Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Slumdog Millionaire’s Governmobility: Managing Strangeness in India’s Tourist-Technological Systems

(Security and Sustainability Research Group, Royal Holloway, University of London)
Somerset House, London
2 April 2015

 Dr Rodanthi Tzanelli,
University of Leeds

Slumdog Millionaire’s Governmobility:
Managing Strangeness in India’s Tourist-Technological Systems

A common mistake when considering how film reflects social practice and process is to disconnect it from its contexts of inspiration, inception and production. I argue that it is wrong to consider Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dirs Danny Boyle and Loveen Tandan) a ‘love story’, along the lines of its global marketing. Based on an adaptation of diplomat Vikas Swarup’s Q&A, the film’s ‘text’ (screenwriter Simon Beaufoy), provides a narrative of Mumbai’s fast-track urbanisation-as-modernisation, which is built on the obliteration of its external (immigrants) and internal (slumdwellers) strangers on ethno-religious grounds. Mumbai’s-India’s negotiation of liminal figures, such as the film’s Muslim ‘slumdog’ hero, Jamal Malik from Juhu (slum), is achieved in two stages: first, by failed extermination and later through successful redirection of their (ethno-cultural) difference into consumption circuits.
Taking on board Boyle and his associates’ real engagement with the politics of slum poverty (context), I consider Slumdog Millionaire as a critique of urban modernity’s fundamentalist face in India. In India’s multicultural polity strangers used to be managed by physical obliteration and citizens validated through processing by systems of governmentality (Foucault 1997). This management of mentality by the state, eventually internalised by its citizens (Hindus who murder Muslims in the name of ethno-religious purity), is based on religion in the film’s clip, which incidentally incited real protests in India. In later scenes (already implied in the selected one), we learn that today’s global financial-cultural articulations, strangeness is managed through governmobility (Bærenholdt 2013): systems (such as those of tourism and media/technology) that enable the international mobility of things and humans-as-products.
My presentation draws on the first of three key moments from the film to explore this transition: the Hindu riots and massacres of Muslim slumdwellers (inspired by actual incidents) that young Jamal and his brother narrowly escape (The other two involve Jamal and Salim’s precarious insertion into India’s lucrative tourist industry as Taj Mahal’s cunning self-taught tour guides; and Jamal’s initiation into Mumbai’s telecommunication and media industries as chai wallah-come-telephonic operator and finally quiz millionaire). Jamal appears as Mumbai’s ‘living’ example of governmobile material, which bears witness to India’s success at joining the ‘civilised’ community of modernised nations. During this process, the very idea of ‘borders’ and its connection to strangerhood and vagabondage, are being replaced by the fast mobilities of technology and fleeting privileged tourisms.

Bærenholdt, J.O. (2013) ‘Governmobility: The powers of mobility’, Mobilities, 8 (1): 20–34.
Foucault, M. (1997) ‘The birth of biopolitics’, in P. Rabinow (ed.) Michel Foucault: Ethics. New York: New Press.

Suggested background reading
Kinetz, E. (22 January 2009) ‘Mumbai residents object to “Slumdog” title’, USA Today/Associated Press. Available at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2009-01-22-slugdog-mumbai-protest_N.htm.
The Times of India (22 January 2009) ‘Hindu group demands ban on “Slumdog Millionaire”’. Available at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-01-22/goa/28046633_1_hjs-slumdog-millionaire-hindu-janjagruti-samiti.
Tzanelli, R. (2013) ‘Manipulating the Western Tourist Gaze in Mumbai’s Slums’, Slideshare (PPT presentation). Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/tornadora13/sm-gaze-reality-tourism13.

Biographical note
     Rodanthi Tzaneli is Associate Professor of Cultural Sociology at Leeds, UK. Her research interests include globalisation, cosmopolitanism and mobility, with emphasis on tourism, migration, social movements and art theory.
Rodanthi has been visiting staff twice at CEMORE, Sociology (Lancaster University) and in 2012 at Anthropology, Oxford University. She currently serves on the editorial board of journals such as Cultural Sociology, Anuario de Turismo y Sociedad and the Athens Journal of Social Sciences (AJSS), and on the international advisory boards of the Global Studies Community (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), EUMEDNET (Group de la Universidad de Málaga íntegramente a través de Internet) and the Ikarian Center for Social and Political Research, Greece.
She is author of several digital interventions, over 60 academic articles and eight scholarly monographs, including the forthcoming Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire (Routledge, 2016).

