Social Externalities Workshop II (Delhi) Economy and Culture

Raqs Media Collective (Delhi Artists)

This workshop follows on from a very successful colloquium held in Beijing in October 2010. The workshop was the first stage in developing a research network supported by the British Economic and Social research Council that interrogates the dynamics of the 'Rising Powers' in the BRICS.

Michael Keith (Centre on Migration, Policy and society, University of Oxford) and Scott Lash (Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths), Sandeep kapur, John Driffill (both Economics, Birkbeck) and Maliq Simone (Sociology, Goldsmiths) are trying to develop an international collaborative interdisciplinary dialogue that stems from a concern with the manner in which the fundamentally economic conception, theorisation and realisation of 'externalities' is inflected socially and culturally.  

The trajectory of British, colonialism was one driving factor in the ‘long century’ of low growth in India, China and arguably Africa. And British colonialism, and the partly cultural assumptions of classical political economy of the British East India Company was infinitely more thoroughgoing than colonialism in china.  Arguably equally Indian religion, Hindu and Muslim is based on a personal (though plural-sided) god like in the West, thus giving a principle to ‘Indo-European’ languages and culture. Finally the thorough and long-term penetration of the English language in India is unmatched anywhere and significant in driving some of the ‘uphill flows’ of capital as south Asian corporate become increasingly significant in FDI into Europe through corporate takeovers (eg CORUS) and through intra company transfers that account for more than two thirds of the skilled migration into the UK. The constitution of markets, cultures of competition and individualism in today’s India plays into some of the conventional comparative debates of India’s and China’s growth models. The cultural dynamics of these political economies are less clear.  

The Workshop

Awadhndra Sharan (Sarai, Delhi), Sandeep Kapur (Birkbeck College, University of London), Vikram Dayal (Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi)
Jiang Jun (Guangzhou University and Urban China); Kalyan Sanyal (Calcutta University) and ravi Sundaram (Sarai)

This workshop addressed the cultural logics that underlay both India and African economies. We found that scalar stabilities of Chinese, Indian and African regions (that were the topic of the Beijing workshop) are paralleled by, or better overlap with, cultural stabilities that open up space for investment and growth in the relative absence of classical western institutions. Many of these dynamics are mediated by the growing economies of scale mediated by the urban growth regions of the BRICS. An understanding of the social and cultural construction of externalities in structuring this growth is consequently central to the challenges to the Washington consensus of the late 20th century and the emergence of alternative framings of economy and society.

Session Abstracts

Priyani Roychowdhury (University of Delhi)
Will Davies (Said Business School, University of Oxford)

Session 1: Uncertain Modernities

Scott Lash: Goldsmiths College, London

The crisis of Western economies has been a continuing crisis and perhaps failure of neo-liberalism. Foucault understood this, not liberalism but neo-liberalism in terms of a bio-political form of regulation; a bio­political forms of normative regulation. Thus Foucault foregrounded Gary Becker’s idea of human capital as a mode of such regulation. His Chicago School colleague R.H. Coase complements Becker in understanding neo-liberalism. Coase is the father of institutional economics. And neo-liberalism displaces Adam Smith-type liberal classical markets with such institutions. At stake here is legal regulation and the Chicago School of law and economics. Coase argues for the legitimacy of the firm as institution, on the grounds of savings in transaction costs. Coase-like arguments were used at onset of 1980s Reagan administration to justify rolling back anti-monopoly legislation. Here neo-liberalism is (Will Davies) about the competition between monopolies. This competition takes place via intellectual property rights. Coase then is attempts to solve the 'problem of social costs, through counteracting (social) externalities through ‘well-defined property rights’. We address this, not re. the costs, but the benefits of externalities and the benefits of less-well defined property rights, in the rising powers. We look at such externalities (which are externalities to law and institutions) as generating urban and regional economies of scale. These economies, which are also cultural processes, are often a ‘pirate modernity’, an open-source modernity that works on the margins of intellectual property rights, a commons that violates the institutions of neo-liberal civil society in a set of informal externalities in a dynamic urban economy of more or less contingent exchanges. Walter Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’ was in fact a critique of law, for which he proposed to substitute the eschatological violence of justice. Thus the de facto critique of law via these social externalities opens up spaces of not just economic and cultural invention, but also new publics and modes of justice. Wang Hui in The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought of the importance of neo-Confucianist culture in giving to China a very different trajectory of modernity. Today the residues of such neo-Confucianism informs a long-termism and relationality that is itself external to the individualist and legal framework of neo-liberal institutions. Also transgressing the institutions of neo-liberal civil society are the cross-national networks of Ibo-Nigerian traders described by Abdoumaliq Simone. In Wang’s Rise of Modern Chinese Thought we see also the rise of Confucianist literati who from the Han Dynasty mould a centralized state, indeed a state without very much of the rule of law. In the rise of modern Indian thought, we see a Brahman elite. If the Confucians give us the state without law, the Brahmins give us law without the state. Indeed Brahmin regulated dharma is translated into Chinese, that is a law. Thus, in contrast to China, in India we see the importance of the problematization of law. We see the provision of infrastructure, in the absence of strong state, by big private capital and the informal economy, sometimes in tiered value-chain linkages.

