Family, politics and popular television: an ethnographic study of viewing an Indian serial melodrama

Raghavan, Priya (2008) Family, politics and popular television: an ethnographic study of viewing an Indian serial melodrama. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis explores the popularity in India of a contemporary prime time television serial, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because Mother-in-law was Once a Daughter-in-law) which is now the longest running serial in India. Locating the emergence of this new genre of ‘family serial melodrama’ in light of the commercialisation, fragmentation and diversification of the Indian television marketplace, the thesis outlines public concerns about this generic development, and analyses the textual hybridity of this serial. In the context of these interrelated industrial, social and textual developments in television, the thesis then drawing on ethnographic perspectives illuminates the micro-social dynamics involved in the appeal of Kyunki, especially within a broad understanding of the nature of family viewing. Through its case study of the serial, the thesis quite explicitly demonstrates that appeal of even the apparently most ‘trivial’ television lies in the ways in which television contributes to political constructions of society through the discursive space it forms for viewers to forge social meanings and negotiate structures of social power. The ‘multidimensional’ approach the thesis appropriates and develops upon in pursuing this investigation, contributes significantly also to the emergent and evolving field of ‘third generation’ audience studies, particularly in its focus on family, more so in its observations of family dynamics and discourses. In addressing questions specifically about audiences’ relationship with the serial, the thesis drawing on the ethnographic interviews with viewers and their families, argues that for audiences the serial offers a representation of India simultaneously in notions of family and transcendent ideas of womanhood. Analysis of these notions further reveal how realms of the ideal, real and unreal form an important conceptual spectrum through viewers make sense and negotiate meanings, and contribute in politically constructing society. In this way demonstrating that appeal of this seemingly ‘trivial’ television programme is also in the space it provides for political negotiations, the thesis conclusively suggests that study of popular narratives, especially feminine narratives, must invariably be considered within the frame of ‘politics’ while also customarily with ‘pleasure’.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 410000 The Arts
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Communication and the Arts
Historical > RFCD Classification > 420000 Language and Culture
Keywords popular television, family, politics, Indian melodrama, ethnography
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