Paper presented at PoP turns 10: Celebrating the Popular, Practising the Urban, POP Moves annual conference, University of East London, 18 Nov.
This paper examines the recent trend of flash mobbing in contemporary urban India and asks how notions of the ‘global’ are reproduced through a nationalist imaginary within this popular performance practice. Historically, discourses of globalisation have envisaged cultural forms moving along two broad trajectories: either, the homogenising path of ‘global culture’ in a post-nation era; or, the intense localisation of resistance to these processes. However, Leela Fernandes (2000) proposes a shift in perspective, away from debates over how the nation-state is being reformed, toward a question of how the production of ‘the global’ occurs through a nationalist imaginary. Though flash mobs are often analysed as a ‘global’ performance genre, I argue that studying their adaptation within India reveals these processes of ‘nationalising the global’ that Fernandes has identified. I propose Remix Theory, as developed by Navas (2012), Navas et al. (2015) and extended by Annette Markham (2013; 2017), as a framework that allows us to understand how these processes occur.
The paper is based on my doctoral research which has documented and analysed the history of flash mob performance in India between 2003-2015, with a focus on the cities of Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. The research comprised online archival methods combined with qualitative research and participant-observation of the performance practice in these cities between 2014-15. Flash mobs were initially banned in Mumbai and several other Indian cities in 2003, with police citing potential risks to urban security. But in a second wave of the performance genre from 2011 onwards, the flash mob form has become remixed with Bollywood dance and popular Indian film music. In this recent and nationalised avatar, the Indian flash mob has gained mainstream cultural status, appearing in election campaigns, protests, shopping malls and Indian cultural festivals abroad.