CNM-CARE Conference: Communication Interventions- Imagining Futures


Building on the theme “Communicating for social change” of the 2014 conference of the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), the 2018 CARE conference foregrounds the role of communication in intervening into structures. Examining the ways in which structures organise social, cultural, political and economic systems, the theme Communication Interventions works theoretically, methodologically, and practically with the role of communication in catalysing, enabling, and implementing transformations. The various panels and keynote speeches in the conference attend to the diversity of theoretical modes through which communication intervenes into the world. The intersections of academia, activism, and community, the inter-plays among them, and the bridges that connect them, are explored in depth through the sessions. Panels showcasing CARE interventions attend to the conceptual terrains in which culturally-centering communication builds communication infrastructures from the margins. Workshops on specific elements of methods, collaborations, and publishing complement the theory-practice linkages that flow throughout the conference.

Conference Dates: 7 May – 10 May 2018
Conference Venue: Faculty of Arts and Social Science, National University of Singapore, Block AS6, #03-38, CNM Playroom

Registration is Free. Meals are not provided.
Register Online Now at:


Monday, 7 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
10:00 am to 11:30 am Sreekumar T. T Opening Keynote: The Politics of the Cyborg: Some Thoughts on the Posthuman Debates
Newly emerging concepts around the notion of cybernetic organism or cyborg challenge some of the conventional ideas about what it means to be human. An exploration of its manifold dimensions and its crucial impact on our political paradigms appear to be important in the multiple contexts of the wider social, cultural and philosophical questions that the debate has engendered. Particularly significant is the complexities of its rejection and/or reception from the perspective of social liberation. Cyborg takes us directly into the center of the debate of the posthuman, with important consequences for practicing philosophy of science in a conformist sense. This paper discusses some of the pertinent issues in this debate from both historical and political perspectives.
11:30 am to 12:30 pm Jeremey Fernando, Liew Khai Khiun, Alex Mitchell Panel 1: Community And Interventions
Social Media and the affective digitalized communications of Animal Welfare in Singapore
Dr Liew Kai Khiun, Nanyang Technological University

Abstract: This topic seeks to discuss the pivotal role in which social media has played in platforming the presence of animal welfare and rights advocacy in Singapore. Until the recent decade, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (SPCA), a venerable NGO established from the colonial era shouldered predominately issues on animal rights and welfare in Singapore, considered as the most disadvantaged and marginalized of social groups.  Already severely stretched as an animal shelter, the SPCA’s lobbying efforts were limited in the face of the changing socio-cultural dynamics in Singapore as the agrarian economy of the postcolonial city-state urbanized rapidly. Some issues cover that of the archaic practice of systematic culling of strays displaced by infrastructure projects and reactions to epidemics, lax laws and enforcement in dealing with trafficking, abuse and neglect of animals from the booming pet industry, as well as the prohibition of ownership of cats and larger breeds of dogs in public housing estates. The 2010s have witnessed the emergence of a spectrum of registered and private groups in Singapore into the care and advocacy for animals in the republic. Classified commonly as Animal Welfare Groups (AWG) with new players and agendas on specific domestic animals and wildlife.  In many respects, the internet and social media of especially Facebook have given activists and volunteers the critical public platforms in social mobilization through efforts of fundraising, providing even real time information for rescue and rehoming of individual animals, monitoring of individuals and institutions involved in commercial and regulatory bodies, and public advocacy for legislative reforms.  Based also on the author’s personal involvement in AWG work for several years, the staging of animal welfare issues in social media brings out novel perspectives of affective digitalized communications by social movements in emotionalizing and amplifying the otherwise silenced non-human subjects.

Resisting Art
Jeremy Fernando

Abstract: In this performance-talk, I will attempt to respond to a call from Mohan Dutta to speak on, to write about, the possibility of art as resistance — that is, to meditate on the possible relationship between resistance and art. Whilst doing so, I will also try to attend to the notion that art is an encounter — between one and something that is brought forth in the movement from craft to something other than what is created through tekhnē. And, if so, it is always also potentially unknown, unknowable, until it happens, perhaps even after it happens. That, even as it might be experienced, felt — an encounter through aisthesis — it is quite possibly a moment beyond cognition; un pas au-delà, as it were. And if so, then perhaps all attempts to know it potentially do nothing other than to frame, to confine, its potentiality.Thus, perhaps the very thing that one has to do — if one is to attempt to maintain the possibility of resistance in art — is to resist what one thinks is art itself.

Playing with Interactivity as a Poetic Device
Alex Mitchell

Abstract: Increasingly, we are experiencing a world mediated by digital media. There is a constant need to reassess the information we are presented with, and to understand the computational systems that we are using and are being used by every day. Examples include the often unexpected suggestions received from the autocorrect function on our smartphones, and the automatically “curated” information presented in our Facebook feed, both of which are driven by underlying algorithms that adapt to our actions. These complex underlying systems tend to remain invisible and uncontested. Building upon Shklovsky’s notion of defamiliarization, I will use a series of examples to argue that interactive stories, games and interactive art, by making unfamiliar those aspects of the systems that we have come to take for granted, can help us to pay attention to, critically reflect on, and potentially make sense of this complexity.

