Designing (Post)Colonial Knowledge: Imagining South Asia

deadline for submissions: 
October 7, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
South Asian Popular Culture
contact email: 

In Saloni Mathur’s 2007 book, India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display, she analyzes sites of artistic and cultural productions and institutions as they represent Indian design within colonial power structures. Reading sites as varied as museums and colonial postcards contrapuntally, Mathur proposes that the arts’, crafts, and aesthetics were significant not only in a conscious effort to control the visual display of culture and as a set of aesthetic traditions, but also how they signfied dynamic shifts in imperial contacts. Work by scholars such as Mathur, Karen Fiss, S. Balaram, and Ashoke Chatterjee, among others, contributes to a growing body of scholarship that examines the relationship between design and its construction of knowledge about multicultural identities in the colonial and postcolonial periods, and serves as a springboard into the call for papers for this special issue on South Asia, (post)colonialism, and design. Designs may be regarded as diagrams of mental maps of individual and collective cultures, which can have profound implications for the re-envisioning of postcolonial histories. The infusion of design studies with strands of postcolonial theories such as nationalism; transnationalism; transculturalism; diaspora; displacement, among others, can reveal the much-needed work in linking these modes to the distribution of power through emotional evocations and “experience”. We begin with a definition of design Beginning with a definition of design as a cognitive assemblage which translates information and/or ideas into concrete forms. How can the study of design help us to challenge assumptions about the distribution of power in a globalized, transnationalized era, particularly around notions of authenticity, exotic-ness, and colonial passivity in relation to post-colonial identity formations across nations? Well into the 21st century, we have witnessed profound changes in the ways that identities are positioned within and against global and local economic and cultural forces, and, between public spaces and private ones. How do we theorize the mobilization of emotional negotiations being made as we buy increasingly into becoming global citizens-as-consumers and vice-versa? Design studies centralizes the continued interrogation of the cognitive dissonance between products that may be coded as “authentic” and the “lived-in-ness” of products and their concomitant symbolic and ideological meanings in the “real” world, something that is inherently problematic for the analysis of non-western cultures. Critics in design studies emphasize the vernacularization of culture vis-à-vis analyses of the uneven processes of colonization and globalization. There is a process of indigenization of consumer goods, along with their attendant symbolic and ideological values, which cannot be transferred in an uninterrupted and unmediated way to passive consumers. Moreover, the invocation of being “haunted” by “ghosts” of cultures and experiences reconfigured by marketing that makes use of (and thereby recreates) aspects of post-colonial cultures can aid in tracing the processes by which material culture is inherently self-reflective in that it recognizes its own historicization in colonial cultures and recursive in its newer forms. This special issue of South Asian Popular Culture asks for essays that pose questions about colonial history, colonial and postcolonial cultural practices, and the aestheticization of South Asian art, design, and media forms as they inform identities in a deterritorialized global culture.

We are looking for critical essays, which should be 6,000-7,000 words, or pieces for the “Working Notes”, which should be 2,000 – 3,000 words. The “Working Notes” selections may be more experimental, creative, or informal and should draw on theory or other intellectual issues that fit into the theme of this special issue.


Possible topics include but are by no means limited to:


  • How can design subvert the “exotic” and/or the “authentic”?
  • World Markets
  • Postcolonial bodies on display
  • Histories of design and its industries in South Asia
  • Colonial architectures
  • Representing “traditional” culture within a transnational framework
  • Bollywood’s design of the national and diasporic citizen
  • Design and postcolonial development
  • Emergent technologies and design for postcolonial nationalism
  • “Barefoot designers”
  • Software design
  • Design and the Experience of Trans/National Experiences
  • Vernacular architecture
  • Religion, religious practices, and popular culture
  • Re-reading Orientalism
  • The future of design


 Please send 300-500 word abstracts to Priya Jha at and Rajinder Dudrah at by Friday, October 7, 2016. Please indicate on your abstract whether you are submitting a critical essay or a piece for the “Working Notes.”