Participatory State Formation: Illegible Lands, Unruly People, and Technologies of Government

Chhatre, A (2003) Participatory State Formation: Illegible Lands, Unruly People, and Technologies of Government. In: Politics of the Commons: Articulating Development and Strengthening Local Practices, July 11-14, 2003, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Agrarian tensions between landowners and tenants in colonial Punjab escalated steadily through the early decades of the 20th century, even as the colonial state struggled to address the rising threat of soil erosion from the sub-montane tracts to the growing irrigation economy. Coercive strategies for control of erosion were thwarted by 'illegible' landscapes that defied the natural/agrarian dichotomy of colonial property. At the same time, policy efforts at addressing agrarian trends of increasing indebtedness and tenants' resistance failed to have any impact. In response to the dual threat, to the political economy of irrigation and to the rule of law and maintenance of order, a new technology of government was introduced. This took the form of 'community' institutions, whereby landowners were organized into cooperatives for the management of 'illegible' landscapes. These institutions served a dual purpose; they located these lands within the colonial grid of property for the purpose of legibility, in addition to incorporating landowners into the expanding political economy of forest products, particularly pine resin. However, landowners recruited state power to their own ends and used the institutions to delegitimize the claims of tenants over these lands, thus exacerbating agrarian tensions. The optic of governmentality provides an appropriate lens to analyze the negotiation of power in this case; the 'governmentalizing'of localities through 'community' institutions helped the colonial state in projecting its power over the hitherto 'illegible' landscape. If the fragility of the project of domination is universal, then the art of government comprises of the deployment of new technologies in response to challenges to the exercise of power; conversely, limits of the legitimating framework for the exercise of power are overcome through the maintenance of a repertoire of technologies Â? savoirfair - that could be deployed when the need arises.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: The research paper was published by the author with the affiliation of Duke University.
Subjects: Policy
Socio Political System
Date Deposited: 16 May 2019 17:42
Last Modified: 16 May 2019 17:42

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