Public Affect, Crowd Theory
and the Question of the Political

June 30 - July 2, 2020
2.00 - 4.00 pm

In 1985 Jean Baudrillard  suggested the ‘the masses’ have been absorbed by a late capitalist strategy of transparency, condemned to permanent participation in a world of information clutter. Earlier generations of European critical theory(Adorno and Horkheimer) had suggested that the rise of a culture industry had tamed the vital energies of the industrial crowd.

The transformation of public speech and expression in a post-internet  era have opened up new questions of collectivity. In the postcolonial world as elsewhere, populations once seen as objects of welfare are part of an app-driven sensory infrastructure, setting up endless potentials for the political. The blurring of street crowds and online agglomerations, private chat networks and public expression, have raised all kind of questions – for cultural theory as well as for the performance of sovereignty. In the reconfigured circulation engine, media objects periodically attach themselves to new platforms of political-aesthetic action. The scale is wide: right wing populism, social movements,  everyday spectacles that fade away almost immediately. Right wing populist leaders (Trump, Erdogan, Duterte, Modi) have drawn from these new energies.

This seminar looks at contemporary political affect through three interrelated questions: the implications for crowd theory in a digital era; the temporality of populist affect and the figure of the right wing leader.  Through these discussions we will also try to understand associated questions of political memory, the spatiality of the mobile phone app, and the status of the legal archive within global machine infrastructures.

Ravi Sundaram is a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. In 2000 he founded the well-known Sarai programme at the CSDS along with Ravi Vasudevan and the Raqs Media Collective. Since then, Sarai grew to become one of India’s best-known experimental and critical research sites on media, spanning local and global sites. Sundaram is the author of Pirate Modernity: Media Urbanism in Delhi (2010) and No Limits: Media Studies from India (Delhi, 2015). Sundaram has also co-edited the Sarai Reader series, The Public Domain (2001), The Cities of Everyday Life (2002), Shaping Technologies (2003), Crisis Media(2004). Sundaram’s essays have been translated into various languages in India, Asia, and Europe. He is currently finishing his next book project, Events and Affections: post-public media circulation. Sundaram has been a visiting Professor at the universities of Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Oxford.