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The Prism World

Updated: Mar 29


To the Suns that shine even when its Night

Did you notice the Prism from which entered the white light?

The Light is for everyone but the Prism cuts open this light

And only the few can enjoy this radiance 

So dear sons, now you know why you shine even when it's night ?”


Image Credit: Crawford Art Gallery


Eye Opener

I had recently visited the most conspicuous form of gated communities that is a township. A township with all the amenities that one could want whilst social distancing from both the rural archetypes(people surviving without the basic amenities such as education, electricity and water supply) and urban archetypes of hustle culture and simply embodying the beauty of this world: Nature.


I entered into this alternate dimension, with the countryside fields, bazaars, bullock carts flashing in front of my eyes viewing them from the tinted prisms of this prismatic space that is from my car. Life it seemed was mocking me that I was being ‘shielded’ from my own soil because of where I stood at the prismatic glass. Soon my life became a full satire when I entered the gated communities of a township and the realisation of the fact that there are so many bubbles around me which had gone unnoticed from my eyes. From my political perspective, I discern striking parallels between the township and the colonial architectures designed for fortifying towns and countryside. These architectural constructs symbolize not just physical barriers but also the entrenched divisions between socioeconomic classes, starkly delineating the privileged from the marginalized.

With this thought I would like to explore how prismaticism as a concept has colonial denture, explore the changing faces of it in contemporary India and how it has become a part of the globalised world in seemingly so called developed countries. Ultimately my article aims to unravel if prismaticism has become a part of our identities and personas.


  • Prismaticism, a term I define and draw inspiration from Fred Riggs' interpretation of the prismatic society. Riggs aims to capture the essence of a socio-cultural landscape where modern and traditional structures and ideologies intersect. This juxtaposition often leads to a state of ‘Prismaticism’, characterized by pronounced polarization between societal factions, namely the "haves'' and the "have-nots (akin to Marxist understanding of Bourgeoise and the Proletariat).Thus prismaticism is the consequence of the intermixing of a Eurocentric culture in social climates of eastern cultures.


“Lets play a game you and I

You want to throw a cube shaped die

But I want a prism shaped die 

Let's see where you land

If your fate is in your favour 

May you land at the top

But if the fate is lopsided

May you land whatever comes below the top”


The Origin of Prismatic society: Ecological Approach

Before we delve into the political spaces of Prismaticism as a form of administrative and structured reality we must understand how the concept was discovered. The discovery of an ecological approach sprung and gained momentum especially after the end of world war two which unraveled the amorphousness in the societal structures. 

“Ecological approach aims to understand any society not only based on the administrative model it follows but how it interplays with cultural, psychological and economic forces.”

Ecological approach as a concept was initially developed by scholars such as J.M Gaus, Robert A Dahl and Robert A Merton, however it was Fred Riggs who made significant contributions to the approach. Riggs stated that the “Major reason for the failure of administration in developing countries is the thoughtless application of the conventional approach to the study of administrative situations in the developing countries.” Thus it was from the ecological approach that the concept of prismatic societies arose. This was a concept highlighted in Riggs ‘Notes on literature available for the study of comparative administration (1964)’. 


With these ideas floating in space, the developing countries decided to give them some structure and adapted themselves to this way of perspective or rather “perspactles” in order to challenge the ‘realpolitik’ residuals that the developed countries had left in its former (or present) vassal states. The realpolitik (Politics based on practical objectives rather than on ideals with disregard to any ethical considerations) here is the superimposed Eurocentric realities of the west shoved down to the completely different realities of the east. Resulting in categorizing the administrative or political model as a way towards development and modernity. These vestiges of colonial influence persisted even after Independence, entrenched in various facets of post-colonial societies, serving as enduring reminders of a complex and tumultuous past. This is because even though the land once again belonged to the Indians, the very brick and mortar of the new political and administrative structures that were in place were still filled with the colonial past. This is so because the polarisation between the haves and have nots that were present in overt ways and were challenged during the colonial era, have now been normalised and classified as having ‘covert’ characteristics. Whence we used to fight against our colonial masters and see them as our enemies in a struggle against discrimination and hierarchisation, now we have become our own biggest enemies by waging a war against ourselves.


After establishing an apparatus of constant exploitation the West had so proudly proclaimed that India cannot rule but can only be ruled upon. However what they did not realize was that they created a system of exploitation that was so ingrained that it has sprung today into mini elites ruling and dictating the economic and political decisions of a larger democratic political system. Well, at least we were able to defeat the British in this debate(hopefully it followed the parliamentary form of debate, even the debating structure and format is British!).


We find ourselves locked in an ongoing internal conflict, perpetuating a war of polarization that stretches across various dimensions of our existence. This battle unfolds in the stark contrasts between urban sprawls and marginalized communities, as well as in the intricate web of differences that extend beyond borders, shaping the relationships between Indians and the Indian diaspora across the globe.


