Professor Shakuntala Banaji was Principal Investigator of one of the twenty WhatsApp social science misinformation grants (2018-2020). This project, with Ram Bhat, entitled WhatsApp Vigilantes: An exploration of citizen reception and construction of WhatsApp messages’ triggering mob violence in India outlined typologies of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech that circulate on WhatsApp and other social media apps and platforms in India, and which have created a climate that either leads to or legitimises violence against already vulnerable citizens. In addition, it examined the possibility of a typology of users who are more or less likely to be responsible for passing on false information in India. Continuing this research, Banaji and Bhat have been researching the dehumanisation, violence and hate that is targeted at minorities and marginalised social groups in Brazil, India, Myanmar and the UK with a focus on the lived experience of users of social media who are the targets of this systematic disinformation and hostility and the possibilities for short, medium and long-term legal, political, technological and educational solutions.
Recently completed research projects include the European Commission Horizon 2020 Young 5a funded project, CATCHEyoU - Constructing Active Citizenship with European youth: policies, practices, challenges and solutions, which investigates media constructions, participatory practices and policy visions of youth active citizenship. Her new edited book on this project with Sam Mejias, Active Citizenship: Ethnographies of Participation is out with Palgrave in 2020. She was also Principal Investigator on Personalised Media and Participatory Culture (2015-2018) in collaboration with American University Sharjah, funded by the LSE Middle East centre's academic collaboration with Arab Universities Programme. Both projects shed light on the tensions and connections between rhetorics of citizenship or digital connectivity, and the actual barriers, networks, enablers and spaces of youth participation in civic and political life.
Prof. Banaji’s longstanding research interests include the socio-political contexts of audiences, the meaning, history and textual study of cinema, particularly International and South Asian media and Hindi films (aka Bollywood), representations of children, child labour and child rights, with a specific focus on South Asia and low income contexts in the global south, critical approaches to pedagogy, communication and development, politically and socially innovative development projects, environmental concern and anxiety amongst youth, news reception, tensions between popular and elite media, internet cultures, online civic participation (including misinformation and disinformation circulated online), young people and cultural identities. Her research focuses on people's interactions with media genres and technologies both old and new, and the ways in which interactions between childhood, youth, media, representation and group identities have been theorised in diverse philosophical, political, cultural and social contexts.
Her book Children and Media in India (Routledge 2017) is based on original interviews and observations with diverse children and families, as well as media producers and NGO staff in India over the past decade. In particular, this book re-theorises agency from a subaltern and global south perspective and examines the ways in which children from different regions in India, social classes and backgrounds experience, participate in and make meaning from old and new media, school, local cultures and labour; the ways in which their lives in these arena are understood, represented and theorised in South Asia and the West; and the ways in which common theorisations of 'the digital', 'agency', and childhood serve to silence or elevate the interests of particular groups of children.
Prof. Banaji was a contributor to the 46-country World Hobbit Project, January 2013-December 2015. This remains the biggest audience research project of all time, with more than 35,000 responses to the questionnaire! This project builds on previous audience research work in relation to comparative audience reception of film, and offers a fresh dataset with which to theorise the changing relationship of international films and audiences.
Previous research on online civic participation is available in The Civic Web co-authored with David Buckingham and on democracy and citizenship in Youth Participation in Democratic Life co-authored with Cammaerts, Bruter, Harrison and Anstead. Accessible summaries of these six years of research can also be found amongst Prof. Banaji’s online publications; in a Tedx talk given at the University of Hasselt, Belgium; in discussion with Professor Connor Gearty: ‘What does it Mean to be a Citizen?’; and with David Buckingham, Citizenship and media education in contested times. The Civic Web, arose from EU Framework 6 funded research with young people and online civic producers across Europe and Turkey, examining technological tools for participation and links between online and offline civic participation, motivation, interactivity, context as well as national institutional responses.