Multimedia Geographies of the State

Type: Virtual Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 53
Organizers: Indivar Jonnalagadda, Karan Misquitta, Saumya Vaishnava
Chairs: Indivar Jonnalagadda

Call for Submissions

To participate in this session, please submit an abstract (250 words or less) as well as your conference PIN by Friday, November 9, 2020 (11:59pm) to, or Participants will be notified by December 1, 2020 and must submit their abstract by the AAG paper abstract deadline of November 19, 2020. For more information, please see:


How do we address the difficulties of studying the digital state? The push to digitize the state dovetails with projects designed to provide a new generation of abstract public goods such as: efficiency, transparency, smartness, agility (Hetherington, 2011; Bear and Mathur, 2015; Datta, 2018). Ethnographic inquiries into the bureaucratic state in the global south have productively focused on the interface between citizen-subjects and the machinery of the state, personified by the bureaucrat. However, as a result of these attempts to digitalise public sector institutions new forms of state spatiality have begun to emerge (Ferguson and Gupta, 2002; Schou and Hjelholt, 2019), including digital portals and also new partnerships between public and private institutions (Söderström, Paasche and Klauser, 2014). Our intent here is not to repeat the call for a research programme of “studying up” (Nader, 1972; Gusterson, 1997), but rather to call for cross-hierarchical studies (Hoag and Hull, 2017) both within and across institutions engaged in this project. The digital state offers new challenges but also new tools and possibilities for the crucial task of disaggregating the state (Gupta, 2012).

The state has always been a multi-media phenomenon. As the world navigates the COVID pandemic, these multi-media articulations of the state are likely to expand further. While the ethnographic method has been taken up effectively to study state mediation through bureaucratic paper documents, offline encounters and embodied experiences of office spaces, the method runs up against limitations in apprehending state actions in their trans-local and multi-modal dimensions. This panel reflects on methods (ethnographic or otherwise) that bridge the study of the digital and the analog state, and that take into account complex relational geographies of the state.

With these projects in mind, we gather papers which ask:

- How can geographical methods of inquiry adapt/expand to the study of the digital state? From what vantage point can we access and study the digital state?
- What are the techniques and practices through which the digitalization of the state occurs?
- What forms of statehood, governance, and citizenship arise through the use of digital technologies?
- What new configurations of public-private partnership are enabled by a digital state? How do we study emerging concerns about corporate control over infrastructures of governance?
- How do these mechanisms relate to state action through older media such as paper, built environments, physical infrastructures, etc.?
- What are the implications for how citizen-subjects experience and negotiate with the digital state?

Bear, L. and Mathur, N. (2015) ‘Introduction: Remaking the Public Good: A New Anthropology of Bureaucracy’, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 33(1), pp. 18–34.
Datta, A. (2018) ‘The digital turn in postcolonial urbanism: Smart citizenship in the making of India’s 100 smart cities’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43(3), pp. 405–419. doi: 10.1111/tran.12225.
Ferguson, J. and Gupta, A. (2002) ‘Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality’, American Ethnologist, 29(4), pp. 981–1002. doi: 10.1525/ae.2002.29.4.981.
Gupta, A. (2012) Red tape: Bureaucracy, structural violence, and poverty in India. Duke University Press.
Gusterson, H. (1997) ‘Studying up Revisited Methodology’, PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 20(1), pp. 114–119.
Hetherington, K. (2011) Guerrilla Auditors: The Politics of Transparency in Neoliberal Paraguay. Duke University Press.
Hoag, C. and Hull, M. (2017) A Review of the Anthropological Literature on the Civil Service. The World Bank (Policy Research Working Papers 8081). doi: 10.1596/1813-9450-8081.
Nader, L. (1972) ‘Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives Gained from Studying Up’, in Hymes, D. H. (ed.) Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Pantheon, pp. 284–311.
Schou, J. and Hjelholt, M. (2019) ‘Digital state spaces: state rescaling and advanced digitalization’, Territory, Politics, Governance. Routledge, 7(4), pp. 438–454. doi: 10.1080/21622671.2018.1532809.
Söderström, O., Paasche, T. and Klauser, F. (2014) ‘Smart cities as corporate storytelling’, City, 18(3), pp. 307–320. doi: 10.1080/13604813.2014.906716.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Karan Misquitta*, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, A Tangled Web: A network approach to the documentary practices of bureaucracies 15 8:00 AM
Presenter NAFIS HASAN*, , Voicing Bureaucracy, Enacting Authority: App Based Telephony in India 15 8:15 AM
Presenter Sangeeta Banerji*, Rutgers University, The Dying Cadre - Tracing the Ordinary Ethics of Transitions 15 8:30 AM
Presenter Tariq Rahman*, University of California, Irvine, Digital State, Analog Parts: A Leaky Database in Lahore 15 8:45 AM
Discussant Ayona Datta University College London 15 9:00 AM

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