12:30 pm to 1:30 pm Lunch
1:30 pm to 3:00 pm Debbie Dougherty, Editor, Journal of Applied Communication Research Panel 2: Publishing Applied Communication Scholarship

Abstract: In this presentation, Professor Debbie Dougherty, Professor of Communication at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the Editor of the journal Journal of Applied Communication Research will be sharing the process of transforming applied communication interventions into scholarship. Drawing on her own engaged scholarship on sexual harassment that has shaped global conversations on workplace policies against sexual harassment as well as on her key role as the editor of the field’s key journal for publishing applied scholarship, Professor Dougherty will share the challenges with publishing applied scholarship, the key qualities of good applied communication scholarship, and the ways in which challenges to publishing may be addressed by engaged scholars.

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Asha Pandi, Anuradha Rao, Dazzelyn Zapata Panel 3: Creating Digital Spaces

State Power, Civil Society and Political Activism in Malaysia
Asha Rathina Pandi

Abstract: Civil society flourishes under conditions that include freedoms of speech and assembly. But, what happens when those conditions are lacking? Some say civil society cannot or does not exist in countries without constitutional guarantees. Others suggest that people find outlets for social and political interaction regardless of institutional restrictions upon civil society. This research explores the 2007 Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) and 2007-2016 BERSIH protest rallies in Malaysia where freedoms are limited, but where political unrest regularly challenges the state. With the Malaysian political structure labeled as a “semi-authoritarian,” and given tensions on ethnic relations, the social use of space not only carries strong political dimensions, but successfully limits the appearance of crowds in public spaces. Therefore, appropriated virtual space where actions stem from becomes a key driver in environments with limited civil liberties. This research reveals despite authoritarian power that limits civil society activism, not only civil society exists in Malaysia, but it has managed to carve out its space for activism through communication technology networks. This role, however, must be examined within a certain context – the specific circumstances, conditions, histories and actions of the various social actors and social movements.

New Technologies and Implications for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in India
Anuradha Rao

Abstract: In recent years, ‘traditional’ civic and political actors have been joined by newer, Internet-enabled actors in a wide variety of democratic engagement activities. This talk examines the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have influenced the evolution of newer civil society relationships, forms, actions, and spaces in urban India. Based on ethnographic research in Bengaluru, India’s ‘IT City’, as well as insights from ongoing investigations in this field, this talk highlights the implications of the rise of these newer civil society forms for both civil and political engagement. For instance, the rise of a more democratically engaged, English-speaking middle-class in urban centres has produced both new synergies as well as new tensions with older types of civil society actors. Such new relationships among and within civil society are among a host of factors that need to be more deeply examined to fully appreciate the implications of an internet-enabled civil society in India.

Texting galatis and the ili: Narratives of indigenous civic engagement, collective action and the mobile phone
Dazzelyn Baltazar Zapata

Abstract: The Cordillera mountain range in the northern part of the Philippines is recognized as the traditional domain of the Igorot, or people of the mountains. In Mountain Province, Igorot community members use the term ili to refer to their hometown/community. It carries with it a strong emotional reference to their culture, of sharing the same practices, values, and tradition.

Three indigenous communities- Panabungen, Besao; Payag-eo, Suyo, Sagada; and Guina-ang, Bontoc- inform this empirical paper on collective action and civic involvement as nuanced by their mobile phone use. Although this may be strikingly different from the digital activism that we see unfold on the internet, the paper lets us glimpse into how a traditionally off-the-grid community makes use of digital media for their community needs.
The concept of the ili or ‘home’ is at the heart of the village members’ identity as Igorot. Not surprisingly, collective action and civic involvement gravitate around the ili, individual milestones are shared and such activities are rendered voluntarily or galatis (free).
For example, community members bring rice as contribution day before a wedding. Men help out butcher pigs and the women help slice meat and peel vegetables. They also help construct the house for the starting couple, galatis. After childbirth, when the umbilical cord dries and peels off, they celebrate by bringing rice or other produce to welcome the new addition to the community. The baby is then given an Igorot name reminiscent of an ancestor. In instances of death, the bereaved are spared entertaining guests and buying or serving food- the neighbors and distant relatives carry it out.
Community members render the same volunteerism for bigger community-wide concerns like removing roadblocks during typhoon season, fixing their roads, putting up posts for electricity, constructing their water system, and helping build their schools among others. Considered at the fringe of nationally-articulated development due to its distance from the political center, these indigenous villages have long had a self-sustaining governance and has been living in the midst of collective action.
Community members share stories of coordinating galatis using their mobile phones. The gadget has also started to replace their town criers (those who chant the news) more and more. Currently, members of the communities have started to gain access to the internet primarily through free Facebook access. These are now sites of as well of their collective action.
Guided by the culture-centered approach, an alternative lens built on the notion that understanding and negotiating meanings are embedded within cultural contexts and values (Dutta, 2008), the proposed paper will discuss how the Igorot’s sense of collective action and civic-engagement is affected, mediated, manifested and complicated by their use of their mobile phones.

