Week 5: Response on caste, race and tech platforms

For this week’s readings, I read the draft paper sent by Prof Philip on caste census and digital technologies in India. In the paper Prof Philip touches upon the political problems with counting/quantifying/enumerating caste in the Indian context and how many progressives in fact argued that not codifying caste (along with socio-economic status) would allow for the term’s discursive grip to loosen over the Indian public sphere (where reading caste in last names is very easy and almost unavoidable).¬†Although a similar argument could be made on the Right arguing that counting caste only renders its effect more visible.

Before going into the paper’s larger argument about what digital technologies might do for the revival of the caste census, I think that Prof Chandler’s lecture last week gave me a lot to think about the sheer tenacity of categories such as ‘race’ and ‘caste’ (whether they can be refurbished at all or what do they do semantically for those who stand upon them to talk through them).

In the direction of tech design, a paper that I revisited to think about my own work is this seminal paper by Tarleton Gillespie on technology ‘platforms’ (2010) and what does it mean to talk about a digital space as a ‘platform’ rather than a network (an older favorite in terms of spatial metaphors about the digital). This paper argues that the word ‘platform’ exists as a “discursive resting space” and perhaps deliberately so because then a platform can claim to be an important intermediary (“youtube is the enabler of global video-sharing”) and simultaneously claim to be a mere intermediary with no liability (“uber merely shows you rates based on algorithmic calculations and market demand”). Now, if we step away from the discursive jiu-jiutsu surrounding calling something a platform or rather pick on one of its material/architectural/electoral meanings (stable surface to stand on) and use the platform metaphor to look at caste, we can see how categories of caste and race both afford similar ambivalence (or multivalence) in terms of anchoring multiple and even politically antagonistic discursive and material moves on the part of those who use the category.

The analogy (tech platform to identity as platform) definitely needs more thought because of course one cannot shun or control an identity position like one can stop participating on a tech platform but these multiple readings helped me open up the politics of “instituting” and materializing a term through which several claims are held together at once.

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