Globalization and Postcolonial States

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Story Transcript

Wesleyan University

WesScholar Division II Faculty Publications

Social Sciences


Globalization and Postcolonial States Aradhana Sharma Wesleyan University, [email protected]

Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Anthropology Commons Recommended Citation Sharma, Aradhana, "Globalization and Postcolonial States" (2006). Division II Faculty Publications. Paper 41.

This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Social Sciences at WesScholar. It has been accepted for inclusion in Division II Faculty Publications by an authorized administrator of WesScholar. For more information, please contact [email protected], [email protected]

Current Anthropology Volume 47, Number 2, April 2006


Globalization and Postcolonial States by Akhil Gupta and Aradhana Sharma The experiences of two programs aimed at poor rural women in India suggest that postcolonial contexts might give us reason to reconsider commonly accepted characterizations of neoliberal states. An anthropological approach to the state differs from that of other disciplines by according centrality to the meanings of the everyday practices of bureaucracies and their relation to representations of the state. Such a perspective is strengthened when it integrates those meanings with political economic, social structural, and institutional approaches. Although the two programs examined here originated in different time periods (one before and the other after neoliberal “reforms”) and embodied very different ideologies and goals (the earlier one being a welfare program that provided tangible services and assets and the later one an empowerment program aimed at helping rural women to become autonomous rather than dependent clients of the state waiting for the redistribution of resources), they were surprisingly alike in some of their daily practices. In a postcolonial context with high rates of poverty and a neoliberal economy with high rates of growth, what we witness is not the end of welfare and its replacement with workfare but the simultaneous expansion of both kinds of programs.

The changing nature of the state in an age of globalization is the topic of considerable debate in scholarly circles and in public discussion. The sharp differences among analysts about shifts in the role and status of the state are closely connected to their perceptions about what the functions of the state should be in these changed circumstances. Normative cultural ideals undergird the factual descriptions of scholarly work. We point to this not because it is surprising but because it forms one of the many places where considerations of culture might enable a different conversation about states such as the one we advance here. We take as our example the postcolonial Indian state and use case materials from two governmentsponsored development programs that belong to different epochs. Comparing these materials allows for a perspective that complicates and contextualizes some of the necessarily schematic macrosocial characterizations of the transformation of states under globalization. The present era of globalization is sometimes glossed as one of “neoliberal governmentality.” Governmentality (Foucault 1991) is the direction toward specific ends of conduct which has as its objects both individuals and populations and which combines techniques of domination and discipline with technologies of self-government (Burchell, Gordon, and Miller 1991; Dean 1999). Governmentality offers a way of approaching how rule is consolidated and power is exercised in Akhil Gupta is Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University (Stanford, CA 94305-2145, U.S.A. [[email protected]]). Aradhana Sharma is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University. This paper was accepted 7 IX 05.

society through social relations, institutions, and bodies that do not automatically fit under the rubric of “the state.”1 Recent scholarship, much of it focused on the West, has used this concept to clarify the nature of rule under neoliberalism (see Burchell 1996; Barry, Osborne, and Rose 1996; Hindess 2004; Rose 1996; Rose and Miller 1992). Neoliberal governmentality is characterized by a competitive market logic and a focus on smaller government that operates from a distance. Neoliberalism works by multiplying sites for regulation and domination through the creation of autonomous entities of government that are not part of the formal state apparatus and are guided by enterprise logic. This government-at-adistance involves social institutions such as nongovernmental organizations, schools, communities, and even individuals that are not part of any centralized state apparatus and are made responsible for activities formerly carried out by state agencies. Neoliberalism thus represents a shift in the rationality of government and in the shape and nature of states. In this article we elaborate on the particularities of state reformation under neoliberalism by using the example of the postcolonial Indian state. Undertaking an ethnographic examination of the state against the backdrop of economic re1. Despite its expansion of the space in which to examine rule and governance, the concept of governmentality has often been caught in the framework of the nation-state (see Ferguson and Gupta 2002; Sharma and Gupta 2006). Foucault’s notion of governmentality is grounded in a world of European nation-states. This world, which saw the emergence of a new rationality of government based on the care of the population, was also a world of colonial conquest and rule. Yet Foucault does not invoke colonialism when delineating the logic and modalities of governmentality (see Scott 1999; Stoler 1995).

䉷 2006 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/2006/4702-0003$10.00


structuring entails broadening our perspectives for studying states. We argue that cultural and transnational approaches to the states can add something valuable to the institutional and political economic perspectives that have dominated state theory (Sharma and Gupta 2006). By considering everyday practices of bureaucracies and representations of the state, we obtain new insights into states as cultural artifacts. When these insights are articulated with the political economy of transnational ideologies, institutions, and processes of governance, we get a much richer understanding of the emerging nature of states in conditions of neoliberal globalization. We will illuminate these broader concerns by focusing on two development programs implemented by the postcolonial Indian state. Doing so allows us to arrive at a much more nuanced interpretation of the modalities and effects of neoliberal globalization on the state than would be possible otherwise. The two programs we examine here are very similar in their objectives but quite different in philosophy and plan. The Integrated Child Development Services (henceforth ICDS) program, studied by Gupta, was started in 1975. It fits well into the classic mold of a welfare program run by a paternalist state for indigent women and children. The other program, the Mahila Samakhya (Women Speaking with Equal Voice), studied by Sharma, began a decade and a half later and in many ways exemplifies the concerns with empowerment and self-help characteristic of neoliberal governmentality. Our contrasting fieldwork materials enable a conversation about how postcolonial developmentalist states are being reshaped in the context of global neoliberalism. Rather than beginning with the assumption that neoliberal regimes represent a revolutionary transformation in forms of government, our materials allow us to ask if there are significant continuities between welfare programs before and after the introduction of neoliberal policies and where exactly the differences between them lie.2 We intend to highlight the dialectic between global economic transformations and localized reconstructions of the state and governance in India and thus demonstrate the specificity of neoliberal processes in particular locations. The market-friendly reforms implemented by the Indian government in 1991 under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are widely interpreted as having opened up the Indian economy to the forces of globalization (Corbridge and Harriss 2000; Khilnani 1999). Therefore, choosing two programs situated on either side of this temporal divide would appear to serve to isolate the effects of globalization on the Indian state, but there are at least two reasons that such a hypothesis may be mistaken. First, the ICDS program from its very start was part of a transnational set of ideas and policies that were global in their reach and effects. By extension, it would be hard to argue that before 2. In the Indian case, the implementation of neoliberal policies corresponds to widespread public perception of the origins of “globalization.”

Current Anthropology Volume 47, Number 2, April 2006

the market reforms of 1991 the Indian state was outside an arena of globalization. We argue instead that the form of globalization changed after liberalization, and we therefore refer to the post-1991 period as one of neoliberal globalization. Reformulated, the question becomes one of the shifts that occurred after neoliberal reforms within an already transnational state. Second, while market reforms may have had a great impact on some bureaus of the state at the federal level, their influence on lower levels of government and on agencies not directly connected to industry or consumer goods is much less obvious. An approach to the state that looks at it in a disaggregated frame makes it easier to see that major policy shifts at the federal level were not necessarily transformative for...

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