Ravi Sundaram , Sarai Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi - “Modernity”

The 1950s and the 1960s in India, China and Africa were an intense configuration of politics, revolution, and affirmations of national sovereignty. Politics, the technologies of the social, Planning and the Economy made visible local populations. The template of postcolonial ‘modernity’ has faded over the years. It could not survive the optimism of the 1950s, the multiple crises of the Indian economy, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in China, and the collapse of various ‘national’ models in Africa.

The present:If modernity seems suspended in its old form, infrastructure is the new script for capitalism from China to India to Africa. Infrastructure fever rules: sometimes ventriloquised as capitalism, or as ‘development.’ After the 1990s, information infrastructures and new technologies have become integral. With informational infrastructures, visibility now emerges as a new, pressing problem. The presence of low cost media objects, (phones, low cost audio and video) have allowed populations to use infrastructure in unforeseen ways. They disrupt the technological monopolies of states, and also bypass official networks of control. As a field, information infrastructure now produces large grey zones, new sites of cultural politics, and a series of trans-regional connections.

In this situation, transparency has emerged as a master code for a new liberal discourse in opposition to waste, piracy, informality, illegality, leakage, and corruption. The combination of information, infrastructure and transparency is ranged against a permanent state of disorder. In India, and idea of a present without visibility and legal designation, appears lost, if not impossible. What if this impossible present is not set up as a paralysing obstruction, but as a productive site for rethinking the architecture of western liberal capitalism? I take this point as a conceptual departure to reflect on the puzzles of infrastructure, power, and capitalism.

Prathama Banerjee: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi

In this presentation, I try to mobilise the contemporary – as politics, as idea, as time – against the modern. I argue that even though the modern and the contemporary seem to appear within a singular field of intelligibility, the modern, historically, has sought to tame the recalcitrance of the contemporary. After all, modernity (and its discourses of modernisation and development) have worked to establish non-contemporaneity as the mode of being of peoples – some primitive, some backward and some modern – making life-in-common impossible except, literally, through re-presentation of the non-present. In face of the modern, then, mobilising the contemporary is a political act of disruption.

It is in the mode of ‘contemporanising’ that I feel we must today engage with other peoples, other lands, other times. This would have to be simultaneously a postcolonial and postnational move, displacing the colonial-modern ‘comparativism’ that once mapped the ‘reality’ of the world in terms of a temporal hierarchy of nations, civilisations, cultures. This would also have to be pitted again capitalism’s way of instituting an apparent temporal simultaneity across the globe, through designs of perfect equivalence and universal exchange.

In other words, contemporanising would have to be an active political-intellectual move of recomposing the world through setting up of new relationships between repressed pasts, singular spaces and yet-to­named subjects, that do not coincide with what we know as history, nation and citizen. Concomitantly, contemporanising would also have to re-theorise change – and temporality – by disestablishing modernist narratives of transition and succession.



Session 2: Informalities and South-South Flows

Solomon Benjamin: National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore “Indian Diaspora, Transnationalism and ‘Rousing India’“

We view cities as being constituted around fluid interconnected and contested spaces whose materialities are increasingly trans-global. Our methods are ethnographic to consider of practices an economy of mostly small inter-connected firms, territorialized via diverse land tenure, and how both embedded in local government institutions. The economy we refer to are increasingly trans-global: The 'China Bazzars' in Indian small towns and metros connecting to East Chinese, Singapore; Territorialisation is made possible via diverse land tenures politicized around local government practices of providing basic infrastructure and services – often with ‘de-facto’ regulation. Land, economy, and institutional practices (regulatory, legal) are highly contested territory. These are shaped by global connections of big business, their mobilization of 'policy', Master Plans, and 'The Law'. At the core, contestations reflect a disruption of singular forms of property: in land tenures that radicalize real estate surpluses; in economy undisciplined via patents and IPR.

