Systemic Illegibility and the Contradictions of Development in India: an Ethnographic Exploration of Anti-Poverty Schemes in Bihar
By Prof. Jeffrey Witsoe, Department of Anthropology, Union College, New York
Monday, March 11, 2013
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Abstract: While a great deal of scholarly attention has focused on the ways in which the state renders social life “legible” through governmental interventions that survey, map and categorize the population, this talk shows the ways in which this project is routinely distorted in India. State institutions are unable to accurately identify the poor (even according to the government’s limited definition of poverty) or to effectively direct resources to those (mis)identified. It is argued that, contrary to common wisdom within the development industry, the primary reasons for these failures are not technical; they are systemic. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Bihar since 2002, the talk examines the ways in which the operation of development projects intersects with the dynamics of local and regional political economy, resulting in the paradox of a massive welfare infrastructure that consistently fails to help the people most desperately in need of assistance.
Bio: Jeffrey Witsoe is an anthropologist whose work has focused on a critical rethinking of democracy and the postcolonial state through an examination of lower-caste politics in Bihar, a populous state in north India where he has been engaged in ethnographic research since 2000. He is the author of a forthcoming book, Democracy Against Development (University of Chicago Press) and articles and book chapters on lower-caste politics in India. His current research explores the political economy of rural development, with a focus on India’s massive rural employment guarantee scheme. Another project examines the ways in which neoliberal economic growth is reshaping regional politics, with a focus on criminal networks related to natural resource extraction. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.
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Download File: Prof-Kar-Feb-2013-CISA-ta-pyh.pptx
Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia