Screening Culture, Viewing Politics

An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India

Screening Culture, Viewing Politics

Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 28 b&w photographs Published: December 1999

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Media Studies > Film

In Screening Culture, Viewing Politics Purnima Mankekar presents a cutting-edge ethnography of television-viewing in India. With a focus on the responses of upwardly-mobile, yet lower-to-middle class urban women to state-sponsored entertainment serials, Mankekar demonstrates how television in India has profoundly shaped women’s place in the family, community, and nation, and the crucial role it has played in the realignment of class, caste, consumption, religion, and politics.
Mankekar examines both “entertainment” narratives and advertisements designed to convey particular ideas about the nation. Organizing her study around the recurring themes in these shows—Indian womanhood, family, community, constructions of historical memory, development, integration, and sometimes violence—Mankekar dissects both the messages televised and her New Delhi subjects’ perceptions of and reactions to these messages. In the process, her ethnographic analysis reveals the texture of these women’s daily lives, social relationships, and everyday practices. Throughout her study, Mankekar remains attentive to the tumultuous historical and political context in the midst of which these programs’ integrationalist messages are transmitted, to the cultural diversity of the viewership, and to her own role as ethnographer. In an enlightening epilogue she describes the effect of satellite television and transnational programming to India in the 1990s.
Through its ethnographic and theoretical richness, Screening Culture, Viewing Politics forces a reexamination of the relationship between mass media, social life, and identity and nation formation in non-Western contexts. As such, it represents a major contribution to a number of fields, including media and communication studies, feminist studies, anthropology, South Asian studies, and cultural studies.


“[A] densely informative but highly moving book . . . . Mankekar’s reach is broad . . . . [E]xtensive data about the history of television in India . . . . “ — Felicia Hughes-Freeland , Current Anthropology

“[A] gem. . . . Mankekar has elegantly and convincingly demonstrated the usefulness of ethnography when trying to understand the complex ways in which media texts operate in particular societal contexts. . . . [B]rilliant. . . .” — Rashmi Luthra , Journal of Communication

“[A] readable, engaging exploration of the lives of the residents in two New Delhi neighborhoods.” — Lisa Tsering , India West

“[A] superb ethnography combining extensive fieldwork, interviews with viewers and producers, textual analysis, and institutional analysis of a state-run television network with a historical overview of relationships among caste, class, religion, gender, and nationalism.” — Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, Signs

“[C]learly and accessibly written, meticulously documented, and carefully argued. It makes an excellent addition to research and teaching in regional, gender, and media studies. Mankekar coherently threads together narratives on mass media, consumption, gender, and nationalism. She demonstrates that ethnography is not simply an empirical record of places and persons, but can be a means of exploring how televisual production and reception are embedded in conjunctures of local and translocal processes and institutions. It is a significant accomplishment.” — Mary Hancock , Anthropological Quarterly

“Mankekar has crafted a study that . . . expands our knowledge of the power of what is ‘seen’ in India. This book reminds us, once again, that the medium is the message: the serials broadcast by Doordarshan literally promulgated and repeated, in episode after episode, particular notions of hegemony, modernity, nation, and gender.” — Phyllis Herman , Journal of Asian Studies

“Mankekar’s ethnography is theoretically sophisticated, tightly written, and rich with the interpreting voices of her subjects.” — Chaise LaDousa , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Mankekar’s excellent book treats the role of India’s state-run television in the ideological construction of nation, womanhood, identity, community, and citizenship. . . . A major contribution to the fields of mass communication, popular culture, gender studies, and feminist anthropology and sociology. Highly recommended.” — D. A. Chekki , Choice

"A thorough, lucid and well-crafted book, Screening Culture, Viewing Politics is essential reading for any student of modern India concerned with television, gender and politics. It is a foundational text in the emerging study of consumption and the new middle classes of India." — Times Higher Education

“An outstanding work by a brilliant and passionate scholar. Screening Culture, Viewing Politics is a rare jewel. Not only does Mankekar explore a key historical moment in India’s history, but she brings a vibrant feminist political critique to her understanding of the construction of the modern Indian state. This book will become a classic.” — Ann Gray, University of Birmingham

“In India, where nothing stands still, least of all, tradition, it is remarkable how the unwavering eye of Purnima Mankekar has studied the ceaseless working and reworking of the gendered anxieties of a nationalized, post-colonial, febrile middle under the flickering light of Doordharshan—India’s state run television. Screening Culture, Viewing Politics is a must for anyone interested in culture in the broadest and most fecund sense of that term.” — E. Valentine Daniel, author of Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence

“Purnima Mankekar has crafted a compelling and richly informed account of one of the most difficult of anthropological topics: the power of television to turn local and gendered intimacies into—literally—gripping allegories of national identity. Fusing scholarship and elegance in an exceptionally accessible narrative, she attends to audiences as well as texts. In this way, she provides an exemplary demonstration of how superb ethnography can best disentangle the actual complexities behind the usual cant about modernity, nationalism, and the media.” — Michael Herzfeld, author of Portrait of a Greek Imagination


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Purnima Mankekar is Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Culture Wars 1

Part 1: Fields of Power: The National Television Family

2. National Television and the “Viewing Family” 45

3. “Women-Oriented” Narratives and the New Indian Woman 104

Part II: Engendering Communities

4. Mediating Modernities: The Ramayan and the Creation of Community and Nation 165

5. Television Tales, National Narratives, and a Woman’s Rage: Multiple Interpretations of Draupadi’s “Disrobing” 224

Part III: Technologies of Violence

6. “Air Force Women Don’t Cry”: Militaristic Nationalism and Representations of Gender 259

7. Popular Narrative, the Politics of Location, and Memory 289

Epilogue: Sky Wars 335

Notes 359

Bibliography 395

Index 417
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2001 Sharon Stephens Book Prize, American Ethnological Society

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2390-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2357-0
Publicity material