Politics of Culture in Contemporary South Asia - A

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
South Asia Section

Module overview

This is a module on culture in contemporary South Asia that highlights 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.

During the first half of the term the module will introduce key elements of cultural theory and their application to South Asian contexts and materials and problematise the notion of national culture, while noting the ways in which nation-states in South Asia produce and broadcast particular cultural models.

During the second half of the term the module will focus on challenges to and complications of these models through instances of cultural and political activism, changing concepts of 'legitimate language', and non-state media production.
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.

This module can be taken as an open option



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to;

  • Approach and understand texts (broadly defined to include film, theatre and performance) critically and situate source material in social, political and cultural contexts
  • Understand the ways in which public culture impacts political decision making
  • Understand issues related to knowledge production and manipulation.
  • Be familiar with key texts and debates within South Asian cultural studies
  • Be able to develop research, verbal and written expression as part of transferable skills across academic disciplines


The module is taught over 10 weeks, 2 hours per week consisting of one lecture and one seminar

Scope and syllabus

Unit A

  • Introduction to cultural theory and area studies
  • Nation, culture and language
  • Culture, state and affect in Pakistan
  • Language beyond the state: Hinglish and English
  • Language beyond the state: Punjabi

Unit B: four or five of the following topics;

  • Street theatre and political theatre
  • Activism and solidarity on the university campus
  • Political and cultural impacts of disasters in South Asia
  • Ideologies and insurgencies
  • The contemporary mediascape in India
  • Mass media and decentralized circulation in Pakistan
  • Themes in contemporary Indian cinema
  • Radio waves
  • Documentary films: from state to self-produced

Plus an essay workshop

Method of assessment

  • 3 x Reaction papers (1000 words each) to be submitted in term 1 (50%)
  • 1 x Essay (2500) to be submitted term 2 (50%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

All readings for this module are uploaded onto Moodle.

  • Appadurai, Arjun, and Carol A. Breckenridge. 1988. “Why Public Culture?” Public Culture 1 (1): 5–9
  • Bourdieu, P., 1991. "The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Language”. Ch. 1 in Language and Symbolic Power. Harvard University Press
  • Mines, Diane P. and Sarah Lamb, eds. 2002., Everyday Life in South Asia, Indiana UP.
  • Mukhopadhyay, Bhaskar 2006. ‘Cultural Studies and Politics in India Today’, Theory, Culture and Society Annual Review (Sage), Vol. 23, No. 7-8, p-275-288
  • Nandy, Ashis 2007. ‘The Lure of ‘Normal’ Politics: Gandhi and the battle for popular culture of politics in India’, South Asian Popular Culture Vol. 5, 2 (October 2007): 167-178.
  • Samaj 10 (2014) Ideas of South Asia https://journals.openedition.org/samaj/3699
  • van Schendel, Willem 2002. ‘Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in South-east Asia’ Environment and Planning 20.2: 647-68

Additional Reading:

All readings for this module are uploaded onto Moodle. What follows is a sampling of the 'further readings'

  • Roy, Srirupa. 2002. "Moving Pictures: The Postcolonial State and Visual Representations of India.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 36 (1-2): 233-63.
  • Brass, Paul R. 1990. Ch. 5 in The Politics of India since Independence. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Mitchell, Lisa. 2009. Ch. 1 in Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India the Making of a Mother Tongue. Indiana University Press.
  • Whelpton, John 2008. ‘Political identity in Nepal: state, nation and community’ in Gellner et al (eds) Nationalism and Ethnicity in Nepal, pp. 39-78.
  • Ayres, Alyssa. 2009. Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shingavi, Snehal. "Islam and Struggle in Pakistan (Review of Toor, State of Islam).” International Socialist Review 80, November 2011.
  • Toor, Saadia. Interview with Jadaliyya and excerpt from State of Islam (2011).
  • Khan, Naveeda. 2012. Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan. Durham: Duke University Press Books. (1-20, 201-207 required; 145-170 firmly recommended)
  • Zeitlyn, B., Janeja, M.K., Mapril, J., 2014. Introduction. Imagining Bangladesh: Contested Narratives. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal
  • Orsini, Francesca. 2015. 'Dil Maange More: Cultural contexts of Hinglish in contemporary India', African Studies 74.2: 199-220.
  • Österlind, Eva. 2008. "Acting out of Habits - Can Theatre of the Oppressed Promote Change? Boal's Theatre Methods in Relation to Bourdieu's Concept of Habitus.” Research in Drama Education 13 (1): 71-82.
  • Ashis Sengupta 2014 (ed.) Mapping South Asia Through Contemporary Theatre. Essays on the Theatres of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
  • Zook, Darren. 2001. 'The Farcical Mosaic: The Changing Masks of Political Theater in Contemporary India.' Asian Theatre Journal 18, 2: 174-199.
  • Kumar, P Kesava. 2010. 'Popular Culture and Ideology: the Phenomenon of Gaddar'. Economic and Political Weekly XLV, no. 7. 13 Feb. pp. 61-67.
  • Kalra, Virinder S., and Waqas M. Butt. "'In One Hand a Pen in the Other a Gun': Punjabi Language Radicalism in Punjab, Pakistan.” South Asian History and Culture 4, no. 4 (October 1, 2013): 538-53.
  • Lochan, V. (2019). Embodied forms of politics and identity in South Asian protest movements: Pinjra Tod and Delhi. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 25(1), 132–147.


Dr Anandi Rao


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules