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Title:Reframing citizenship by decentralizing development under India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
Author(s):Fischer, Harry
Director of Research:Chhatre, Ashwini
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Chhatre, Ashwini
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ribot, Jesse; Bassett, Thomas J.; Negi, Rohit
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic InfoSci
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
local democracy
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)
common-pool resource management
political empowerment
Himachal Pradesh
Abstract:This dissertation examines the gradual process of democratic deepening in several villages of the Indian Himalayas. In recent decades, democratic decentralization has become a popular policy reform around the world, yet the actual scope of citizen participation in local governance is often limited. In many contexts, elites continue to wield disproportionate power over local decision-making processes, while underlying forms of social exclusion remain intact. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that new democratic institutions can, under certain circumstances, provide space for local democracy to mature. Through an ethnographic account of political transformation in several villages in the Indian Himalayas, this dissertation theorizes a recursive process of social and institutional change that has led to the emergence of more responsive and accountable public authority. Three central themes guide this inquiry. First, I trace how the establishment of formal elected institutions followed by their endowment with significant resources to undertake particular types of development has reshaped the terms of local political practice. Second, I examine how new political institutions intersect with a longer trajectory of social change, which shapes the character of citizen engagement in emerging democratic spaces as well as the effects of these engagements on local social power. Third, I explore how previously marginalized individuals use emerging political spaces to pursue multi-faceted agendas—both to direct state resources toward particular development objectives and in pursuit of broader projects of recognition. These themes are interwoven in several empirical chapters. I document how the consolidation of local democratic institutions is (a) reshaping traditional authority structures in common-pool irrigation management systems and expanding the influence of marginal social groups within them, (b) giving rise to a new class of local elected leaders drawn from diverse social backgrounds, and (c) providing space for marginal social groups to mobilize against entrenched social and political subordination and to claim a more equitable share of power within society. Finally, I draw insights from this material to explore the implications of decentralization for development, democracy, and citizenship in contemporary India.
Issue Date:2015-01-21
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Harry Fischer
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-01-21
Date Deposited:2014-12

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