5:00 pm to 6:00 pm Raka Shome Closing Keynote: When postcolonial studies interrupts media studies

Abstract: This talk examines how incorporating postcolonial frameworks interrupts media studies as it has been primarily conducted (in the West). The primary goal of this talk is to “interrupt” certain dominant assumptions and logics that inform media studies (including logics of temporality, and assumptions about what is a media ‘object’). The talk will also discuss why media studies should engage postcolonial studies and why media studies is uniquely positioned to engage postcolonial politics today.

Tuesday, 8 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
9:00 am to 11:00 am Denisa Kera Opening Keynote: Rethinking Plato in Indonesia and other CNM adventures between design and humanities

Abstract: I joined the CNM department in 2008 to conduct a unique STS research combining philosophy with design to test and rethink the implications of various emergent science and technologies issues on society (nutrigenomics, consumer genomics, DIY science, biotechnologies, open hardware).  I joined the informal networks of knowledge transfer and science and technology ‘diplomacy’ happening in the citizen science movement, makerspaces and hackerspaces around the world since 2009. I gathered evidence that such informal “diplomacy” creates unique South to South, but also South to North networks that address issues of knowledge justice, inclusiveness and democratization. I used examples of DIY laboratory equipment in Indonesia (2011, 2012), radiation monitoring kits in Japan (2013), open hardware innovation in Shenzhen (2014, 2015) to discuss how such activities go beyond research, reproducibility and corroboration in science, but also traditional ideas of innovation and development.The aesthetic, playful and expressive DIY culture involves artists, designers and various enthusiasts in what I call “artisanal” approach to science and technology that extend the purely epistemic (improving knowledge about nature) and normative (improving society) expectations of science and technology. They include open ended, creative explorations, but also civic aspirations that include small acts of disobedience and rebellion against the reduction of science and technology to bureaucratic administration, industrial interests and anonymous labour of some ‘big science’ agenda. The DIY “artisans” build instruments to regain sovereignty, dignity and freedom in an age immersed in science and technology. The alternative R&D settings of these activities and spaces engage the public with science and technology as a form of activism, but also leisure. To test some of these hypothesis about the DIY movement of science and technology artisans, I joined the OCSDNET network with a project on “Understanding Open Hardware and Citizen Science” (2015 – 2017). Through 2015 and 2016, we conducted seven workshops on low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY), and open source tools (or “Open Science Hardware” – OSH) in Indonesia, Thailand and Nepal, which included a 10-day long workshop in Yogyakarta, five 1-2 day workshops in Bangkok, and a 10-day workshop in Kathmandu. The goal of the workshops was to understand how OSH instruments engage local communities in research and education, to which we had to add art, design and crafts, because of many creative (mis)uses of science instruments, which we witnessed on the ground. The open hardware creates conditions for politics to converge with design on a global scale and introduces political deliberation based on material, rather than purely discursive practices. In the present, I work on this convergence of politics and design that forces us to rethink our traditional views of governance based on the degradation of makers (demiurgoi) as political actors in Plato’s Republic. The blueprint of our governance ideals of separation of powers and various forms of “trias politica” degraded making and production as political activities. Politics since Plato’s Republic is opposed to making and designing and it is defined as a contemplative, cognitive and discursive achievement based on the right insight into the true nature of our soul and society. The present network of hackerspaces and DIY makers act as a utopian ‘republic of tinkerers’ that explores an alternative form of governance where prototypes lead to deliberation upon common future and global issues and where consensus is transformed into testing tools. With this preliminary genealogy of tinkering and making, I would like to rethink my work on hackerspace ‘governance’ as an experimental policy of prototypes which define citizens as not only voters delegating power, but also makers and regulators, as a “public of demiurgoi”.

11:00 am to 12:30 pm Iccha Basnyat, Ashwini Falnikar, Somrita Ganchowdhury Panel 4: Intervening into neoliberal structures

Culturally Centering Nepalese Female Sex Worker’s Experience to Explore the Intersections of Gender, Health, and Structural Inequalities
Iccha Basnyat

Abstract: I argue that the traditional attempts to reduce the prevalence health risks to female sex workers’ (FSW) narrowly defines health, and such communication efforts are focused on facilitating the reduction of individual risk prevalence. Based on 35 in-depth interviews, I use lived experiences of FSWs to discuss the relationships between gender, health, and structural inequalities. Through my work, I argue that centralizing gender enables us to recognize the societal conditions and patterns that creates and sustains inequalities in women’s lives allowing us to examine the impact on health as well as explore the specific mechanisms that reinforces these inequalities. I further argue that health of women, particularly marginalized women, must be understood within the multiple intersections of the women’s lives rather than a standalone discussion of individualized health such as STI/HIV, condom negotiation, limited partner all of which places the onerous simply on the women themselves rather than understanding the social context within which her decision resides. Ultimately, through my research I urge us to locate the discussion of health of marginalized women within the socially constructed cultural context, while paying attention to the gendered inequalities, labor divisions, power relations, and proscribed sexual norms that impacts health and health decision making.