If we see the city as being necessarily imperfect, opaque, unruly, and illegible, than this view contests and disrupts several types of narratives. First, by activist academics, progressive planners and development consultants. Despite ideological variations, they assume the centrality and promise of 'The Plan & Policy' outside of politics to resolve 'the slum', the 'informal sector'. This position also presumes an exhaustion of politics via the ‘instantaneity’ of evictions. Instead, conflict is to be resolved via the project of voicing 'deep democracy'. We see such a strive for perfection as dulling the mind into political closure. Instead we look towards territorialisation as being usefully constituted out of collisions, seepages, almost always ‘de-facto’ and highly materialized places. The fluidity of political claiming reflects territories constituted with colliding and intersecting logics, incompleteness where imperfection opens new spaces and possibilities. In this approach, we see fissures and dis-junctures to reveal the political, opened up in opaque, stealth like, imperfect ways to erode and disrupt the neat boundaries of the plan, the mega, and the financially solvent.

What does this tell us about our descriptions– in times when ‘ethnography’ and street knowledge is just another term for the ‘local informant’? Should we complete the case study whose neat lessons mark territorial closure? Are these easy illustrations of best practices and ‘good governances’, narratives of instant loss and marginality and give city spaces to the power of the meta? Or, gain political space via imperfect incompleteness, the smudges and the leak that reveal both stealth and hesitancy. Why not accept the lines not drawn? Or those with uneven edges as necessarily disruptive, dis-junctioned, with their edges frayed, their inner layers ruffled and patched? We explore territorialisation via methods that radicalize De Certeau's walks presently disciplined by its towers and constituted around: An imperfect law that is necessarily indefinite, fluid, subject to re-constitution and disruption. As cityscapes whose opaqueness, fragmentation, and illegibility allows the possibility of being incomplete and thus constitutive of subversive, escape, and new formations. We see a city difficult to survey, and in forms that reject easy conception as unitary and utilitarian devices. Instead, city formative processes that build and morph, multiply tenures and spacialisations. Cityscapes where identities shift and conflate to make complex any form of capture, but an engagement in political spaces whose repetitive practices consolidate terrains. Territorial formations not easily placed on a grid and poses colliding spaces at time in parallel never to meet.

Aditya Nigam: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi

I will be addressing the question "Is there an Outside to Capital?" - which is also the tentative title of my presentation. The presentation takes off from the recent intense and violent struggles against the acquisition of land for industry and is posed against the backdrop of heightened twenty-first century anxieties of corporations and governments regarding 'underground' [informal] economies. Recent writing in India has focused once again on the 'universal' history of capital - based on the model of primitive accumulation. Even the more interesting and unconventional theorizations like those of Kalyan Sanyal do not question this. There has been, in the past, an argument by important scholars like Partha Chatterjee and Sudipta Kaviraj that is based on the alternative model of the passive revolution - one that skirts the standard story of the violent decimation of agriculture. Both, however, are still based in some sense on the teleology of capital.

As against this, I argue, partly along with Sanyal but also against him (and the more recent writings by Chatterjee) that there is indeed another story possible - one that is indicated by the history of postcolonial societies like India, but also other parts of Asia and Africa. Against this background I discuss the so-called 'informal sector'/ underground economy in India in particular as a way of retelling the story of capital and what I believe is its colossal failure to take hold over most of the world.

Kalyan Sanyal: University of Calcutta : “Exclusionary growth and cultural dualism in contemporary India”

In analyzing the growth performance of India and China, scholars have explored the possible role of culture in ensuring the conditions of existence and sustenance of a high growth trajectory. For example, Wan Hui has seen ‘neo-Confucian’ relations between economic partners as being conducive to the process of economic growth. In contrast to this, Indian society is often portrayed as one that has successfully imbibed the contract culture associated with western institutions, which has enabled her to have an edge in her economic engagement with the west. Such understanding of the economy-culture relation, however, implicitly assumes an ‘oneness’ of the economic and the cultural. There is one ‘economy’ that grows and there is one ‘culture’ that does /doesn’t influence the growth process.

The recognition of the fact that the economic and the cultural spaces in these societies are marked by heterogeneity unsettles this ‘oneness’. The growth process we have witnessed in China and India is one that can be described as primitive accumulation (or accumulation by dispossession) in which assets and resources under non-capitalist control are brought within the circuit of corporate capital by divorcing labour from the means of labour. But given the exclusionary nature of contemporary corporate capitalist growth, the dispossessed people are left out of the expanding domain of capitalist production. These people, referred to as ‘surplus humanity’ eke out a living in a subsistence sub-economy ---- often called the ‘informal sector’ ----that surrounds the glittering enclave of corporate capitalist growth. The Indian experience emphatically shows that the exclusionary growth process has resulted in this dualism in the economic space.

The economic dualism has its cultural correlate. The informal economy, characterized largely by household production with family labour and production based on all kinds of informal arrangements, is very different from the corporate economy grounded in the western contract culture. It functions on the basis of informal arrangements, oral contracts, and all kinds of pre-modern kinship relations. It is evident in the case of India, and one surmises in the case of other rising powers as well. Any attempt to understand the economy-culture relationship in the rising powers must take into account this discontinuity within the economic and the cultural.

