31 July 2019

Research pick: Staying cool in India - "Indian cool: concept and contrast with western cool"

The concept of “cool” is an ephemeral one. Coolness might be defined as an aesthetic of attitude, behaviour, comportment, appearance, and style, but to define it as such might not in itself be seen as cool. Instead, it is conceived as a cultural term, largely of the youth vernacular to suggest something or someone is worthy of admiration. One esoteric popular culture icon, app, meme, or celebrity, might be perceived as cool while to those in the know, another is seen as uncool.

Nowhere is the concept more simultaneously important and insignificant than in youth culture where fashions, trends, fame, and even fortune can wax and wane in the wake of cool.

Research published in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, discusses the concept of cool and compares and contrasts what is seen as cool among Indian youth and their counterparts in the notional “West”. Ekta Duggal and Harsh Verma of the University of Delhi, point out that sociological research has focused on Western cool but there is scant data on Indian cool. They hope to redress this balance to some extent.

Their analysis produces a quite overwhelming conclusion: That while Western cool seems among young people seems to be about counter-culture and rebellious characteristics as well as unbridled hedonism, and commercial consumption, Indian youth do not perceive such characteristics as cool. Quite the opposite, it is usually seen as cool among Indian youth to be seen to be sensitive to the environment and people. Although these too are increasingly considered cool among some sectors of youth even in the West.

The team suggests that marketers and businesses in India are at risk of failure if they conflate western and Indian cool by assuming that the values are the same.

Duggal, E. and Verma, H.V. (2019) ‘Indian cool: concept and contrast with western cool‘, Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp.67-80.

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