Fulbright Fellow Speaks on Media Research in India

Indira Somani '92 explores 'Indian Diaspora, Identity, and Media'

March 16, 2012

Indira SomaniArticle by Stephen Danilovich '14
Photography by Hongyu "Sophie" Zhou '14

Knox College graduate Indira Somani returned to campus recently to discuss her research into Indian media and its effects on the Indian diaspora.

Somani, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Washington and Lee University, spoke on "Indian Diaspora, Identity, and Media." She described how ethnic media can contribute to an ethnic group's sense of identity, especially for those living far from their culture of heritage.

A 1992 graduate of Knox, Somani explored a number of major trends in the relationship between Indian-Americans and Indian television programming, along with the role that technology has played. For example, she said, video-recording devices and satellite networks have provided first-generation Indians living in America with a "nostalgic link" to their homeland.

Somani also looked at the phenomena of Indian television serials and shows that have adopted an international format, such as India's version of the game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Programming like this "united India" and had elements comparable to American television programming, she said.

However, Somani noted, second-generation Indian-Americans were also likely to be critical of Indian broadcasting, which they might not consider up to par with their American frames of reference.

"What I'm trying to work toward is getting a firmer understanding as to what TV executives are moving toward," Somani said, "because media is really having an influence on how the cultural values are changing in India."

Her research, which is still in progress, is also an attempt to understand "how the diaspora long to connect with their homeland, but how they are also living in this time capsule and still thinking of India the way it was when they left," she said.

Since she moved from India, she said, the country "has changed so much. I'm just blown away every time I go back."

Somani's research in India was funded by a Fulbright-Nehru grant. The project has included interviews with executives, writers, and producers from six major television stations in Delhi.

Somani has 10 years of experience in broadcast journalism. She co-produced a documentary about the balancing act between her Indian heritage and American upbringing, called Crossing Lines. Her more recent work has focused on Indian television programming.

Her March 2 lecture was sponsored by the Stellyes Center for Global Studies, the Knox College Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and the Journalism Program at Knox.