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Title:The making of regulatory independence
Author(s):Raja, Siddhartha S.
Director of Research:Sandvig, Christian E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Sandvig, Christian E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Miller, Peggy J.; Schiller, Daniel T.; Contractor, Noshir S.
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
regulatory independence
Abstract:This study offers an ethnographic account of life at a regulatory agency to offer a new perspective on an important question: how does a regulatory agency become and remain independent? Relying on an analytical framework based on scholarship in legal anthropology, this study provides elements of an answer based on an insider’s view of regulation, illuminating the complex, messy, and political nature of what may seem from the outside as calm and neutral application of technical expertise. The formal account suggests that legislative action defines the position and mandate of such an agency making it independent—immune from political influence in its decision-making. However, experience has shown that the making and maintenance of independence is a challenge, especially as these agencies typically enter arenas much after other powerful economic and political interests have established their own positions. The result is that in spite of efforts of international financial institutions, governments, and regulatory staffers worldwide to create independent regulatory agencies, many of these agencies are severely constrained in their ability to function effectively. Using unprecedented access to individuals working at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), this study will show that regulatory staffers are constantly struggling to make and maintain their position, define their role, and keep their agency going. These individuals engage in strategic choice-making, applying ideas and creating rituals in their various attempts to define a role for the agency. Even if they could call upon a formal mandate as defined in the law, the agency’s position is largely determined through the actions of the individuals working at the agency and, interestingly, through the actions of other entities in the arena. The role and position of the regulatory agency thus has various sources and is defined through multiple activities, including the act of regulation itself. If regulation is political, this study proposes rethinking regulation in terms of its semi-independence. A regulatory agency’s procedures and decisions are all part of the attempt of that agency to define a role for itself and are, consequently, political in nature. This political behavior is shaped by the preferences, values, and relative positions of other entities in the arena. By engaging in such political behavior, the agency becomes semi-independent; it might not be an apolitical rule-applier, but it may also be able to define a more meaningful role for itself. Rethinking regulatory independence as an ongoing effort thus situates an agency within political and social contexts, allowing us a new perspective on this widespread activity.
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Siddhartha S. Raja
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-25
Date Deposited:2011-05

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