SOAS University of London

South Asia Department

The Politics of Culture in Contemporary South Asia

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of this course, a student should be able to demonstrate . . . 

  • An understanding of culture in contemporary South Asia built upon an appreciation of the multiple forms, languages, and avenues of cultural production; the relationship between local, national, and transnational/global domains; and the remix and reuse of older repertoires and forms in contemporary situations.
  • An ability to digest and synthesise the content of lectures, films and seminars and use them to produce reaction papers and essays to a high standard


A total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The course begins by problematising the notion of national culture while noting the ways in which nation-states in South Asia produce and broadcast particular cultural models. However, these models form only one strand of cultural production: vigorous forms of activism produce counter-cultural forms that often re-use and re-interpret older traditions. Also, despite attempts to purify or delimit national cultures, culture in South Asia continues to mix and remix motifs and vocabularies and to speak to new audiences.

While considering English (and its local hybrid forms) to be a South Asian language, the course will also draw attention to the richness and salience of vernacular expressive codes.

Module 1 National cultures
  • Weeks 1 & 2 What is national culture?
  • Weeks 3 &4 Language & the state
  • Week 5 English as a South Asian language
  • Week 6 RW
Module 2 Media cultures
  • Weeks 7 & 8 The contemporary mediascape
  • Week 9 &10 Beyond the metropolis
  • Week 11 Essay preparation seminar 1
Module 3 Activist cultures and cultures of resistance
  • Week 1 Street theatre and political theatre
  • Week 2 Music and activism: rediscovering traditions
  • Week 3 Documentaries
  • Week 4 Political songs & poems
  • Week 5 Feminist poetry or The culture of feminism
  • Week 6 RW
Module 4 Culture as translation
  • Week 7 Many Ramayanas
  • Week 8 Travelling tales, travelling motifs
  • Week 9 Religious palimpsests
  • Week 10 The life of qawwali
  • Week 11 Essay preparation seminar 2

Method of assessment

Two essays of 3500-4000 words each (each 30%); fortnightly reaction papers of 800-1000 words each (5 best reaction papers to account for 30% of overall mark); presentation (10%)

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list for this course will be supplied by the convenor at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules