anti-babel – sanjay sharma

Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the politics of the new Asian dance music

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dis-orienting rhythmsDis-Orienting Rhythms: the politics of the new Asian dance music (1996, Zed books), edited by Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk and Ash Sharma.

This book writes back the presence of South Asian youth into a rapidly expanding and exuberant music scene; and celebrates this as a dynamic expression of the experience of diaspora with an urgent political consciousness. One of the first attempts to situate such production within the study of race and identity, it uncovers the crucial role that South Asian dance musics – from Hip-hop, Qawwali and Bhangra through Soul, Indie and Jungle – have played in a new urban cultural politics …” (Back cover)

To celebrate the landmark edited collection being published over a decade ago, the whole text and individual chapters are available to download as searchable pdf files: darkmatter journal


Written by sanjay sharma

11 Mar 09 at 8:52pm

Posted in culture, politics

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Noise of the Past

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Noise of the Past Presents

A poetic journey of war, memory & dialogue

A Premier Launch Event:

Screening of Unravelling – A film by Kuldip Powar, with original score by Nitin Sawhney

Performance of Post-Colonial War Requiem –  composed & conducted by Francis Silkstone

A Special Opening by Martin Bell – OBE, UNICEF Ambassador


Noise of the Past presents two new related commissions produced from a creative call-and-response method to cast a different light on war, colonial soldiers and the art of dialogue.

Unravelling (2008, 17 mins) is the result of a unique film-making process, creatively working with poetry, archive materials, visual art and music. Nitin Sawhney composed a new score in response to an original inter-generational poetic dialogue in Urdu between Sawarn Singh, a WWII Indian soldier who fought for the British in Burma, the Middle East and Africa, before moving to the UK, and his grandson, Kuldip Powar. Working with this haunting score Powar directed an evocative and searching film.

Francis Silkstone has also taken the inter-generational poetic dialogue as the source of inspiration for Post Colonial War Requiem, a new score to be performed in interaction with the phenomenal space of Coventry Cathedral. Benjamin Britten’s original War Requiem inaugurated the newly-built Cathedral in 1962, offering Remembrance without militarism. Though consciously inclusive, it did not reference the contributions of the (now former) colonies.

Saturday 8th November 2008, 7.00pm – 9.30pm

Coventry Cathedral, Priory St, CV1 5AB

(Nearest car park: Cox St, CV1 5LW)

Premier Launch followed by Q&A with film director Kuldip Powar and composer Francis Silkstone

A FREE Event & Reception

Unravelling will also be screened from the 11th – 23rd November 2008, The Herbert, Jordan Well, Coventry, CV1 5QP.

Pre-launch conference: War, Sound & Post-coloniality

Saturday 8th November 2008, 1.30 – 5pm

St Mary’s Guildhall, Bayley Lane, Coventry, CV1 5RR.

Speakers include: Alessandro Portelli (Rome), Les Back (Goldsmiths), Prabjot Parmar (Royal Holloway), Kuldip Powar (film director), Francis Silkstone (composer, Goldsmiths). Discussants: Gen Doy (De Montford); Said Adrus (UEL), Shirin Rai (Warwick University).

FREE – Register in advance, email:

Further details:

Noise of the Past Project Directors:

Dr Nirmal Puwar (Goldsmiths, University of London –

Dr Sanjay Sharma (Brunel University –

Written by sanjay sharma

26 Oct 08 at 12:09pm

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Book Review: The Art of Listening

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Back, Les The Art of Listening, Berg 2007 210 pp.

British Journal of Sociology 59(3) © London School of Economics and Political Science 2008

On the front cover of The Art of Listening there is a striking picture of a woman called Donna. A musical score from Stevie Wonder’s song ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ is tattooed on the inside of her raised arms. The tattoo is in memory of where Donna held her god-daughter, who died of brain cancer. This inscription of love is one of many poignant moments captured in this uniquely crafted book. There are few academic authors who can write a text committed to Sociology, yet are able to profoundly transcend its disciplinary confines. Social theory, empirical inquiry and the joys and sorrows of daily life are literally rediscovered.

Early on in his book, Les Back declares: ‘I started out as an anthropologist, but I was more interested in what was going on at the local bus stop than some distant shore’ (p. 9). The reader quickly learns that such a stance however, does not generate a parochial perspective. To the contrary, Back compels us towards ‘a global sociological imagination’ (p. 23), grounded in the contested encounters of everyday multiculture. He insists that ‘[g]eopolitical insecurity, political violence and deepening social and economic divisions provide the context and the need for the development of a global sociology’ (p. 151).

The book consists of a series of inter-connected essays, critically weaving together contemporary concerns that demand attention: migration and mobility; urban boundaries and exclusions; bodily inscriptions and expressive love; street portraiture and dialogical research; multiculture after September 11th. Each chapter exemplifies an approach for invigorating the craft of an ethical sociology. The book attempts to re-address an accelerated global culture in which revelation and voyeurism increasingly invade and overcome ‘the ordinary yet remarkable things found in everyday life’ (p. 1). At the heart of this text is a deeply reflexive, ethico-political project committed to listening: paying ‘attention to the fragments, the voices and stories that are otherwise passed over or ignored’ (p. 1). The act of listening is not confined to hearing more carefully. What remains unsaid is as important as what has been said. The project involves crafting sociological attention, ‘a mode of thought that works within and through a “democracy of the senses”‘(p. 25).

Back advocates ‘a literary Sociology that aims to document and understand social life without assassinating it’ (p. 164). Symbolic and epistemic violence are commonplace in academe, and the author is troubled by the parasitic machinery of contemporary academia in its unrelenting quest for knowledge. It would be too easy for Back to glibly declare some kind of postmoderm refusal to document the world in order to avoid the risk of objectification. But he is not interested in empty gestures, and confronts the aporia of directly engaging social life thus: ‘When we listen to people, do they give us their stories or do we steal them? At the heart of all social investigation is a dialectical tension between theft and gift, appropriation and exchange’. (p. 96)

Back persistently questions the public relevance of sociology, especially when he movingly recalls visiting his dying father in hospital, a working-class man who never read any of his son’s books. But the author resists simply romanticizing or sublimating the voiceless and the marginalized. For example, he openly explores his family’s residual working-class racism. And when discussing the rise of religious radicalism in the context of the ‘War on Terror’, he questions why there has been ‘a lack of willingness to ask searching questions about the authoritarianism of the powerless’ (p. 140).

There are risks involved in writing a text which attempts to forge a new trajectory for Sociology (a discipline forever anxious about its boundaries and relevance). The offer of a new programme risks either celebrating relativist anarchistic play (where there are no boundaries or rules for Sociology); or conversely, offering a normative account predicated on a moralizing agenda (an imperious Sociology). Back is aware of such pretensions. His work remains faithful to social inquiry – ‘interpretation without legislation’ (p. 1) – while acknowledging the limits of such a project: ‘Ethnographic representation should aspire to better kinds of failure…’ (p. 94). Similarly, he objects to the institutionalization of academic research when maintaining that a ‘regulatory approach to ethics adds little to our understanding…of sociology in action’ (p. 114).

The Art of Listening is a rare book in its commitment to vitalize an ethical, global sociology for the twenty-first century. Students are encouraging their parents to read it. Everyone needs to read this book – especially jaded academics.

Written by sanjay sharma

14 Sep 08 at 11:57pm

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WordPress as a CMS?

This post has moved to the darkmatter blog

Written by sanjay sharma

7 Mar 08 at 5:34pm

Wikipedia and Iraq

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Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator

The shambolic, illegal occupation of Iraq by Western powers has resulted in countless deaths (murder) of civilians.

The ‘war against terror’ is as much an info-war as it is one involving brutal death and destruction.

Enter Wikipedia into the affray. It’s an amazing resource. While controversy exists over the accuracy of its contents, a more interesting question is how it contests the authority of conventional (expert) knowledge. Moreover, what Wikipedia reveals is the politics of knowledge itself. A significant example is how the contents of a page about Iraqi “resistance” has been edited to “insurgency“.1

If you are unfamiliar with the principles of a wiki, it enables readers to collectively edit a page, and the page’s edited history is stored. In the case of Wikipedia, if controversy arises, the page can be locked disabling any further edits.

Click the thumbnail image below to compare how the key terms over the entry about Iraq have been edited/altered. A case of rewriting how we are meant to grasp war and violence in Iraq?

Wikipedia Iraq Entry

Originally posted on the darkmatter Journal
1For the latest Wikipedia entry now entitled ‘Iraq and Insurgency’, click here. (And has the article reverted back to include the term ‘resistance’?)

Written by sanjay sharma

21 Oct 07 at 5:06pm

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Copyfight – Forget YouTube?

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Written by sanjay sharma

15 Oct 07 at 11:02pm

Is Facebook Evil? privacy leaks, data flows and conspiracy theories

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16 May 2010: Since originally writing this article in Oct 2007, debates over facebook privacy concerns have mushroomed. Check the updates/links posted at the end of the piece to track the discussion. Although, the the problem of the centralization of your life-data in facebook still remains…

Should we care about privacy? Much privacy talk can come across as anachronistic bourgeois individualism, seemingly getting in the way of what social networking is all about: the flow of information – sharing and multiplying social connections between users.

So when a report by Sophos security (2007) highlighted that facebook’s privacy practices remain suspect, both in terms of its default settings and common member behaviour, will it affect the average fb member?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sanjay sharma

9 Oct 07 at 11:46pm