Benedict Anderson, in his seminal work "Imagined Communities," illuminated the concept of communities that transcend geographical borders, where individuals forge a shared sense of identity and belonging. These imagined communities extend beyond the confines of nation-states, encompassing groups united by common ideals, cultural heritage, or shared experiences. Even in such imagined communities there is a tint of prismaticism as the NRIs have a sense of superiority complex over the Indians left in India as they also accepted that development and modernity is only the way of the West. Thus the ecological approach arose as it was the world elites imposing their ideologies once again over the countries of the east and situations without ever understanding what its populace needs.


Riggs has termed this concept as social climate wherein he described ideas being organically related to ecological climates in which they take root and either do not grow or distort themselves in foreign climes. This distortion is exactly what happened in developing or as Riggs states ‘transitional societies'. The constant overlapping of modern vs traditional: Fused (developed) vs diffracted (under developed) features consummated towards Prismaticsm. Riggs also went on to describe the features of prismatic societies in developing countries that results in greater polarisation between the haves and the have nots, clashing with the ideas of western induced modernity and development only to result in the following features-


1) Social heterogeneity- Social heterogeneity refers to diverse populace in developing and transitional societies wherein such diversities result in class, wealth, power, educational, economic and political differences that sharpens the divide.


2) Overlapping characteristics of its institutions-  In transitional societies, there isn’t any clear cut division between its institutions, there is constant overlapping between various institutions that determines a position of any individual in this prismatic prism. Be it the overlapping of educational institutions, governmental bodies or healthcare facilities and its direct or indirect relation with one’s identity or gender, political ,economic or social identity, your position in this prism determines what kind of identity you will be able to enjoy to the fullest.


The colonial masters understood these structures of the East and of India, however to have a successful colonisation feat they deliberately created such a chaotic structure, the implications of which are still present. Thus one has to travel back in time to understand the origins of such prismaticism.


Growth of prismaticism in Colonial Era 

The most noticeable feature of prismaticism in the colonial era are the fortifications of major cities which demarcated the British ‘elite’ from the Indian ‘begar’. Laws spewed from these ‘holy’ architectural spaces that further deepened prismaticism during colonial era in various forms- 

  1. Economic Prismaticism- The imposition of heavy taxation, promotion of cash crop cultivation over food crops, and the development of a railway network primarily serving British economic interests exemplify the exploitative nature of British rule in India, akin to treating the Indian state as a mere factory unit. This approach deepened the polarization between the colonial rulers and the native population, perpetuating a stark divide of "them vs us" and exacerbating economic inequalities and social injustices.

  2. Educational Prismaticism- The British implemented educational prismaticism by strategically dividing Indian society, reserving European education for a select class deemed fit to serve the colonial agenda. This policy perpetuated the illusion of freedom and superiority among the educated elite, indoctrinating them to believe they were the rightful center of the prism. Through language and skills training tailored to serve British interests, the divide-and-rule strategy was not merely physical, but a calculated psychological manipulation, cementing colonial control over Indian minds and perpetuating social stratification.


The British policies laid the groundwork for mental prismaticism within the Indian populace, a phenomenon that transcended colonial rule and seeped into the fabric of independent India's constitution, political, and administrative structures. This entrenched mindset, forged through centuries of colonial indoctrination, perpetuated divisions and hierarchies, shaping the very foundation of post-independence governance and societal norms.


Prismaticism in Contemporary India

Deep Polarisation has now transcended from the erstwhile colonial masters to new position holders of contemporary India that are the political, social and economic elites. This shows hierarchisation has persisted in new forms and Prismaticism has traveled far and wide touching realms of Urban and Rural spaces, then floating into the mental constructions of caste and human construct of class, which eventually found its way into a revolution which everyone thought would bring a positive change but only resulted in a humane-less Digital Revolution. However, this revolution, often touted as digital, has left a void in humanity's essence. Despite unprecedented interconnectedness, individuals remain emotionally distant and fragmented, perpetuating divisions amongst themselves.


Urban Vs Rural divide

The normalization of help coming from slums into the houses of elites, (middle, upper middle and ultra elites) has become a painful reality. Further the normalization can be seen by the elite eating food prepared from the hands of the help yet giving them separate utensils and terming it ‘normal’ and them accepting their fate as they are tied with their own fate as well. 


Caste vs Class-

The tension between caste and class persists in contemporary society, with social mobility within castes evident to some extent, yet caste and class remain significant determinants of social positioning, particularly in certain regions. This dichotomy is exemplified in the realm of matrimony sites, where even individuals from affluent backgrounds face scrutiny and rejection if their caste doesn't align. This seemingly minor filtration process underscores the enduring influence of caste-based considerations, reflecting deeply ingrained societal norms and prejudices. At the other extreme, love marriages across caste lines are often met with vehement opposition, sometimes resulting in tragic consequences such as honor killings. These extremes highlight the complexity and persistence of caste dynamics, emphasizing the ongoing need for efforts to foster inclusivity and equality in our society.


