Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone, and the Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu

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"Technologies of the Voice." June 3, 2009 via Brandon Costello.

Abstract

Through the public broadcast of intimate telephone conversations between Nepalis abroad and those in Kathmandu, the diaspora is made "present" in Kathmandu. On these commercial FM programs, the voice is viewed as a key sign of emotional directness, authenticity, and intimacy. Simultaneously, the figure of the voice has been central in discussions about the promises (and failures) of democracy and transparent governance. These two seemingly distinct formations of voice are mutually constitutive. Sentimental discourse about the voice reiterates modern neoliberal discourse about democracy and vice versa. Both are crucial to the formation of an urban Nepali subject in this political moment, which is deeply shaped by the figure of the diaspora.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays that examine the role of the radio in cultural production. See, for example, Daniel Fisher's "Mediating Kinship: Country, Family, and Radio in Northern Australia" (2009); Danny Kaplan's "The Songs of the Siren: Engineering National Time on Israeli Radio" (2009); and Brent Luvaas' "Dislocating Sound: The Deterritorialization of Indonesian Indie Pop" (2009).

About the Author

Laura Kunreuther is an assistant professor and director of Anthropology at Bard College in Annadale on the Hudson in New York State. Her essay will be particularly relevant to readers interested in diaspora, media technologies, and the role of the voice in the formation of different publics and subjects.

Multimedia

Listen Online to Kathmandu Radio Stations

Short Documentary about RadioActive Nepal 98.3, a new community radio station in Kathmandu:

A discussion of the "power of radio," and the connection to "the voice":

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. The essay begins with a description of the Nepali government attacking radio stations, seizing equipment, and forbidding the broadcast of news about opposition to the royal regime. How do these actions compare and contrast with the types of "censorship" ocurring in the U.S. in the months after 9/11/01? Are "new media" and the internet entirely resistant to censorship?

2. What are the affordances and limits of "the voice" in relation to "the promise of democracy?" Kunreuther argues that "sentimental discourse about the voice reiterates modern neoliberal discourse about democracy," but groups opposed to neoliberalism often mobilize similar discourse about the voice and democracy. Kunreuther, for example, points out that "the voice is often used as a metaphor to describe consciousness and empowerment, particularly among a group of people who have not been adequately represented in politics or history" (326). What happens when opposed groups (neoliberals vs. the "alter-globalization" movement or many feminist scholars) mobilize similar discourses ("the voice" as tool of empowerment)? How does Derrida's rejection of the logocentric understanding of the voice as a "site of presence" affect the terms of debate?

3. Kunreuther writes that "Temporality and affect rather than shared territory shape the way in which this diaspora is constituted" (325). A similar privileging of temporality over geography can be found in Kaplan's recent CA essay on "engineering national time on Israeli radio." Do these two essays point to a general move in recent anthropological work to a focus on time over space? Or do they reveal ways in which the categories of "time" and "space" are being re-worked?

4. According to Kunreuther, radio is perceived in contemporary Kathmandu as a "medium of transparent, direct connection." Interrupting this view, how can critical media literacy help reconceptualize the criteria of a "good democracy" in a mediated world? When the view of media as "enabling unencumbered and 'direct' social relations" is put into question, does this unsettle traditional notions of the role of representation and participation in democracy?

Editorial Overview

In this essay, Laura Kunreuther explores how the diaspora is made "present" in Kathmandu through the public broadcast of intimate telephone conversations between Nepalis abroad and those in Kathmandu.

In her essay, titled "Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone, and the Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu," Kunreuther argues that on these broadcasts the voice is viewed as a key sign of emotional directness, authenticity, and intimacy. Simultaneously, she sees the figure of the voice as central in discussions about the promises (and failures) of democracy and transparent governance. Seeing these two seemingly distinct formations of voice as mutually constitutive, she writes that "sentimental discourse about the voice reiterates modern neoliberal discourse about democracy and vice versa. Both are crucial to the formation of an urban Nepali subject in this political moment, which is deeply shaped by the figure of the diaspora."

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