Nishant Shah

Nishant Shah headshot

Nishant is the founder and Director of Research for the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society. His doctoral work at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, examines the production of a Technosocial Subject at the intersections of law, Internet technologies and everyday cultural practices in India. As an Asia Scholarship Fellow (2008-2009), he also initiated a study that looks at what goes into the making of an IT City in India and China. He is the series editor for a three year collaborative project on “Histories of the Internet(s) in India” that maps nine alternative histories that promote new ways of understanding the technological revolution in the country.

Nishant’s current research engagement since 2009 has been with the possibilities of social transformation and political participation in young peoples’ use of digital technologies in emerging ICT contexts of the Global South. Working with a community of 150 young people and other stakeholders in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, he has co-edited a 4-volume book titled Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? and an information kit titled D:Coding Digital Natives. Nishant writes regularly for The Indian Express and GQ India to give a public voice to the academic research. He is currently also engaged in a project that seeks to articulate the intersections of digital technologies and social justice within the higher education space in India.

Nishant designs Internet and Society courses for undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of Communication, Media, Development, Art, Cultural Studies, and STS, in and outside of India. He is a founding member of the Inter Asia Cultural Studies Consortium and has also worked as a cyberculture consultant for various spaces like Yahoo!, Comat Technologies, Khoj Studios, and Nokia.


Blogs (24)


Against the Ampersand: Hyperlink Politics for the Future

Monday, June 06, 2016

Chain links connected together “States are certain loci of power, but the state is not all there is of power. The state is not always the nation-state…So, already the term state can be dissociated from the term ‘nation’ and the two can be cobbled together through a hyphen, but what work does the hyphen do? Does the hyphen finesse the relation that needs to be done? Does it mark a certain soldiering that has taken place historically? Does it suggest a fallibility at the heart of the relation?” — Judith Butler and Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak, authors of Who Sings the Nation-State? The


The Politics of Reticence: Beyond Number Games

Thursday, April 21, 2016

People standing under a large LGBTQ flag Politics by numbers is a funny game. It allows for large structures like universities to reduce the question of diversity, plurality, dissent, and acceptance into quantified rubrics of access, inclusion, and representation. So that universities can often build coherently diverse groups, where the markers of identity tick the boxes of conformity and resemblance to diversity ideologies, but more often than not, these tick marks are ways to gloss the reinforced cultures of containment and the persistent poetics of silence. In the last two blogs, I had looked at #DalitLivesMatter, as arising from the politics of despair,


From Intersections to Encounters: What the University Can Stand For

Monday, March 21, 2016

large crowd of protesters holding signs and waving flags in India #StandWithJNU Politics of Hope is a dreadful thing. The cruel algebra of necessity kicks in, when you are contemplating the possibilities of the future — not possibilities for the future, but of even having a future — yet, the future is the only thing that you can aim for. The future, in many ways seems to be analogous to the digital. We cannot name it, can’t define it, can’t predict it, can’t explain it, and yet, we seem to be constantly touched by it, shaped by it, and when we see it, we know it. If


From Cross-roads to Intersections: Hashtags for the Future of Learning

Monday, February 15, 2016

protesters in India sitting on ground holding signs Note: This is the first of a four-part series that introduces three hashtags that seek to punctuate and puncture the techno-utopian policies and social perceptions of the forms, formats and functions of the university of the future. #DalitLivesMatter I write from a condition of panic. Not of fear, not of anxiety, not of anger or indignation — all of those states offer the possibility of action, indicating the capacity to run, hide, flee, and defend. Panic, on the other hand, is a state of extreme paralysis, where the only options available seem to be unconditional despair and


Rethinking the Educator’s Role Toward Distributed Teaching

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Philo medieval university painting Editor’s note: This blog is the third in a series of four on digital learning. In our day-to-day work, we come across a vast range of blog entries, papers, presentations, videos, posts and tweets about digital education, in which different aspects of online learning and teaching are depicted, experiences made are reflected upon and new concepts and approaches are presented. Reading through these, we cannot help but be reminded of the picture showing a typical teaching scenario of the Dark Ages: a teacher being surrounded by a group of learners, listening to him and learning from him.


