New Media and Diaspora

According to Mitra, the Internet plays a pivotal role in diasporic communities: facilitating the development of belonging and commonality amongst immigrants who have similar interests and backgrounds. Mitra also points to the role the Internet can play in renegotiating identity for ‘marginalized groups’ such as immigrants. In Hall’s words: ‘Identity is formed at the unstable point where the “unspeakable” stories of subjectivity meet the narratives of history, of a culture’ (Hall, 1984).

Mitra explains that the narratives within which a culture is inserted often overpower the stories of the diasporic community. Although Mitra acknowledges the relevance of virtual communities, she is more interested in how the Internet can accomplish the following:

  • Create voice for marginalized communities;
  • Produce alliances with unique characteristics;
  • Combination of voice and community can help renegotiate identities in a social system.

Voice on the Internet

To engage the way in which voices can be silenced, Mitra turns to Bakhtin’s (1981) distinction between the following:

  • Authoritative discourse – Voice of the dominant: “One must either totally afirm it, or totally reject it. It is indissolubly fused with its authority – with political power, an institution, a person – and it stands and falls together with that authority.”
  • Internally persuasive discourse – “By using that language of the dominant, the subject may be able to coopt the authoritative discourse to produce a new voice which can demand to be heard and acknowledged by others.”

For Bakhtin, possession of voice is often tied to language and technology, controlled by the dominant, which can be used by the dubordinated to utter the call. Specifically in regards to technology, this concept can be related to Feenberg’s notion of democratic rationalization.

On the Internet, this struggle has become even more significant. According to Mitra, “the Internet provides the technology and the language to utter the call, and the Internet has the open-ended potentiality of eliciting a response.” In more conventional forms of media, the ‘Other’ has often been constructed within the authoritative discourse of the dominant. For Mitra, the Internet represents a potential for the marginal to have a voice, and expect a response.

Key Characteristics of Voice

Using Indians in diaspora, Mitra points out several key characteristics of the ‘voice’ created by diasporic Indian communities via the Internet:

  • First, the Indian voice has been produced by many individual Indians who have access to the internet. No specific privileged institutionalized system of expression has replaced the potential for the egalitarian expressive mode of the internet.
  • Second, Indians have utilized the technology of the internet to carry their voices beyond the boundaries of ethno-specific sites such as Samilan.
  • Third, the technology has allowed the formation of a network of voices where the potential meaning of any utterance, a web page for example, is related to the way the page remains connected with other pages that are invoked by it, or invoke it.
  • Fourth, because of the global structure of the internet there is no clear indication in cyberspace of where the caller is geographically located.
  • Fifth, the barrier placed by lack of ‘air time’ in traditional media is replaced by nearly infinite air time in cyberspace.
  • Sixth, the voices do not emanate from an organized source but are the culmination of the voices of various speakers.
  • Finally, hypertextuality produces a regressive discourse in which it is impossible to identity an end or a closure.