Events

Monday, April 20, 2015 -
12:15pm to 2:00pm
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Room 100F, Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge

STS Circle at Harvard

Rajesh Veeraraghavan (UC Berkeley/Harvard Berkman Center), "The Politics of Openness: Technology, Corruption and Participation in Indian Public Employment"

Sandwich lunches are provided. Please RSVP to sts@hks.harvard.edu by Wednesday at 5PM the week before.

Abstract:   This talk examines the attempted use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to eliminate corruption within a bureaucracy in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The government project takes place within the context of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which aims to support India's poorest citizens by guaranteeing a minimum level of employment for rural families. In this initiative, the senior bureaucrats built a digital network to curb corruption at the “last mile.” By increasing the visibility and by controlling the “micro-practices” of the work done by lower-level bureaucrats, this digital system allowed higher-level bureaucrats to exercise more control remotely, bypassing the existing “chain of command” form of control and reducing corruption. Ideally, the system was imagined to centralize power through technology in order to eliminate powers of discretion at the lower-levels of the bureaucracy. What my fieldwork revealed, however, was a constant struggle to control the digital system: the lower-level bureaucrats found creative ways to thwart the intentions of the higher-level bureaucrats. Agency was not removed from local politics; instead it was constantly renegotiated through efforts by local politicians and local bureaucrats on the one side and higher-level administrators on the other to control the technological instruments of surveillance. The struggle over surveillance is not the "Scottian" state against citizen but contestation within a divided state. ICT did reduce corruption and created a more “Weberian” bureaucracy but only up to a point. Local actors managed to defend their power and some of their ability to extract rents in the last mile. The struggle continues, on the new digital terrain.

Biography:  Rajesh Veeraraghavan is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Information, UC Berkeley and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet society at Harvard. He studies how information and communication technology (ICT) is used in practice to regulate economic, social and political relationships. Rajesh questions the widespread belief that information technology can be used to "solve" either development or governance "problems," both by engaging in activism involving technological interventions and by using empirical methods to critically examine claims about the impact of ICT in governance. For more go to http://ischool.berkeley.edu/~rajesh

Contact Name: 

Shana Rabinowich

Research Areas: 

Harvard University
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