Workshop on 'Digital Subjects and Citizens: Recasting Democracies in Networked Societies'

The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, invites proposals for papers to be presented at a workshop on ‘Digital Subjects and Citizens: Recasting Democracies in Networked Societies to be held on 8-10 April, 2024 at CSDS. The proposal should consist of a title and abstract of the paper, along with a brief bio note of the presenter.

Description of the Workshop

The global discourse surrounding the impact of digital technologies on democracy has focussed on myriad issues - surveillance of social life and the associated unfreedoms and risks, the commercialisation of daily interactions of ordinary people, the collapse of local economies, job displacement due to automation, the virtualisation of sociality, the growth of precarious work conditions and the evolving landscape of new kinds of social and employment contracts. This discussion has acknowledged the need for robust legal frameworks to govern technological advancements, often placing the responsibility for managing the societal consequences of digital integration on regulatory structures backed up by nation states and/or international organisations. However, this perspective tends to isolate the structural aspects of the digital political economy from its cultural and social dimensions, including issues of discrimination and exclusion, algorithmic bias, the effective dominance of major technology companies over everyday life and changing psycho-social conditions of being. Clearly, we need to rethink democracy not only in the context of monopolistic Big Tech platforms but also within the ambience of a digitised social economy that has undergone collective and inter-personal transformations. These transformations include the fundamental reconstitution of work, labour practices, competition, taxation, and the juridico-legal contours of data and capital flows, revealing the extractive nature of major tech corporations with cascading implications for the planet, people and societies. The technical and social configuration of the networked society then compels us to recalibrate the theoretical categories through which we understand the intersection of the political and the digital.

We invite submissions in the following streams:

Stream 1: Digital Labour

As a country that seeks to leverage its human capital advantages to drive development, the proliferation of digital technologies in various domains of labour in India raises important questions about how we conceptualise the digital at work and digital work. From information infrastructures that demand new forms of labour for their repair and maintenance, to artificial intelligence systems that manage and automate older forms of labour, digital technologies have been used in the subcontinent in diverse ways to distribute, quantify, discipline, reskill, and invisibilise workers. At the same time, digital technologies have also been used as instruments that subvert managerial surveillance and enable workers to organise in new ways. The nature of work spaces have also changed with the possibility of online connectivity and the division between work and play, labour and leisure, home and office/factory stands challenged. Also widely noted has been the precarity of de-skilled labourers, working invisibly behind to sustain what seems like pure "artificial intelligence" and digitally augmented realities of online retail and platform exchanges. As academic and journalistic engagements from myriad realms demonstrate, the diversity in how work is understood, performed, and managed in various contexts also means that the effects of technology on labour are far from uniform. We are interested in exploring the reconfiguration of work and labour regimes and how that recasts the question of democracy in the contemporary age of digitally networked societies.

Stream 2: Digital Democracy

The breadth of technological advancements facilitated by digital technology, spanning digital public infrastructure, data mining operations, and the challenges in establishing legal jurisdiction for data governance, poses a formidable obstacle in conceptualising the political framework of the digital realm. The swift and widespread implementation of digital technology, characterised by unprecedented scale and complexity, compels us to reevaluate the manner in which we formulate inquiries regarding the digital landscape and address them within the framework of our collective political commitment to democracy. The imaginaries around the digital have also been characterised by peculiar contradictions. On the one hand, the behavioural data of citizen-subjects are concentrated in the hands of a few corporations. On the other hand, social movements disseminate information and mobilise around new political possibilities. Simultaneously, the conceptualisations of the digital that underpin the information revolution necessitate a nuanced exploration of issues related to regulation, data sovereignty, data ownership, rights, privacy, public sphere and the commons. Who or what is the data subject, is s/he an embodied and unitary or a dispersed and abstracted being?  Does a digital citizen work as a bearer of rights in the earlier liberal sense? Within this context, how can our academic inquiries into digital democracy move beyond functionalist, productivist, instrumentalist, or deterministic viewpoints on regulatory interventions that embody a managerial approach centred around ‘data producing citizen-entrepreneurs?’

