Gaali Cultures: The Politics of Abusive Exchange on Social Media

Udupa, Sahana
New Media & Society

On the rapidly expanding social media in India, online users are witness to a routine exchange of abusive terms and accusations with choicest swearwords hurled even for the seemingly non-inflammatory political debates. This article draws upon anthropology of insult to uncover the distinctness, if at all, of online abuse as a means for political participation as well as for the encumbering it provokes and relations of domination it reproduces as a result. In so doing, the article critiques the conception of ludic as anti-hegemonic in the Bakhtin tradition, and develops an emic term “gaali” to signal the blurred boundaries between comedy, insult, shame, and abuse emerging on online media, which also incite gendered forms of intimidation. Gaali, it argues, is best conceptualized through the metaphor of “sound” as distinct from what recent new media studies theorize as “voice.”