SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

The Politics of Culture in Contemporary South Asia

Module Code:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this module, 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 20 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a one hour lecture and 1 hour tutorial.

Scope and syllabus

The module 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 module 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

An essay of 3000 words to be submitted on Tuesday, week 1, term 2 (30%); an essay of 3000 words to be submitted on Tuesday, week 1, term 3 (30%); 8 reaction papers of 800 words each of which the 4 best papers will go towards the final mark (40%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be supplied by the convenor at the beginning of the module.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules