Lecture by John Harriss, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
The neo-liberal governance agenda now influential in India involves a package including decentralisation, community involvement and participation. There is held to be a ‘new politics’ built up around voluntary associations in civil society that is more genuinely participatory and responsive to people’s needs than representative democracy. This paper subjects these ideas to ethnographic scrutiny, from a study of associational activity in Chennai. There is ‘new politics’, but it is a sphere of middle-class activism and largely exclusive in relation to working poor people, failing to address their linked interests in women’s rights, rights to housing and to means of livelihood. Increasing opportunities for participation actually increase political inequality. ‘New politics’ as the mode of governmentality of the post-liberalization state does not incorporate the urban poor, nor articulate political practice and civil society. This is why there is so often resort to coercive action by the state in India’s metropolitan cities, contradicting the blandishments of ‘empowerment’.
John Harriss is Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University, and has been Director of the School for International Studies from September 2006. A social anthropologist by training and vocation, he has long standing interests in the political economy of development, and in politics and society in South Asia, and has always taught and researched in departments of Development Studies. His earlier research concerned peasant economy and agrarian change (see Capitalism and Peasant Farming, Oxford University Press 1982; and the edited collection on Rural Development: Theories of Peasant Economy and Agrarian Change, Hutchinson 1982), environmental change, the sociology of industrial labour markets and the informal sector. More recently he has engaged in debates on the concept of social capital and about civil society and politics, and popular representation, especially with regard to India (see Reinventing India: Economic Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy, Polity Press 2000, written with Stuart Corbridge; Depoliticizing Development: the World Bank and Social Capital, LeftWord/Anthem Press, 2002; and Politicising Democracy: The New Local Politics of Democratization, Palgrave Macmillan 2004, edited with Kristian Stokke and Olle Tornquist, of the University of Oslo).
Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia
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