Routes of caricature : cartooning and the making of a moral aesthetic in Colonial and Postcolonial India

by Ritu Gairola Khanduri

Institution: University of Texas – Austin
Department: Anthropology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Political cartoons; Colonial India; Post-Colonial India; Representational politics; Moral aesthetic
Record ID: 2061394
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2152/29615


This dissertation is a historical- anthropological account of political cartooning in colonial and postcolonial India. Through a focus on representational politics and biography I have situated the history and practice of cartooning in India to unfold the link between politics, the making of a moral aesthetic and modernity. I am attentive to the shifts in this link by tracing the movement in three historical phases: colonial, nationalist, and postcolonial. These three interconnected parts of my dissertation span a period from the 1870s when vernacular versions of the British Punch began to be produced in colonial India and contemporary neo- liberal India that is seeing a profusion of pocket cartoons in local newspaper editions. In organizing the narrative in three political frameworks - the colonial, nationalist, and postcolonial I discuss the circuits of global interconnectedness through which a shifting moral aesthetic of the cartoon came to be formulated at different times and places in Indian politics. As an everyday cultural production, a focus on the cartoon in terms of "what the cultural consumer makes" as "a production of poiesis - but a hidden one" (de Certeau 1984) illuminates the liminal (Turner) dimension of the cartoon. Additionally, by situating the cartoon as a discursive site (Terdiman 1985) I want to draw attention to new analytical spaces it generates for the discussion and construction of democracy, secularism, minority rights and the modern state. In order to grasp the generative and interpretive dimension of the cartoon I point to three concepts: liminal form, moral aesthetic, and tactical modernity. These concepts open a space to think through the hegemonic processes that come into play at the cultural site of the cartoon and enable and analysis of the cartoon as a site generative of hegemonic processes. This attention to the cartoon as a discursive site in the public sphere highlights the transformative circuit from laughter to debate, from visual to written, and a moral aesthetic that gets switched on through the interpretive dilemmas and representational practices of the cartoon.