Of rights and representations: Transient subjects, women's rights, and global humanitarian documentary interventions
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This dissertation analyses the impact of neoliberal practices on the representation of Indian women's rights in documentary film and media. Specifically, I examine complex transnational flows of cultural production and women's rights as evident in rights-based documentary film and media, which carry the charge of making women's rights abuses visible to a global public. I draw from contemporary scholarship on feminism, human rights and the globalization of media, particularly documentary, to examine how neoliberal logics of the market inhere in feminist knowledge production to create new, impermanent subjects whom I conceptualize as 'transient subjects.' These subjects, I argue, perform the affective and evidentiary work required to give authoritative discourses like capitalism, human rights and global feminism their moral might. Using interdisciplinary methodologies, I combine media analysis, ethnographic observations, interviews, textual analysis of films and policy documents first to detail Indian documentary filmmakers' negotiation with the specter of the 'global' as constructed by neoliberal funding institutions. I then examine how corporate logics undergird representation in global television documentary and global media advocacy as they attempt to 'give voice' to the itinerant figure of the migrant domestic worker and the girl child, respectively. I end with a comparative examination of the notion of visible evidence operating in the representations of sexual violence in television news and documentary film. As the dissertation examines the complex ecologies of rights-based documentary comprising documentary testimonies, media advocacy, corporate humanitarian media interventions, etc. it argues that a neoliberal 'practice of humanity' is being instituted through a hierarchical politics of recognition and representation. Therefore, I advocate for revising the notion of representation premised exclusively on visuality. Through thinking of representation as a 'complex set of practices' that include, but are not limited to, its rhetorical functions, modes of production, distribution and marketing, my dissertation opens up the possibilities of studying the production of knowledge about cultural 'others' at the contemporary moment. Such a theoretical framework also helps to contextualize the emergence of a deterritorialized ethical-political spectator in the intersections of sentiment, affect and capitalistic humanitarian cosmopolitanism.