Arvind Rajagopal

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2016/2017
discipline Communication
Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication New York University

Research project

The Global Career of the Communication Concept: A Cold War History from the US to India and Back


"Communication" has been treated as a philosophical term but has experienced all the vagaries of a passing trend. The proposed project aims to submit it to historical analysis, and to explain how a concept with vaulting ambition first became global, and then parochial, before becoming cosmopolitan again. Approaching it first from United States history, and then from the Global South, it uses technological and disciplinary history for their mutual correction, and clarifies the shifting politics of one of the most important features of the 20th Century.


The idea of communication was acclaimed in public in the early Cold War years as a concept that would link scholarly disciplines and bring modernization to the non-western world. By the 1970s the word was in disrepute, and new terms acquired prestige in its place, that bore little trace of the history of the previous term. "Media" and "public sphere formation" now became a project of nation-states, while the international implications of these concepts were sidelined. By the end of the Cold War, the prominence of globalization seemed to prophesy the end of nation-states, with the "information revolution" now propelling the change. This project follows the globalization of the communication concept in its changing incarnations, from the interwar political culture of the United States, and debates over mass society and propaganda, to the deployment of communications infrastructure as a key aspect of American soft power in the Cold War era and thereafter.


The project is framed around two intersecting nodes of analysis. The nascent consensus about a new, unifying concept in the social sciences and humanities was short-lived, and charges about Cold War agenda and covert operations led to the discipline’s retreat into more parochial concerns and to area studies. The effects of American soft power were indeed global, however; India was a key battleground of superpower rivalry, where the United States successfully promoted communication infrastructure and expertise, as in many other countries around the world. The United States’ aim to render India into a showpiece of non-communist democratization in a poor country was realized, it can be said. Expanding media infrastructure was critical to the postcolonial triumph of "India Shining". Although the analysis of communication was shaped by East-West tensions, it is North-South dynamics that have proved most eventful.




Arvind Rajagopal is Professor of Media Studies at NYU and an affiliated faculty at the Departments of Sociology, and of Social and Cultural Analysis. He holds a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the constitutive role of media in linking political-economic processes such as market deregulation and the rise of new image and knowledge-based economies, with transformations of public and political culture.


Selected publications


Media and Utopia: History, Imagination, Technology, with A. Rao (eds), Routledge, Abingdon, 2015.


'The Emergence of a National-Popular Aesthetics: Surveying the 1990s through Advertisements', in M. Nussbaum & W. Doniger (eds), Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015.


'Media/Utopia: Introductory Essay', Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 35, no. 1, 2015, pp. 2-7.


The Indian Public Sphere: Readings in Media History, (ed.), Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009.


Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Linguistics
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Art History