A Critique of HIV and Aids Policy
Somrita Ganchowdhury

Abstract: This study seeks to interrogate the neoliberal logic embedded in the discursive construction of the annual report of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), which is the nodal organization for policy formulation and implementation of National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in India. This study looks at how the construction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) as an individualized behaviour-based disease maintains the global hegemony of neoliberal governmentality. In the light of understanding the neoliberal agenda underlying the framing of HIV/AIDS and the material interventions that are mobilized around it, this article analyses the NACO reports examining the goals, objectives, taken-for-granted assumptions, and issues that remain absent from the discursive space.

BT Cotton and the Voices of the Widows in the Face of Farmer-suicides
Ashwini Falnikar

Abstract: The post-liberalization agriculture is marked by an epidemic of farmer suicides in India. Amid the dominant discourse of dissemination of new agricultural technology of Bt cotton aided by communication framework of dissemination of messages for marketing of agricultural technologies, the voices of the farmers remain erased. Salient in the backdrop of high-yield narrative of Bt cotton are the everyday constructions of suicides among the farmers. The voices of the farmers disrupt the monolithic construction of the agricultural technologies as tools of modernization and progress. This article draws on the voices of the women in agrarian households that are especially salient amid patriarchal representations of decision-making in agriculture.

12:30 pm to 2:00 pm Lunch
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Braema Mathi Panel 5: Conversations with CARE’s Activist Collabarator

Abstract: The veteran Singaporean activist Ms. Braema Mathi has been a key activist collaborator in the work of CARE, helping build community networks and anchors for capacity building in the realm of communication for social change. In this conversation, she will reflect on her experience with activism in Singapore, the history of activism and communication in Singapore, the changing landscape of communication activism in Singapore, and the ways in which this changing landscape has negotiated the ongoing challenges to activism amid Singapore’s soft-authoritarian policies.

3:00 pm to 4:00 pm Satveer Kaur, Mohan J. Dutta Panel 6: CARE Interventions Showcase 1- Respect Our Rights

Abstract: In this Interventions Showcase, the CARE research team will highlight the work of the “Respect our Rights” campaign launched by CARE. Based on culture-centered dialogues with foreign domestic workers in Singapore, the project seeks to create a communicative infrastructure for foreign domestic workers that disrupts the spaces created in the ambits of state, civil society, and market. The voices of the foreign domestic workers foregrounded in the discursive registers disrupt the narrative anchors circulated in the mainstream, offering alternative narratives of hope and imagination. These narratives create conceptual anchors for articulating rights from the global margins and amid the sites of neoliberal production in the Asian cosmopolis. The project foregrounds the nature of social change communication amid migration and global flows, suggesting pathways for disrupting authoritarian modes of neoliberal reproduction.

4:00 pm to 5:00 pm Naomi Tan, Asha Pandi, Mohan J. Dutta Panel 7: CARE Interventions Showcase 2- Singaporeans Left Behind

Abstract: The “Singaporeans Left Behind” advocacy campaign, developed by an advisory group of Singaporeans living in poverty interrupts the erasure of poverty from mainstream discursive spaces in Singapore. Through their participation in communicative infrastructures, community members articulate anchors to advocacy. These narrative entry points resist the obfuscation of poverty in the mainstream. In the presentation, we will outline the communicative processes in the development of the advocacy strategies, the structures that constituted the work of advocacy, and the negotiations of these structures.

5:00 pm to 6:30 pm Deborah Dougherty Closing Keynote: Sexual harassment and communication interventions that work

Abstract: Sexual harassment has been an ongoing problem in Western style workplaces for many years and is considered to be illegal behavior in most of the developed world. Most remediation efforts focus on the legal dynamics of this behavior, using organizational policies and training as the primary response. While necessary, this response is inadequate to solve this wicked problem in the contemporary workplace. Instead, it is necessary to understand sexual harassment as a complex communication problem interwoven with social, cultural, and organizational norms and assumptions. This presentation focuses on the ways in which social assumptions about gender and sexuality make organizational members unable to recognize sexual harassment when it occurs. Effective bystander intervention will be discussed.

Wednesday, 9 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
9:00 am to 10:30 am Ingrid Hoofd Opening Keynote: Paulo Freire’s Promise: A Critique of the Bottom-up Communicative Educational Ideal

Abstract: In the Western as well as non-Western context, the work of Paulo Freire has generally been lauded as signifying a provision of communicative and educational empowerment for non-Western marginalised populations through advocating a restructuring of the higher educational setting via so-called ‘bottom-up’ learning and the use of then-new media. While partially noting the merits of Freire’s approach, this talk nonetheless also traces this ‘alternative’ pedagogical and communicational method that Freire proposes back to the onset of technological acceleration and a qualitative shift in global capitalism from the turn of the twentieth century onwards. It illustrates this by working through Paulo Freire’s famous Pedagogy of the Oppressed, arguing that this work is symptomatic of the cybernetic acceleration of the ideals of the university after the Cold War from which e-learning initiatives also emerged. During this period namely, the sympathetic argument for ‘bottom-up learning’ through new media starts to conceal how authority becomes increasingly networked and stealth, eventually functioning to insert ‘the oppressed and marginalised’ into the accelerated economy for the benefit of the global elites.

