Friday, February 3, 2012

Traditions of communication in India or China

US communication programs are increasingly repositioning themselves toward the Asian market, with the growing number of Asian students that are being drawn into US programs as the US markets take a downturn. Simultaneously, in search of markets abroad, these programs are repositioning themselves to set up shop abroad, making the teaching of communication skills a marketable commodity for a new market segment of students in China and India. As a result, many communication programs across the US are setting up satellite campuses across Asia.

This is a repitition of the same old imperialist strategy that has marked the conquests carried out by Western empires across the globe: the commodity that they are trying to sell here is "communication."

However, a quick look through most of these satellite campuses demonstrates that most of the academics who are placed to carry out the communication programs are not locals. From the vitas of these academics who are managing the satellite campuses and running the programs, you can't really tell whether they have any background whatsoever in China or India, or whether they have spent any amount of time in these countries learning about the local cultural contexts and the understandings of communication in these rich histories. In fact, the study and teaching of "communication" is so highly US-centered that after intense search on multiple databases, I came across two rudimentary books in "Eastern Communication."

So the exporting of communication is based on  a simple logic that US programs of communication have something valuable to offer (a commodity) that is not present in the new market (i.e. a need or want in the market). What is however wrong with this logic of the market is that amidst its ignorance, it arrogantly assumes that these national cultures, with long histories that predate the history of Western empires and civilizations, have not produced knowledge about communication or communication skills. Of course, these American academics/marketers/planners developing savvy marketing plans for setting up skills training workshops and public diplomacy programs say in India are completely unfamiliar with the Hind Swaraj or Arthasastra.

What is however even more disappointing is that this market for US-bred communication skills in India exists because most Indians (myself included) are unfamiliar with either the Arthasatra or the Hind Swaraj. The country has been so thoroughly colonized by Lor Macaulay and the development of Eurocentric knowledge systems throughout that the discursive sites of knowledge production that speak of the rich history of communication knowledge in India have been rendered invisible. The onslaught of the next round of colonialism of communication knowledge can perhaps be countered through efforts of culturally-based scholarship that seek to engage with the rich traditions of Nalanda and  Gurukul, embodied in contemporary institutions such as Shantiniekatan and Viswa Bharati that attempt to embody these cultural traditions and histories syncretically.

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