Friday, 10 August 2012

Civil Society and Politics

[Useful for Civil Society topics of both Sociology and Public Administration, and Politics and Society (Sociology)- Spurthi]

Harriss, John: Antinomies of Empowerment: Observations on Civil Society, Politics and Urban Governance in India. Economic and Political Weekly 42, 26 (2007), 2716-24.

Along with its liberalization policy, India follows a ‘Post-Washington consensus’ in respect to issues of governance, characterized by privatization, decentralization, civil society participation and community involvement. This paper is concerned with the two elements of this model that are directly related to the notion of ‘empowerment’, namely, civil society participation and community involvement, which together are expected to encourage the development of ‘self rule’ and of people’s capacities to look after themselves and their communities.

The author questions the empowerment-oriented decentralized form of governance typical of a post-liberalization regime through an ethnographic study of associational activity in Chennai, conducted from January to March 2005 using snowball sampling techniques. The study found that the notion of ‘empowerment’ has become very diffuse, and the distinction of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ very prominent in the area of civil society participation. Empowerment and civil society voices are relevant only for the ‘upper strata’, while the ‘urban poor’ stand as the object of middle class and upper caste paternalism. Thus, the attractive new system appears fatally corrupted by the dominance, over-representation and personal advantages of some, excluding others from the ‘new politics’ and forms of governmentality of the post-liberalization state. This new politics is strongly associated with technocratic, rational and modern ideas, and tends to be about ‘problem solving’ rather then the messy politics of democracy. However contradictions arise when poor people show a strong preference for representative democracy.

In short, this paper concludes that the kind of local organization in civil society associated with the agenda of ‘empowerment’ is found in urban India, but that it largely excludes the urban poor as active political agents. It acts as an organization of and for the ‘consumer-citizen’ subjects of the neoliberal state, and many of the activities that it sustains are directed at displacing the urban poor rather than supporting their struggle over right to housing, livelihood protection or self-realization.

Reproduced from:

No comments:

Post a Comment