10:30 am to 12:00 nn Julian Lim, Renyi Hong, Itty Abraham, Taberez Neyazi; Moderated by Eric Kerr Panel 8: Fourth Industrial Revolution

Future of Human Communication- with Artificial Intelligence
Julian Lin

Abstract: With the introduction of smartphone, our lives has changed dramatically. Nowadays, human spent more time with smartphones than with their counterparts. A survey reported by Straits Times showed that Singapore spend over 12 hours on gadgets daily. With the introduction of smart home assistant with AI capabilities, human will spend even more time with technology. This session will look at the current state of smart home assistant with AI capability, the capability of artificial intelligence to learn, and predict data accurately, as well as, what the near future will possibly be. Impacts on society will be discussed.

Bearability and the Politics of Self-Erasure
Renyi Hong

Abstract: This paper makes an argument about bearability: the capacity of media processes to enable possibilities of endurance for laboring subjects of structural precarity. I enter this topic by bringing up a recent article by the Financial Times which raised the Uber driver as the exemplar of the resilient subject, highlighting their grit in the gig economy. The article focused on the long hours and hidden costs of the trade, but also pointed out something peculiar: that is, Uber driving often involves a quality of a “hypnotic experience” – a feeling of forgetting oneself in following the directions produced through the locative app. This was described by a driver as a condition of suspended consciousness, where the “app sort of takes over your motor functions in a way”: “In that state, they [drivers] are literally just listening to the sounds [of the driver’s apps]. Stopping when they said stop…. You get into a rhythm of that, and you begin to feel almost like an android.”

This quality of bearability may be found in the broader processes of app design language like “gamification” and the “nudge.” To theorize this, I engage in a historiography of Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s theory of flow. The state of flow, pursued as the epitome of good design because it caters to feelings of game-like pleasure and control, provides a means to conceptualize what bearability means in this historic moment. Going back to the origins of Csíkszentmihályi’s inspiration – the survivors of the Second World War – I offer a politics of self-erasure, and emphasize the significance of serious engagement with cognitive capitalism.

Digital Vernacular and Populist Mobilization
Taberez Neyazi

Abstract: The current social and political transformations globally has witnessed two important parallel developments – the rise of digital vernacular and populist mobilization. The emergence of digital vernacular space, a space which bring multitude of publics and disparate social groups together through digital technology to discuss and raise the issues of public concern from their own distinctive positions and viewpoints in the market driven media networks, has offered fertile ground to populist leaders to pursue their agenda. The space has been utilized for populist mobilization because of its ostensibly inclusive character bringing disparate social groups in a web of networks. The infusion of new meanings and rhetoric to the existing symbols proved beneficial for populist mobilization though has not gone uncontested. In this presentation, I analyze the emergence of digital vernacular and its potential for populist mobilization with particular focus to India. Specifically, I analyze the Twitter handles of three Indian national leaders – Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, and Arvind Kejriwal, to empirically dissect the manifestation of populist rhetoric in the digital vernacular space.

12:00 nn to 1:30 pm Nancy Flude, Lonce Wyse, Itty Abraham Panel 9: Digital Cultures

Embodiment and the Networked Assemblage in Twenty-first Century
Nancy Flude

Abstract: This presentation critically explores the drives, forms and structures of visceral systems and networked assemblages. The routine embodied exchange in which our selves participate in daily life is a continuous ideokinetic exchange, as we engage with the world through our proprioceptive facilities. With the proliferation of networks these gestures are being captured and transmitted by the computational devices many of us hold close. Application of deep machine learning algorithms acquire user profiles to model emotional states, neuromarketing nudges us to serving the ends of others. But what is the depth of pervasive consumer behaviour strategies? – how are these physically inscribed, how far do these intentions go into the body? Digital optics, HCI design, and the shaping of the digital unconscious found in VR/AR toolkits (previously delegated to highly controlled psychology experiments) have made inroads into marketing, apparati nudges and pushes us to sever all links with the evidence of our senses. These leveraged affordances in cognitive and non-cognitive assemblages discussed by N. Katherine Hayles (2016) are examined and extended upon. It is precisely these unresolved gaps (and non-prescriptive but performative slippages highlighted by theorists, artists and technologists) where the prominence of these are defined. Through case studies of experimental art and performances engaging in networked assemblages, artisanal data, creation of subjective datasets for artistic purposes, the proprioception of ‘the user’ is described and reimagined. Such transmissions include the repelling, mutating leaks, noise, digital obfuscation and other strategies of endurance, that lend themselves to embodied listening, are examined as artisanal products of adhoc networked assemblages.

Artists and Academic Communities
Lonce Wyse

Abstract: The Arts Science Residency (ASR) program at NUS this year celebrates a 10-year history of situating artists in university research laboratories and centers for semester-length periods of time. Research and student communities are more ephemeral and purpose-based than communities that are based on where people live, and the distinction gives rise to interesting similarities and differences in the processes of integrating art making into community practices. In this talk I will reflect on some of the diverse challenges and successes we’ve experienced during the course of the 25 projects that have brought education, research, and art in to intimate contact through the ASR program.