Digital divide- Prismaticism has permeated the digital landscape, manifesting in the form of digital divides that shape our online experiences. Algorithms employed by social media platforms curate content based on our past interactions, effectively reinforcing echo chambers (“Echo chamber” is a term widely used in today’s lexicon, that describes a situation where certain ideas, beliefs or data points are reinforced through repetition of a closed system that does not allow for the free movement of alternative or competing ideas or concepts”); where we are exposed only to perspectives and opinions that align with our own. This selective exposure limits our ability to engage with diverse viewpoints, perpetuating polarization and hindering understanding of alternative perspectives. The result is a fragmented digital sphere characterized by reinforced bubbles, impeding meaningful discourse and collective understanding across ideological divides.


Image Credits: Pinterest


Globalization's Impact: Prismaticism in Fused and Diffracted Societies

Prismaticism has transcended the boundaries of developing and transitional societies, extending its reach into fused and diffracted societies in the era of globalization. While Fred Riggs initially associated prismatic societies with developing nations, the dynamic nature of the international stage has brought forth new manifestations of prismaticism, reshaping social structures and power dynamics.


In fused societies, prismaticism is palpable through the emergence of multicultural communities, where interactions between insider and outsider groups, as well as elite and non-elite factions, underscore distinctions and polarisations. While economic disparities may not always be the primary driver, issues of policy and social positioning within the prism structure are pivotal. This power struggle often plays out through stereotypical and discriminatory narratives that favor elitist groups, perpetuating inequalities and reinforcing hierarchical structures.


Conversely, in diffracted societies, prismaticism takes on the guise of economic colonialism facilitated by globalization. The exploitation of cheap labor in the global south to benefit the global north perpetuates a divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots," delineating a stark boundary between the global north and south. This economic imbalance underscores the pervasive influence of prismaticism, as economic disparities mirror and reinforce social and political inequalities on a global scale.


In both fused and diffracted societies, prismaticism lurks around every corner, shaping social dynamics and perpetuating divisions. As globalization continues to reshape the world, it becomes increasingly apparent that prismaticism knows no bounds, permeating every aspect of our interconnected global society. This raises the question of whether prismaticism has permeated our very existence.


Prismatic society; A part of our identity?

Prismaticism as a concept has percolated in all forms and facets of our lives and is not just between the amorphous administrative or political structures and landscapes.

It has become a part of our identity in more covert ways. It has become a part of our language of thought and even in our expression of emotions and communication.

It has essentially become a vital part of our persona. 


This is because the system has been so ingrained into the field of our political landscapes that any new seeds that blossom into plants now have the attributes of prismaticism. The way we communicate and the way we think is highly polarised in this array of echo chambers that we create amongst ourselves. Our perception of the world is inherently shaped by the prism through which we view it. Despite the unprecedented access to information in our technologically advanced era, we tend to gravitate towards communities of like-minded individuals. Yet, this affinity often stems not from genuine connections but from shared circumstances dictated by the structures of the prism we inhabit—a landscape divided between the privileged and the marginalized.


Those who bridge these divides may still harbor subconscious wariness of the other, recognizing the uniqueness of their experiences and the potential for misunderstanding. How can we actually think like a bat in such cases? A thought experiment where the famous philosopher Thomas Nagel tried to understand if we were to one day turn into bats would we be able to finally see the world from a bat’s perspective or will we still use our biases even though we are in a different body? Thus this is a conundrum one cannot fully feel to be in someone’s shoes and will always be sceptical of the other person to some degree or extent. We create gated communities in our own personal spaces which makes one wonder if it is only human nature to create bubbles or gated communities in personal spaces. Is that why it has percolated into the collective spaces that we share? 


“We have come a full circle

Living in a bubble is not all bad

Some call it home, some call it sanctuary 

Cause not everyone understands me like they do 

Have I come full circle ?

When I entered that gated bubble

I just felt so much warmth and connectedness

The climate there was of hailstorms that had ruined the crops for the farmers 

But we were inside wondering on the What ifs of this world

Wandering into the abstractness of it all

Only to be called by the structure of it all”.


 

Columnist: Anushka Gaur

 

References:

1). “Ecology of Administration: A Resume of Riggs’ Model on JSTOR.” www.jstor.org. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25825386.

2). “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism | Work by Anderson.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/Imagined-Communities-Reflections-on-the-Origins-and-Spread-of-Nationalism.

3) King, Loren A. “Realpolitik | Power, Pragmatism, Realism.” Britannica, 27 January 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/realpolitik.

4). Iyer , Deep. “India of Many Worlds: Analysing Contemporary India Through the Riggsian Framework.” Research Gate, 2016, www.researchgate.net/publication/301624308_India_of_many_Worlds_Analysing_Contemporary_India_through_the_Riggsian_Framework.

5) Rouse, Margaret. “What is an Echo Chamber? - Definition from Techopedia.” Techopedia, 17 May 2018, https://www.techopedia.com/definition/23423/echo-chamber

6) “Robots: Machines or Artificially Created Life? On JSTOR.” www.jstor.org. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2023045.




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