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Technology, technicians and the state in South Asia: political and social uses of technical knowledge
Location Room 212
Date and Start Time 27 July, 2016 at 17:45
Sessions 1


  • Berenice Girard (EHESS Paris) email
  • Vanessa Caru (CNRS ) email

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Short Abstract

This panel invites reflexions and case studies on the political and social uses of technology in South Asia, to discuss its centrality in government policies. Technology is here understood in an extensive manner, to include different types of technical knowledge, practices and tools.

Long Abstract

This panel invites reflexions and case studies on the political and social uses of technology in South Asia. Technology is here understood in an extensive manner to include different types of technical knowledge, practices and tools. The centrality of technology in government policies has been widely discussed in contemporary research. This panel would like to discuss this centrality while adopting a historical perspective on the evolving political use of technology and a specific focus on South Asia.

In the years following Independence, technology was conceived as a central tool to further the economic development and social policies of South Asian countries, and technical elites were offered important roles in the implementation of technocratic development programs. The present context of liberalisation and redefinition of the role of the State seems however to have brought both new uses and actors, as well as changes in the modes of interaction between States and technologies. We invite papers discussing this dynamic, and especially welcome case studies focusing on the specific use and place of technology in social policies. We further invite papers looking at processes of defining politically pertinent technologies, as well as detailed papers on the interaction and relationship between the different technical professional groups and the State. Finally, we also invite reflexions and case studies on how technology affects States' prerogatives, balances of power and control over political territories and spaces in South Asia.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


State policy, technical knowledge and manpower requirements: the case of the automobile industry and its workforce in India after independence (c. 1947-2010)

Author: Stefan Tetzlaff (EHESS-CNRS, Paris)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the emergence of India's automobile industry and its workforce. It highlights the interdependency of a new state policy, new demands on technological knowledge as well as new manpower requirements to serve industries in India after independence.

Long Abstract

The paper analyzes the interdependency of a new state policy for heavy industries, the resulting demands on technological knowledge and new manpower requirements to serve industrialization drives in India after independence. In order to study this larger trajectory, the paper focuses on the emergence of India's automobile industry and its workforce, consisting of managers, engineers and technical workers. Some works with a focus on the colonial period show that the connection between industrialization and manpower development was not very pronounced, because state-led industrialization did not take place to a great extent and whatever happened was serviced by a foreign technical class. Moreover, there was basically no new workforce, which was both suitable to create industrial growth and to serve the new industries at the same time. This paper therefore inquires about basic processes and substantially new trajectories of these aspects in India after 1947. The paper thereby emphasises two aspects: the interest of the state in promoting the industry and relevant technical education on the one hand, and on the process of structuration of the workforce into different segments on the other.

The state's attributes of a firm? Combining welfare and growth goals: regional infrastructure PPP projects in India

Author: Champaka Rajagopal (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Within the labyrinth of public private partnerships for regional infrastructure projects in India, the State paradoxically exhibits a Firm’s ‘make or buy’ dilemma, while various Firms remain embedded therein, for potential profits, resulting in cyclical risk sharing. The author examines outcomes.

Long Abstract

Within the objective of promoting economic growth in India the central and state (provincial) governments have proposed five industrial corridor regions in the country (Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Government of India). The production of these regions is hinged upon regional infrastructure including road based expressways, freight corridors, airports and port projects (Ministries of Roads, Highways, Ports, Airports) many of which are 'projectized' and structured as PPP (public private partnership) projects, forging a labyrinth of partnerships between the State and the Firm. This paper investigates the relationship between an 'entrepreneurial State' in India and the Firm as distinct governance structures, towards understanding the governance of the construction industry for regional infrastructure projects. While the State plays the role of the regulator it's growth objectives are often executed partially by private firms and/ or hybrid government owned companies which exercise substantial autonomy. Public sector agencies forge PPP contracts with private firms, in the process transferring liabilities arising from uncertainties and risks onto the private sector party, enabled through complex project contracts. Cyclical sharing of institutional roles and risks characterizes this milieu of PPP projects in India, where often, a hybrid public agency outsources projects to private sector agencies, which almost complicitly, foster a continuous principal-agent relationship with the public sector in order to capture potential markets and profits. This paper investigates conditions under which the binary between the State and the Firm exists and/ or ceases to exist for large scale regional infrastructure construction PPP projects.

Technology in the nexus of 'tradition' and 'modernity': the example of the Indian river interlinking project

Author: Klara Feldes (Humboldt University Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Analyzing political speeches from independence until today, the paper aims at tracing the reoccurring idea of moving towards a rational and modern society through the advancement of technology. In what way are technology and ideas of 'tradition' and 'modernity' interwoven in discourse and action?

Long Abstract

Looking at political speeches on 'development' in post-independence India, the importance of technology is a prominent and reoccurring theme. Within the framework of the need for technological advancement for the growth of the country, a reappearing image of overcoming old traditions and moving towards rationality and modernity, can be found. Next to 'developing' India, technology is also given the function of altering the social climate by fighting superstitions.

However, in contrast to the idea of technology being a rational, 'modern' field, ongoing practice of e.g. holding religious ceremonies for the success of infrastructure projects can be observed. How do these acts go together with, as suggested by the speeches, rationality of technology?

The paper aims at analyzing this nexus between the seemingly opposing entities of 'tradition' and 'modernity' in which technology is negotiated. It will do so by tracing the discourse on technology in speeches by Indian Prime Ministers from independence until today. Additionally, the Indian River Interlinking Project will serve as an empirical example. The scheme aims at creating an inland water network connecting a majority of India's rivers through the construction of waterways and dams. The paper looks at the relation between speech and action in light of the example. In how far is 'modernity' being negotiated here? How has the negotiation of technology in political speeches changed over time from independence until today? What social function is technology supposed to fulfill? The interwovenness of technology with 'traditions' and 'modernity' is traced in discourse and in practice.

'Something smells bad': caste, technology and leatherwork in India

Author: Shivani Kapoor (Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU))  email

Short Abstract

The paper proposes to examine the role of the state, through the early 1900s till the present, in using technological education to create a sanitized and scientific industrial realm of leatherwork in India away from the messiness of its erstwhile status as a ‘untouchable craft’.

Long Abstract

Leather is a curious object, especially within the caste discourses in India, where the production of leather is regarded as an extremely 'polluting' activity. Involving raw hides, animal bodies and filthy work conditions leatherwork is the domain of the 'untouchable' lower castes. Yet finished leather is a highly desirable commodity within political and popular economies in this society. This distance between desire and disgust was largely bridged by the use of technological education to create of a stratum of upper caste technical elites who function as owners, managers and experts creating a 'respectable industry' out of an 'untouchable craft'. The paper proposes to examine the role of the colonial and postcolonial state through the early 1900s till the present, in using technological education to create a sanitized and scientific industrial realm of upper caste experts who 'knew' how to produce leather, as against the 'untouchable' labour which actually touched, smelt and tasted the raw hides to actually 'make' leather. The paper argues that the phenomenological realities of caste are invisibilized in this spilt between knowing and doing. The paper then moves to interrogate the failure of this sanitization by examining the trajectories of some of these upper caste elites, for whom a technological intervention could not still mask the stench of raw hides and which now comes to 'pollute' them as well. The paper thus examines the relationship between the anesthetic category of technology and the highly affective nature of caste in order to bring affect back to the technological.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.