Unstable Bodies: The Biopolitics of Aadhaar and the Digital Self
Itty Abraham

Abstract: The effort to register 1.2 plus billion Indian residents/citizens in a single state digital database, Aadhaar, has generated controversy since its inception in 2009. Launched as a “mission-style” biopolitical initiative, this hugely ambitious project seeks to use a low-cost yet technologically sophisticated interface to gather basic biometric data from all Indian residents/citizens into a single database, with each cell denoted by a “unique” number. The initial project was designed to allow discrete government databases to connect to each other through the Aadhaar number, with a prime objective of providing welfare to low income residents/citizens with as little leakage as possible. It has since become more ambitious in its goals.

Even as the digital database (ideally) produces a virtual self, constituted and made visible to the state through multiple registers and registries, it has been accompanied by new anxieties and concerns centered around the physical and political body, its starting point. These anxieties are complex: they reinforce old judicial concerns about identity and truth, engender novel discourses over privacy and the security of the body politic, and produce new folklore about how the physical body can be transformed successfully into a recognizable digital identity. The Aadhaar project has led to a new biopolitics and technologically mediated citizenship, the implications of which are still unclear; what we can say is that its initiation has destabilized its material foundations, the physical body of the digital subject.

1:30 pm to 2:30 pm Lunch
2:30 pm to 3:30 pm Afreen Azim, Kok Hoe Ng, Mohan J Dutta; Moderated by Asha Pandi Panel 10: Poverty and Community in Singapore

Culturally Centering Health Care Innovation: Community and Community Care in Singapore
Afreen Azim

Abstract: The Alexandra Health Innovation Project is a study initiated with the aim of understanding the health seeking experiences of community members residing in the areas of Bukit Merah and Queenstown. These two areas and specifically the subzones within them, fall within the catchment area near Alexandra Hospital- the erstwhile British Military Hospital that is poised to become a ‘test bed’ for health innovation in Singapore, lead by the National University Health System. This follows from the aim of the Ministry of Health of move care ‘from the hospital to the community.  Recognising that the voices of the people living in these communities that will be affected by health care reform should take precedence and that reform cannot be successful without the meaningful participation of the community, the project, driven by the culture- centered approach or CCA aims to bridge the gap between the community members and the stakeholders of the Health Innovation Project.

The CCA aims to emphasise the everyday, lived experiences of the community members in the context of health, in these areas and privilege their voices over those of the stakeholders. By articulating their experiences with health care and the barriers to health faced by them, the community members define the problems faced by them and also delineate solutions to those problems. In this way, the community comes to dictate the contours of the healthcare reform agenda with the researchers and stakeholders as partners.  130 in-depth interviews with community members were conducted followed by 3 advisory board sessions. Simultaneously, 20 interviews with stakeholders such as healthcare providers, general practitioners, VWOs, chronic disease care center managers, family service centers and social workers, among others, were also conducted.

Poverty and Public Housing in Singapore
Kok Hoe Ng

Abstract: Singapore is recognised internationally for its comprehensive public housing programme built on the principle of homeownership, while housing policy for people who are unable to afford ownership is often overlooked in housing research. Drawing from a recent policy review undertaken for UN Habitat and a survey of more than 800 households living in public rental housing, this talk examines the trajectory of social housing policy in Singapore, the housing experiences of low-income households, and the implications for housing security in Singapore.

Hunger and poverty in Singapore
Mohan J. Dutta

Abstract: The experiences of poverty in Singapore are systematically erased by a soft-authoritarian neoliberal structure that marks the poor as the site of interventions. In this backdrop, narratives of hunger among the poor are systematically erased and/or downplayed by the dominant structures. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic work being conducted by CARE, I will share the interplays of hunger and poverty.

3:30 pm to 5:00 pm Mohan Dutta, Raksha Mahtani, Vanessa Ho, Sherry Sherqueshaa, Nicholas Harrigan Panel 11: Academia-activism: Bridges and Contestations

Bridging the Divide Between Universities and NGOs: Achieving Successful Research Collaborations Around Social Justice Issues
Dr Nicholas Harrigan, Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

Abstract: Collaborations between Universities and NGOs has the potential to be enormously beneficial for both parties, underprivileged communities, and society in general. Working with NGOs on important social justice issues can bring meaning and impact to academic work. Working with universities can generate social facts and legitimised knowledge that can help raise consciousness and advance advocacy for some of the most powerless in modern societies. Yet, such collaboration is fraught with difficulties, and many collaborations have ended in frustration and disappointment for all involved. This paper asks how strong working relationships and collaborations can best be organised between NGOs and academics. Drawing on NGO and academic research, and the author’s personal experience working on migrant worker research in Singapore, this paper argues for an approach based on: acknowledging the (1) different cultures and (2) conflicting interests of NGOs and academics; (3) the need for collaborations to be based on explicit agreements and simple rules; and (4) the need for an ongoing dialogue about the best research questions and methods to achieve justice for the powerless and underprivileged.

Interruptions- digital storytelling disrupting every day experiences of transphobia in Singapore
Raksha Mahtani

Abstract: Public health scholars have explored the health concerns of transgender sex workers (TSWs), particularly in relation to the governance of sex worker experiences that intersect with trans experiences.

