Sarai is a programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), an independent social science and humanities research institute based in Delhi. It was founded in 2001 by CSDS and the Raqs Media Collective as 'an alternative, non-profit space'. Through their research and practice Sarai investigate the intersection between cities, in particular South Asian cities, technology and culture, focusing on the politics of information and communication. Their output takes many forms including academic research, art practice, publications, events and the setting up of 'Media Labs'. They also provide fellowships for independent researchers in India, supporting topics that have no other source of funding. Sarai itself is supported in a number of different ways, including a space given to them by CSDS, funding from the Indian Council of Social Science Research Institute and governmental funding from Holland, facilitated through their collaborations with the Waag Society.
Although dealing with new media, their work is grounded in the everyday and material realities. For example their insistence on using free software is both a political and a practical decision. In the context of India, where they have set up 'Media Labs' in deprived neighbourhoods, teaching people to use proprietary software and spending money on expensive licences is not a viable option. The 'Cybermohalla' project allows the residents of these areas, especially young people and women, to access and learn about technologies such as computers, digital photography, film-making etc. This involvement at the local level is carried out in collaboration with Ankur, an NGO that uses learning and teaching as a tool for social change. Together they have set up a network of neighbourhood spaces where local residents carry out embedded research and take part in workshops and projects.
Sarai also publish the annual Sarai Reader on a specific theme whose recent issues have included 'Frontiers', 'Turbulence' and 'The Cities of Everyday Life', as well as Deewan E Sarai, which is the Hindi language version, and other publications related to their research. These texts are mainly aimed at academic audiences, and in keeping with Sarai's copy-left ethos, are available for free on their website.
Lipika Bansal, Paul Keller, and Geert Lovink, eds., In the Shade of the Commons: Towards a Culture of Open Networks. (New Delhi: Impress, 2006).
Monica Narula, "Sarai: One Year in the Public Domain," Television & New Media 3, no. 4 (2002): 404-412.
Sarai, Sarai Readers. (New Delhi: Impress) http://www.sarai.net/publications/readers/
(accessed 22 May 2009).
---, "Sarai/Rhizome." http://rhizome.org/discuss/view/30121/#3460.
Sengupta, Shuddhabrata, "A Profile of Sarai: A Communicative Intersection." i4d. (November 2004) www.i4donline.net.
The Sarai initiative interprets this sense of the word "sarai"
to mean a very public space, where different intellectual,
creative, and activist energies can intersect in an open and
dynamic manner to give rise to an imaginative reconstitution of
urban public culture…
- Sengupta, Shuddhabrata, "A Profile of Sarai: A Communicative Intersection." i4d, (November 2004): 28.
A central thread running through our work is the politics of
information and communication; the question of, Who can access
which tools to say what to whom, who can know what, what is openly
knowable, who is the object of knowledge for whom . . . and so
- Monica Narula, "Sarai: One Year in the Public Domain," Television & New Media 3, no. 4 (2002): 410.
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