The Power of Decentralization in the MOOC

Thursday, July 30, 2015

old illustration of rhinoceros Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four blogs on digital technology. Nishant Shah’s Annotation: In the last entry, I had suggested that instead of connectedness, what we really need to think about, in connected and digital learning, is the idea of distributedness. I had argued that the role of technology in MOOC environments is that of consolidation, and it is the act of consolidation that allows for the distributedness of learners, teachers, and resources to be sustained. Building upon this conversation, my colleague Mariam Haydeyan at the Leuphana Digital School, uses the


The Role of Technology in Digital Learning

Thursday, July 23, 2015

screen shot of what does the fox say music video Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four blogs on digital learning. In their accidental and ironic hit Youtube song, “What does the Fox say?”, the Norwegian band Ylvis, who first produced it as an “anti-hit” production, takes up a school-book primer describing all the different noises that animals make, and make a critical intervention in this taxonomy of school-room sounds: But, there’s one sound that no one knows, what does the fox say? The viral hit song has been adopted by many different user-movements, who have used it to draw attention to


The Reader in Digital Humanities

Monday, February 09, 2015

man reading book in subway terminal The Reader in Paradise Lost DIgital Humanities  When Stanley Fish wrote his magnificent treatise on the role of the reader in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, he was making an argument that the real fallen angel, lost in sin, in Milton’s retelling of the Christian myth, was the reader. Fish argued that the epic was not about Satan or Adam or Eve, but about the reader, who was taught the lesson, every time s/he was attracted to the poetic splendour or to Satan or dismayed by the cruel acts of God. Fish successfully argued, that the reader was


The Disappearing Selfie, Part 3

Monday, October 06, 2014

screenshot of youtube video girl holding signs up explaining facebook bullying experience This is the third and last of a three-blog series exploring the selfie as a digital object and the ways in which it posits challenges for us to understand and analyse it as embedded in everyday cultural practices and analysis. While I still await, with bated breath, for Peter Jackson to turn it into a movie so that you don’t have to read the first two posts and can just watch a movie generated entirely of crowdsourced selfes (like the “Selfie anthem,” for instance), here is a very brief summary of what you missed. In the


The Selfish Selfie and Simulation, Part 2

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ellen DeGeneres famous celebrity group oscars selfie Random autobiographical story: When in school, as part of our elocution classes, we had a dragon for a teacher, who used to prowl around with a menacing looking wooden measuring scale, as we obediently enunciated our words and practiced tongue twisters in an attempt to improve our diction and pronunciation. “She sells shellfish on the sea shore” the class chanted in a well-trained chorus. Every voice a whimper, trying to find comfort in remaining anonymous. But, in the middle of the group chanting, the scale rose and there would be silence. One petrified kid was stared


The Selfie and the Self: Part 1 – Hiding and Revealing

Monday, June 16, 2014

female astronaut floating in spaceship looking down at earth The inherent tension in the world of the social web is between hiding and revealing. In the post-Snowden era that we live in, there is a collective public anxiety about how much of our selves is known by government databases, social network algorithms, and big data analytics that are creating profiles of every action, every transaction, every flick of the eye and stroke of the key, as we go our merry way on the Internet. At the same time, we are coming to terms with the fact that visibility is the new currency —our private data


Networks: What You Don’t See is What You (for)Get

Thursday, April 17, 2014

the word network printed on the side of building When I start thinking about DML (digital media and learning) and other such “networks” that I am plugged into, I often get a little confused about what to call them. Are we an ensemble of actors? A cluster of friends? A conference of scholars? A committee of decision makers? An array of perspectives? A group of associates? A play-list of voices? I do not pose these  questions rhetorically, though I do enjoy rhetoric. I want to look at this inability to name collectives and the confusions and ambiguity it produces as central to our conversations around


Defending the Humanities in the Digital Age

Monday, February 24, 2014

digital humanities graphic with words that represent humanities Taking Care of Things: Reclaiming What is Lost in Our Defence of Humanities[1] If this were a book, this section would be the preface. If it were an academic paper, a footnote. If an art piece, a curator’s note. But, in this mixed multi-media semi-strange space of the research blog, this is just the space where I tell you what is going to follow. And perhaps, explain (though not to justify) why I need to tell you what is going to follow. For a while now, I have been trying to work through some of the questions


How Can We Make Open Education Truly Open?

Friday, November 22, 2013

the word open drawn multiple times on graph paper I have spent the last month being unpopular. I have been in conversation with many ‘Open Everything’ activists and practitioners. At each instance, we got stuck because I insisted that we begin by defining what ‘Open’ means in the easy abuse that it is subject to. It has been a difficult, if slightly tedious exercise, because not only was there a lack of consensus around what constitutes openness, but also a collective confusion about what we mean when we attribute openness to an object, a process or to people. It was easy to define openness as


Big Data, People’s Lives, and the Importance of Openness

Monday, June 24, 2013

hundreds of blue ethernet cables plugged into wall Openness has become the buzzword for everything in India right now. From the new kids on the block riding the wave of Digital Humanities investing in infrastructure of open knowledge initiatives to the rhetoric of people-centered open government data projects that are architected to create ’empowered citizens’, there is an inherent belief that Opening up things will make everything good. I am not an Open-data party pooper. In fact, I firmly believe that opening up data – through hardware, through software, through intellectual property regimes on content – and enabling access to information and data is