Contact details
Work address: 12.04 Social Sciences, Sociology & Social Policy, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, WEST YORKSHIRE.
Tel.: +44 (0)113 3438746
Fax: +44 (0)113 3434415

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Interdisciplinary Journeys: Belly dancing and embodied answerability in mobile...

Interdisciplinary Journeys: Belly dancing and embodied answerability in mobile...: Wither ‘race’? There is an issue I set aside last time for reflection: does the race of belly dancers matter? How does it affect the ge...

Belly dancing and embodied answerability in mobile cultures, II

Wither ‘race’?
There is an issue I set aside last time for reflection: does the race of belly dancers matter? How does it affect the genre’s mobility in global consumption domains?

I think it does, albeit in a less straightforward, if not reverse, way. The Euro-Oriental pop teachings of famous dancers, such as Isadora Duncan, who introduced a hips-free, torso-and-head dominated choreography, blended alleged Grecian with alleged Egyptian movements to make an alien dance palatable to Westerners. Victorian antics had their global equivalents back then. Since shaking any part of the body that connected to domains of reproduction (hips, breast) in front of spectators was de facto indecorous, Duncan’s whiteness should retain its bodily relationship with ‘civility’ in some other way. Though never dissociated from the budding 1920s femme fatale cinematic persona, Grecian stylistics could at least cast an alien genre in archaic European culture’s familiar colours and ‘pass’ as the female dare-nots’ fashion.   

Orientalism redoux
Duncan’s innovations barely reached the folk terrain of the true ‘Orients’ that they cannibalised to generate the aura of professional respectability in the European and transatlantic West. As I explained before, in these contexts, danse du vetre or raqs sharki continued to be associated with prostitution and other forms of generous female mobility. Its subsequent romanticisation in Western pop domains either ignores its twin Orientalist and sexist associations or stresses them to the point that it shunts its artistic uniqueness aside in favour of some bizarre activist discourse. There is, to be sure, ample truth in the twin racist and sexist crux of the dance style’s histories. But its contemporary global commoditisation requires a different approach that allows space for an investigation of new hybridisation, new border-crossings and exchanges between ‘East’ and ‘West’ – if there ever were such uniform geopolitical spaces.

Image R. Tzanelli, 'Helena Bellydancer (Leeds, UK)'

I grew up in a country proudly advertising its own feminine poetics through a version of belly dancing called tsifteteli (literally, ‘of two strings’ to refer to the musical instrument that accompanies the music). Feminist politics abound, the style’s history is sieved through several chapters of persecution, migration and dictatorship moralism (Stavrou Karayanni 2004). However, now that I do not partake in its rituals any more (being an Anglicised migrant myself and living at the other end of Europe where is also ‘home’), I am struck by the significance of ‘appearances’ in the dance’s execution back then. By this I refer to the spectators’ expectation that the dancer (amateur or professional) looks the part phenotypically: that she is a brunette, with long luscious hair and a brown complexion. Belly dancing beauties (conventionally koúkles, dolls) had to be domesticated versions of the Oriental imaginary, for their performance to acquire verisimilitude. This paradoxical expectation is not dissimilar from that which English professionals encounter, as I recently found out. It is as if their Northern whiteness robs them of their bodily skills, their ability to communicate art to students or even be attractive enough to neo-Orientalist consumers (more correctly, ‘attractiveness’ may be dissociated from skill, thus degenerating into harassment).

It seems then, that there is still a politics of race at work in belly dancing discourse, only it is a politics of reversal: the white subject appears to ‘lack’ in essence, in need of providing ‘proof’ (professional credentials) to be granted ‘passing’. In the same context female ‘blackness’ transforms into a phenomenological standard only as ‘surface’, ready to be voraciously consumed by audiences. Entertainment aside, the politics and poetics of belly dancing are to be treated seriously – for their surface is depth in need of investigating in the social sciences. 

Stavrou Karayanni, S. (2004) Dancing Fear and Desire. Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.