In this panel, we aim to explore the culturally-centred health meanings that TSWs at the margins construct around healthcare, given the particular context of the Singaporean healthcare system and utilising the lens of culture, structure, agency. Of special interest is the platforming of the health meanings of marginalised trans sex worker voices through PhotoVoice and digital storytelling techniques that resist stereotypes, every day violence and top-down assumptions of their experiences through narratives of professionalisation, caregiving, allyship, and structural inequality. The talk will also examine community-led strategies in social change work on the ground.

Voices of Community Collaborations
Vanessa Ho, Sherry Sherqueshaa

Abstract: Community collaborators that form the framework of communicative processes leading to the Stiletto Alliance discuss their articulations of social change, grounded in community needs. Community voicing of social change attend to the roles of recognition and representation as the bases for social change communication.

5:00 pm to 6:30 pm  Nancy Flude, Dibashram Performance and Book Release

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Nancy Flude

Abstract: Our computers know us more intimately than lovers — but this is a lopsided relationship. Behind their user-friendly facades, what do we know of the operating systems that drive our daily fix? What happens inside the clandestine transmissions of the black box? In the age of Social Media, we grapple with issues of privacy and exposure without understanding how the online world is put together. _Power geek_ Figures tend to be male, Mark Zuckerberg, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. But there is also a place for women inside *geek space*, what news might this female hacker bring back for the rest of us?The performer uncovers, visually opening up, the insides of the operating system behind our daily computer interactions. Through enquiring conversations, the amplified sound of fingertips dancing across the keyboard conveys the poetics and isokinetics of machine and human intelligence.

Chasing Dreams in the Dream City

Abstract: In this performance, Bangladeshi migrant poets who collaborate with CARE will share their poems created under the umbrella of a CARE intervention on Voices from the Margins. Based on poems created in advisory group meetings, and polished through several rounds of collaborative writing, the session will interrupt the hegemonic narratives of migrant dreams.

Thursday, 10 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
9:00 am to 11:00 am Nicholas Harrigan Opening Keynote: Scaled, Participatory, and Public Qualitative Research: A framework for citizen social science

Abstract: Traditionally, qualitative research is small in scale, involving no more than a few professional researchers and a couple of dozen participants, with the largely academic goal of contributing to generalized knowledge. In this paper, we contribute a framework for citizen social science, asking why, if, and how qualitative research might be undertaken on a larger scale, involving and empowering non-professional researchers, and addressing public issues. We answer this question using insights from research we have led, involving: first, fieldwork in disadvantaged communities by three separate years of public policy students, and second, over 100 volunteers and activists as researchers. Drawing on a review of the literature and our own experiences we speak to the challenges and suggest practical methods for conducting a new form of citizen social science: scaled, participatory, and public qualitative research.

11:00 am to 12:30 pm Mohan Dutta, Raksha Mahtani, Satveer Kaur Panel 12: The Culture-Centred Method

Abstract: In this session, panelists will share their work with the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation, starting from its inception to the building of its global networks. They will outline the many experiences working with setting up the Center, the challenges experienced in this work, the catalysts for doing change work within academic in Singapore, and the possibilities for transformation. We will review the key tenets of the CCA.

12:30 pm to 1:30 pm Lunch
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm Kenneth Paul Tan Closing Keynote: Reimagining the University in Neoliberal Times

Abstract: The speaker, at the mid-point of his academic career, will reflect on how the more pathological aspects of neoliberalism have not only influenced but also transformed universities and their autonomous capacity to protect and nourish thinking, critique, creativity, and civic and democratic capabilities, while building upon the collective and accumulated wisdom of the arts and sciences. In particular, the speaker will consider the implications of corporate culture, reduced state funding, technological disruptions, global competition, professionalization of academic careers, and research-intensity for university communities and, in fact, their ability to re-imagine themselves. If universities are important democratic spaces within civic life, what can all this mean for the future of democracy? Can universities even begin to re-imagine themselves in order to avert the worst excesses of neoliberalism in our world, when they are so deeply embedded in it?


ICA Bluesky Workshop: Discussion Group on Culture-Centred Collaborations With Disenfranchised Communities

Many communicative interventions are exceedingly top-down wherein organisations already have a standard formula of intervention to achieve desired outcomes. Often, these interventions are intrusive to a community’s culture and does nothing more than provide temporary solace, if at all.

The ICA Bluesky Workshop is all about community-driven interventions that put community members and their needs front and centre. The workshop attempts to answer two important questions:

  • What does it mean when a community and their culture is in direct dialogue with the intervention that is supposed to transform their lives?
  • What does a culture-centred intervention look like?