Remembering Aaron Swartz, Taking Up the Fight

Thursday, January 24, 2013

man standing on stage speaking to protesters with signs at save the internet rally I encountered the Aaron Swartz memorial the other day that helps ‘liberate’ a randomly selected article from JSTOR, as an act of civil disobedience, to commemorate both the legacy that Swartz leaves behind, but also the high-profile witch-hunt case which was a crucial factor in him taking his own life. Much has been said about Swartz and much more will have to be said about him, and about his work, to make sure that the good that men do does not get interred with their bones. And there are people more articulate, closer to him in


Habits of Living: Being Human in a Networked Society

Monday, October 22, 2012

blurry picture of persons hands in the air holding iphone at concert Recently, in Bangalore, a cluster of academics, researchers, artists, and practitioners, were supported by Brown University, to assemble in a Thinkathon (a thinking marathon, if you will) and explore how our new habits of everyday life need to be re-thought and refigured to produce new accounts of what it means to be human, to be friends, and to be connected in our networked societies. There is no denying the fact that life on the interwebz is structured around various negotiations with information. Even as we go blue in the face, in the face of information overload,


An Apologia for Copying

Thursday, September 13, 2012

groups of students working at laptops in library I was on a Google hangout with some friends the other day, and we were talking about the thisness and thatness of life. Conversations (as they always do) veered towards books we were reading and that started a torrent of recommendations and links, of books one should read, books one should absolutely read, and books that one should read or might as well just give up. The books were from different parts of the world. They were in different languages. If I had not been in this conversation with a bunch of people who are not


Revisiting Techno-euphoria

Thursday, July 05, 2012

black and white photo of boy texting while riding his bike In my last post, I talked about techno-euphoria as a condition that seems to mark much of our discourse around digital technologies and the promise of the future. The euphoria, as I had suggested, manifests itself either as a utopian view of how digital technologies are going to change the future that we inhabit, or woes of despair about how the overdetermination of the digital is killing the very fibre of our social fabric. A way out of it, for some of us working with young people and their relationships with (as opposed to usage of)


Techno-euphoria

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

female student working on laptop with headphones When it comes to youth, technology and literacy, the warring lines seem to have been drawn and the voices on both the sides are strident, if not loud. There are those who insist that with the digital native in the classroom, we have to reconceptualize our idea of what the education system is, forwarding a hypothesis that the entire system of literate learning was designed with a particular student in mind and must be amended to accommodate the ‘new’ kind of student. Techno-utopians often insist that it is the student who defines the learning environment and


Digital Futures: Internet Freedom and Millennials

Friday, February 03, 2012

padlock on green door Last year was a turbulent year for freedom of speech and online expression in India. Early in 2011 we saw the introduction of an Intermediaries Liability amendment to the existing Information Technologies Law in the country, which allowed intermediaries like internet service providers (ISPs), digital content platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) and other actors managing online content, to remove material that is deemed objectionable without routing it through a court of law. Effectively, this was an attempt at crowdsourcing censorship, where at the whim or fancy of any person who flags information as offensive, it could


The Digital Others

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

indian women holding 2 cell phones surrounded by other women Based on my research on young people in the Global South, I want to explore new ways of thinking about the Digital Native. One of the binaries posited as the Digital ‘Other’ — ie, a non-Digital Native — is that of a Digital Immigrant or Settler. I am not comfortable with these terms and they probably need heavy unpacking if not complete abandonment. Standard caricatures of Digital Others show them as awkward in their new digital ecologies, unable to navigate through this brave new world on their own. They may actually have helped produce digital technology


In Search of the Other: Decoding Digital Natives

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy your future sign on ground during protest rally This is the first post of a research inquiry that questions the ways in which we have understood the Youth-Technology-Change relationship in the contemporary digital world, especially through the identity of ‘Digital Native’. Drawing from three years of research and current engagements in the field, the post begins a critique of how we need to look at the outliers, the people on the fringes in order to unravel the otherwise celebratory nature of discourse about how the digital is changing the world. In this first post, I chart the trajectories of our research at the Centre


Enhancing Connected, Distributed Learning

Thursday, August 13, 2015

leuphana holding a large meeting in conference room This is the last of the four-part series that draws from our experiences of completing a Mentored MOOC called “Managing the Arts” with the Goethe Institute at the Leuphana Digital School this spring. In the first part, I argued that distributed learning might conceptually help us better than connected learning, as it shows the seams, and promises not connectivity but consolidation as the role of technologies of online learning. My colleague Mariam Haydeyan detailed the idea of a distributed learner and her fragmented learning processes that become consolidated when we imagine the learner not just as an individual