Beyond the Identitarian Deadlock: Why Mobile Methods Are Useful for Studying Media in Zones of Conflict

AuthorMax Kramer
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterNotes on Method
Beyond the Identitarian Deadlock:
Why Mobile Methods Are Useful for
Studying Media in Zones of Conflict
Max Kramer1
We begin with a problem.2 It is something that pressures us to arrive at questions, methods, and concepts.
The problem that I have been dealing with for some years now is how filmmakers make sense of audio-
visual testimony in zones of conflict, in non-identitarian ways.3 ‘Making sense’ refers to the film form
as it engages with a sensorium in which feelings can be created and negotiated. In saying ‘identitarian’,
I speak of the ways that conflict parties apply fixed categories of cultural identity to archived, ready-
made facts (Udupa, 2016), in the sensorial field of what media scholar Ravi Sundaram calls a ‘crisis
machine’ (Sundaram, 2020). This crisis machine circulates testimonial images as political stimuli from
one media-event to the next. In doing so, it enables affective energies to be appropriated by the Hindu
right. The crisis machine refers to synergies between a new phase of Hindu nationalist dominance in the
media-sphere and dispersed post-Fordism (to borrow a term from Pothik Ghosh4), the current form of
capitalism that fragments time-space and subjectivities while drawing on the cognitive and affective
capabilities of human beings. In fact, the term identitarian does not have much to do with the theories
and practices that go under the name of identity politics (see the debate in Bohrer [2019], Dean [1996],
Haider [2018] and Táíwò [2022]). The identitarian capture works in the service of moral outrage and is
most effectively mobilized from the far right in what are called information wars. The fallout is that
egalitarian forms of political belonging become increasingly difficult to feel and articulate. My research
focuses on practices of witnessing at work in the form of documentary film in zones of intractable
conflicts (Bar-Tal, 2013). In these zones, dynamics of identitarian capture become exacerbated by a
politics of victimhood (Bar-Tal, 2013; Datta, 2020) and also by the hypervisibility of a set number of
tropes through which conflict zones are imagined. Within dispersed Post-Fordism human interactions
Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid,
1 Institut für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2 My approach to the ‘problem’ draws on the work of Gilles Deleuze, itself a movement from problem to problem (for a good
introduction to the concept of the problem in relation to postcolonial studies, see Bignall and Patton [2010]).
3 Examples of my analysis can be found in Kramer (2022, 2017).
4  Pothik Ghosh has developed a conceptual language to speak of the changes in Indian cultural politics from a position inected by 
Post-Operaismo and South Asian—vernacular—streams of critical theory. His latest work has not been published, but I had access
to it through interviews. Some of Ghosh’s theorization of the current state of cultural politics can be found in Ghosh (2016, 2022).
Notes on Method
Corresponding author:
Max Kramer, Institut für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 14195, Germany.
Studies in Indian Politics
10(2) 289–297 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135822

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