technical things, at least in modern material culture, embody politics. This means technologies either allude to a certain forms of power or they inherently represent specific power arrangements. It is this relationship between technology and politics that I will explore in my talk. In doing so, I will look at technologies as enacted in situated practices – what do people do with technological artefacts in their everyday lives and to what extent are their practices determined by the technical and functional structures of the artifact/system? To elaborate on this point, I will present cases from my research that range from weather information system for farmers in West Bengal to Aadhaar related practices in Common Services Centres in Rajasthan. I examine how technological artifacts and politics shape each other in these cases.

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