WhatsApp, the digital living room and lived democracy in India
In this Morgenstierne seminar, Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London will discuss the role of the popular digital chat application in transforming everyday politics in urban India.
Digital technology is typically presented either as the utopia, the answer to deepening democracy, or increasingly blamed for new dystopian realities. In this paper we examine how social media platforms are transforming spaces of everyday lived democracy in India, drawing on ethnographic research carried out in the lead up to the 2019 Indian national elections. Drawing on digital ethnographic research from two north Indian cities, this paper considers the role of the ‘WhatsApp group’ as digital infrastructure to think through how WhatsApp has become embedded in India’s social and political fabric since it launched in mid-2010. There are now more WhatsApp users in India than in any other democracy and the platform has become a key tool for political parties to both organise and communicate with voters. For political actors and ordinary citizens alike, the digital chat application has engendered new practices and meanings and transformed digital-analogue politics in urban India. We interrogate the wider implications of this digital transformation with respect to the reconfiguration of private/public spheres and patterns of inclusion and exclusion in political life.
Philippa Williams has over 14 years of research experience in India (Varanasi, New Delhi and Mumbai) on everyday politics of the state, Hindu-Muslim relations, violence/non-violence and the politics of digital development. Her research has been funded by ESRC UK, Cambridge Humanities Trust, Royal Geographical Society and the British Academy. Her current project ‘Social media and everyday life in India’ is funded by WhatsApp.