We invite scholars, activists and practitioners who are involved in similar projects to have a fruitful and learning workshop with us on 26 May, 15:30 – 16:45, at Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

The Voice of Hope – Remembering the past and Recrafting the future

The Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), a research center under the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore, is launching an online campaign on the 4th July to co-create stories of resilience, hope, and healing with the survivors of the Indonesian mass killings of 1965/1966. Based on scripts created by community members, the campaign seeks to create a narrative entry point for articulating the lived of experiences of sufferings and the pathways of hope. This online campaign titled “Learning65” celebrates the possibilities of hope amid suffering. Voices of hope come in various forms of stories and articulate the human rights, health and wellbeing issues faced by the survivors of the mass killings. After more than 50 years, the community members struggle to fight for justice amid the human rights violations under the New Order regime, which included mass killings, forced disappearances, sexual harassment, forced labor, imprisonment without trial, and many others. Community members share experiences of trauma, recounting physical torture, sexual harassment, and ongoing stigma. Voices of the victims have been systematically erased from the discursive space.

This online campaign was conceptualized by an advisory committee comprising 10 men and women from the community of 1965 survivors. Guided by the tenets of the culture-centered approach (CCA) pioneered by Center Director, Professor Mohan J. Dutta, this research study began with the understanding that community members are their own best problem configurations and solution providers. Therefore, when spaces for listening are created and communities are invited as co-participants, solutions to their health and well-being emerge from their lived contexts offering entry points for addressing trauma and suffering.

Over the 8 month-period, the advisory board identified key issues faced by the community of survivors and developed communicative solutions to tackle these problems. Stigma, restrictions to gather and to express thoughts, inequality, and communicative inaccess, are some of the problems that the community members face in their everyday lives. In collaboration with the NUS research team, the advisory board designed the campaign and the key messages in the collaterals. The media campaign developed by the community will include a dedicated digital story telling website, social media outreach, and a documentary research film.

Besides the media campaign, the advisory committee also highlighted that a key element in building collective consciousness about the history and the 1965 tragedy, and enacting positive changes in their lives was to engage with the key stakeholders in solution-making. In line with this, two focus group discussions and peer leader meetings were organized, bringing together the younger generations, volunteers, artists, scholars, and activists. The community highlights the importance to engage with the younger generations through arts and performance to battle the stigma, and to address the erasures experienced by the victims and their family members for more than 50 years. The outcomes of the discussion and the solutions proposed will be summarized in two White Papers. The culture-centered campaign foregrounds voices of the the marginalized community of 1965 in creating a narrative entry point for health and wellbeing. The full White Paper will be available online at: http://www/ To find out more about culture-centered approach, please visit http://www/ CONTACT INFORMATION: Prof Mohan J. Dutta ( Dr. Dyah Pitaloka ( (



[CARE Documentary Screening] “Cotton for my Shroud” by Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena

Join us for the screening of an award-winning documentary film, Cotton for my Shroud, by Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena on 1 June (Wednesday), from 2.00 – 4.30 pm, at the CNM Playroom. This event includes the film screening, followed by a Question and Answer session with the filmmakers. The film focuses on the farmer suicide crisis in India, situating this within the wider neoliberal context of governance in India that has shaped the agricultural industry. If you are interested in attending this event, do register at the following link: See you there!

Fortifying Migrant Workers in Singapore

With our “Respect Our Food Rights” campaign launched last year, we partnered with DSM and BOP Hub to address the micronutrient deficiencies faced by our Migrant Construction Workers in Singapore due to the poor quality meals they received. This video below showcases the soft launch of the ‘45Rice’ project in delivering micronutrient-rich rice to this migrant community and eventually the wider public at large in Singapore. The concept of “Hidden Hunger” is introduced and they addressed the issue through the strategy of producing and supplying this micronutrient-rich rice. Our Director, Prof Mohan Dutta, was present to give his insights about the event and the fortified rice that was served.

[DAY03] Communication for Social Change: Intersections of Theory & Praxis

For the final day of our conference, we had a plenary by Dr. Raka Shome and Dr. Ambar Basu on the topic of “Open Dialogue on Subalternity” and one in the afternoon with our collaborators from HOME and Project X addressing the topic on “Academic-Activist Partnerships in Creating Spaces for Social Change”. We also had 2 panel sessions where the presenters shared their research work on the themes of “Communicating for Social Change” and “A Culture-Centered Approach to Social Change”. We ended the conference with a closing keynote by Mr P.V. Satheesh from the Deccan Development Society. Plenary 03 – Open Dialogue on Subalternity Panel 03 – Communicating for Social Change: In Action Plenary 04 – Academic-Activist Partnerships in Creating Spaces for Social Change

[DAY02] Communication for Social Change: Intersections of Theory & Praxis

For the second day of our “Communication for Social Change: Intersections of Theory & Praxis” conference, CARE had the honour of having Professor Collins O. Airhihenbuwa as the opening keynote speaker along with Dr. Ambar Basu and Professor Barbara Sharf to deliver the plenary sessions. We also had 2 different panel sessions on “Theoretical Articulations of Social Change” and “Social Change Methodologies” presented by different speakers from around the region. Leadership for Social Justice in Global Health Communication: Why Culture Matters Plenary 01 – Culture-Centered Method: Postcolonial Interrogations Panel 01 – Theoretical Articulations of Social Change Plenary 02 – Gun Violence as a U.S. Public Health Concern: A Case of Narrative Inattention Panel 02 – Social Change Methodologies