About original

About this project.

Digital technology is typically presented either as the utopia, the answer to deepening democracy, or increasingly blamed for new dystopian realities. Lived realities are much more blurred, as digital platforms and technologies become domesticated in anticipated and unanticipated ways and the experiences of those who use them are contingent on the intersecting social, cultural, economic and political worlds within which they are embedded. This project examines the situated practices, experiences and imaginaries of WhatsApp in India.

The role of WhatsApp.

Since WhatsApp launched in India in mid-2010 it has become the leading digital platform for communication in India with over 400 million active users. There are now more WhatsApp users in India than in any other democracy. Political parties have been instrumental in mobilising the platform not only to organise within political parties, but also to communicate with ordinary citizens and potential voters across India. WhatsApp has increasingly shaped political talk and political imaginaries across the country, from tea stall conversations to ministerial debates. WhatsApp plays an important role in connecting people through trusted networks on shared private digital spaces, however its platform has been challenged for facilitating ‘fake news’ to go viral, which in some incidences have been connected to violence and recent changes to its Privacy Policy have provoked global debate.

Transforming everyday life.

Against this backdrop, this project aims to understand how digital technology, and WhatsApp in particular, is reconfiguring and transforming everyday political life in India. It responds to calls for more nuanced understandings of digital technology beyond western contexts (Chan 2013, Poggiali 2016, Nyabola 2017) and extends an important and timely perspective on the increasing digitality of India’s lived democracy (Michelutti 2008, Banerjee 2013) whilst recognising the persistence of analogue politics and uneven digital realities.

The project draws on the principles of digital and ethnographic methods incorporating participant observation, everyday conversations and in-depth interviews with ordinary citizens and party-political actors, focusing in particular on participants’ digital and socio-political lives.

The initial phase of this project was funded by the WhatsApp Misinformation and Social Science and Research Awards. The Facebook owned company has had no input into the research design, has not shared any data with us and nor does it have editorial oversight of our research outputs.

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