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The Articulation of Bureaucratic Everydayness in the Indian Himalaya

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Dr Nayanika Mathur (Social Anthropology; CRASSH ) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

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This paper is an ethnographic rendition of the everyday life of a development bureaucracy in a district in the Indian Himalaya. I am centrally concerned with exploring the means through which one can capture and represent through writing the mundane, repetitive, quotidian life of bureaucracy. My subject of study is the bureaucratic apparatus of the Indian state. I ask what insights into the functioning of the contemporary Indian state can we glean through an attention to the particular and the everyday of bureaucracy. Based on 18 months of fieldwork in India, I trace the processes and things – paper – through which an ambitious anti-poverty legislation was implemented in a Himalayan state. Through this detailing I show how and why this developmental law met with surprisingly little success in this impoverished Himalayan region of India. I conclude by arguing that crumbling government offices and seemingly ordinary bureaucratic procedures and objects are central to the continual production of the developmental Indian state. In the acknowledgement of the centrality of these spaces and things we will, I suggest, gain a keener insight into why India continues to struggle to meet its welfare objectives.

About Nayanika Mathur

Nayanika Mathur is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CRASSH . She is a Social Anthropologist with an interest in the ethnography of bureaucracy, poverty, the state, capitalism, and human-animal relations. Her book manuscript, deriving from her doctoral research, entitled Paper Tiger: Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in the Indian Himalaya is currently under review. At CRASSH she is beginning her postdoctoral research, which is a comparative historical and ethnographic study of national ID systems in India and the UK. This work will study the relation between ideals of transparency and the generation of suspicion of democratic government. Nayanika has previously lectured in Social Anthropology at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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