by Nishant Shah
When Raymond Williams began his ambitious work to create keywords for the 20th Century, in many ways, it was the consolidation of the modernist project of giving shape and form to the world that we lived in. Richly sourced, referenced through some of the most heavily contested debates, and giving a comprehensive view of concepts that have not only shaped but also changed the ways in which we understand some of the most fundamental questions of being human, being social, and being political, his Keywords remain a fascinating example of how our thoughts get clustered across a few key concepts, ideas, experiences and processes.
However, the digital turn, where ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’, and folksonomy has become the default aesthetic of our times, where grand narratives have been questioned and universalisms have fallen short of explaining the world, the keywords take on a different form, format and function. This project to gather keywords for the 21st Century, rests on three principles that have been ushered by the digital turn:
- The novice-expert paradigm: The novice-expert paradigm proposes that we need to stop thinking of the learner and user of knowledge as a blank canvas upon which information can be written. Each interlocutor brings with him/her a range of experiences, observations, critical ideas and thoughts which help them navigate through their discursive and operational practices in the world. While we do learn, and continue to learn through new inputs, catalysts, dialogues and debates, we also possess certain ideas which are central to our view of the world. The students in this class, thus, were encouraged to go back to things, processes, ideas, concepts and phenomena which they are familiar with and construct them as keywords – as central loci through which their contemporary society can be defined. Instead of falling back on concepts that the canons in our disciplines of cultural studies have identified, we went on a quest to find keywords that are personal, and hence, fiercely political.
- User Generated Knowledge: With the proliferation of documentation of practices, we live in unprecedented information ecosystems. Knowledge is no longer confined to scholarly texts or the walled gardens of educational institutions. There is a huge variety of knowledge production that takes up different forms, from podcasts to memes, from Wikipedia entries to YouTube videos, and many of the younger learners are already embedded in this zeitgeist. The project encouraged the learners to look around them, and draw their theoretical knowledge and critical insight, not merely from scholarly sources but from the grey literature and sources that capture the messiness of our everyday life and present new ontologies to approach the world.
- Public Locations of theory: As knowledge production becomes more distributed and democratic, there is an increasing demand to look at the relationship between knowledge making and society. Especially in the critical times of precarious instability that we live through in the first two decades of the 21st Century, it has become increasingly crucial for knowledge to not remain in silos of academic performance and scholarly citation. Hence, the entries in this book, are not only drawn from the real world but also reflect, in their writing and presentation, an ease and fluidity that can enable a wide variety of interested readers to engage with the critical questions.
Like most digital objects, this is a collaborative, peer reviewed, uneven and non-exhaustive compendium of ideas. What is exciting about these keywords is the process through which they come about, the cross-relationships that they form, and the spirit of redefining the world we live in, that they embody. Written entirely by undergraduate students studying with the Institute for Culture and Aesthetic of Digital Media, these keywords are a beginning point that examine, map, and illustrate new methods, processes, responsibilities and structures of knowledge making for young scholars engaging with critical thought and research approaches in contemporary times.