Stream 3: Digital Experiences: Digital Health & Digital Religion

Digital Health

The proliferation of digital health technologies such as telemedicine, mHealth, eHealth, AI-powered therapy chatbots, remote diagnostics, and personalised medicine is claimed to have heralded a new medical cosmology and the alleged reappearance of the sick patient. They have transformed the spatial and conceptual contours of the clinical space and the medical gaze, although their promissory claims of optimising and democratising healthcare remain moot, and require to be critically unpacked. We also see an increasing presence of health information websites, circulation of affective and experiential accounts of illness, along with Web 2.0 becoming the stage where recurring debates concerning evidentiary practices, therapeutic efficacy, and iatrogenic discontents of biomedicine in relation to alternative systems of medicine are played out. The panel, thus, aims to explore the concurrent trends associated with digitalisation and mediatisation of health in India, including and beyond datafication. 

Digital Religion

The advent of digital and other technologies of mediation has significantly shaped the trajectory of religion in India. Live streaming of rituals, religious videos, spiritual podcasts, sacred recitational apps, digital images of deities, online gaming, and AI avatars have been noted for inducing specific alterations in religious discourses and practices. In the age of digital media, distinct material, social, and cultural conditions of existence have enabled traditions and communities to rediscover themselves in light of the changing meaning of the ‘sacred,’ exhibiting three dominant tendencies – religious nationalism, religious criticism, and religious commodification. We aim to unveil these emerging conditions and critical perspectives on digital religion in India that forge new imaginations and formulations of the public.

Themes may include but are not limited to:

●    Contesting Imaginaries of Digital Justice: Labour Rights, Platform Cooperatives and Data Collectives in the Attention Economy
●    Digital Subjectivities: Algorithmic Management of Labour and Algorithmic Desires
●    Legal Regimes of Data Flows and Data Ownership Protocols
●    Digital Public Sphere and Commons
●    Data Sovereignty, Governance and Democracy
●    Utopias and Dystopias of Artificial Intelligence
●    Digital Infrastructure and New Paradigms of Social Security
●    Data Colonisation and Post-Colonial, Feminist Critiques of Digital Political Economy
●    The Internet, Medical Advice and the Reconfiguration of Expertise
●    Alternative Systems of Medicine and Digital Infrastructures
●    Health Monitoring, Data Bodies and Everyday Lives of Medical Care and Risk
●    Online Rituals and Virtual Spaces of Worship
●    Digital Materialities, Computational Designs, and Devotional Sensoriums
●    Theologies, Technologies and Techno-Spiritual Epistemologies

Practical Information & Guidelines for Attending the Workshop

Submission Procedure

We invite scholars, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to contribute abstracts (300 words) addressing topics related to (but not limited to) the aforementioned conference themes.

Submissions can be made through this Google form.

Timeline

The deadline to submit abstracts closed on 15 February 2024. We expect to announce the results of acceptance by 20 February 2024. The conference is scheduled to take place on 8, 9, and 10 April 2024.

Travel Grant for Presenters Travelling from Locations Outside Delhi (Within India)

Bursaries are available to cover domestic travel for presenters from within India to attend the conference. If you are a participant travelling from outside Delhi and require assistance with travel bursary and hotel accommodation, kindly specify your needs in the Google form. In the event of interstate travel, kindly retain your travel receipts for reimbursement of expenses. We will book your accommodation in Delhi.

Daily Per Diem for Presenters from within Delhi

We will offer a daily per diem for presenters based in Delhi.

Conference activities will be held at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, New Delhi.

Full Papers

We encourage you to send your papers (Chicago Style referencing) prior to the conference for a richer discussion. However, this is not a mandatory requirement.

Queries

If you have any questions, please write to Avantika Tewari or Thomson C S at csdsdigidemocracy@gmail.com