Kamala Ganesh: University of Mumbai: “Indian Diaspora, Transnationalism and ‘Rousing India’“

Three recent interrelated processes have contributed to the cultural fleshing out of India’s image as a rising global power : transformation of its middle class, state foregrounding of its diaspora and new transnational networks of the middle class in which old diasporas such as South Africa have also managed to enter . The emergence of a substantial new middle class in India with increased purchasing power and consumption oriented values has been heralded as the driving force of the consuming economy. A somewhat different set of predicaments triggered a policy shift in leveraging the clout of the Indian diaspora for economic and diplomatic purposes. This powerful policy has taken an instrumentalist approach, wooing specifically the successful new diasporas in North America and Europe. The old colonial labour diasporas in the Caribbean, Africa, etc , disconnected from India by historical and political distance, got left out. Importantly, beyond state intervention, technological and other forms of, globalization have facilitated links of both old and new diasporas mutually and with India in terms of marriage and business networks, pilgrimage and tourism, but also reverse flows in education, performing arts, philanthropy, etc. These new possibilities of South-South flows have remained largely in the terrain of the middle class, limiting their transformative potential.


Session 3: From Neo Liberalism to ....?

Surajit Mazumdar: Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, Delhi: “Rising by Regressing? Indian Capitalism under Neo-Liberalism”

In the larger discussion on the historical significance of the so-called ‘rise of the rest’, the distinctive Indian case merits special examination. The statistical fact that India’s share in global production has been going up is only one aspect of the trajectory the Indian economy has got locked into under a liberal policy regime. This, and the rapid advance achieved by Indian big business, appears to be consistent with an India rising story though not without some major qualifications. There are also, however, other dimensions of that trajectory which reflect not only persistence but even reinforcement of barriers to India’s escape from the underdevelopment trap. India for instance remains the most agrarian, the least industrial, and the poorest, of the world’s major economies. Because of her history of colonial subjugation and the absence of an agrarian transformation at any stage, India’s capitalist development has always been characterized by unevenness between the development of her capitalist sector and the larger transformative impact it has produced on Indian society. The latter kind of impact has in fact been extremely limited even in comparison to other late-industrializing Asian capitalisms. Accelerated capitalist development under neo-liberalism has been a self-reinforcing process exacerbating this unevenness rather than one of overcoming it.

Will Davies: Institute for Science Innovation & Society, UK

The crises of neo-liberalism can be understood as crises of calculation, arising from a failure of economics and economic reasoning to adequately capture risks and costs, as demonstrated most dramatically in the global financial crisis. This type of failure is often referred to by economists as a ‘market failure’ or ‘externality’. Drawing on the sociology of Max Weber, this paper examines neo-liberal crises as arising from the contradictions of value neutral utilitarianism: market actors are expected to behave in a rational, maximising, self-interested fashion, but they are only pragmatically equipped to do so when they also possess a necessary ethos of reason. Neo-liberalism, without an appropriate accompanying ethos or ‘spirit’, becomes bi-polar – hedonistic euphoria destroys financial institutions, while varieties of depression become the hegemonic ‘negative externality’ of labour markets under conditions of ‘cognitive capitalism’.

The paper looks at one way in which (in Weber’s terms) substantive reason is being re-discovered in the wake of neo-liberal crises, so as to bring ethos and goals within calculative rationalities and strategies of government. The engagement of economists and policy-makers with psychology and neuroscience offers new techniques of rationalisation which account for group behaviour, hedonic influences, the normative aspects of choice, and the culturally contingent nature of calculation. Together, these hint at a neo­communitarian future, less focused on a neutral neo-liberal ‘architecture’ of economic competition, than on providing the cultural and psychological conditions of ‘good’ choice-making behavior.

Sandeep Kapur: Birkbeck College: “ The Washington Consensus: past and present”

The so-called ‘Washington-consensus’, even as a caricature of neo-liberal economics, has been dismantled by two developments. One, the recent economic crises that have engulfed western democracies have come to challenge the basic tenets of neo-liberalism. Two, the recent growth experience of some emerging markets have reminded us that neo-liberal policies are neither sufficient nor necessary, even for the kind of development experience that neo-liberal policies aim to sponsor. This talk will identify some of the fault-lines in global economic interactions. Nonetheless, it will contend that, as a doctrinaire ideology, neo-liberal economics will continue to re-invent itself.


Session 4: Between City and Region

Himanshu Burte: B4 Ban-ganga Society, Mumbai: “Inside-out: Emergent Decentrings and the Crisis of Place”

My exploratory presentation will use the notion of ‘decentring’ of selves and places as spelt out by Marc Auge to sketch an emerging crisis of ‘place’ in parts of India. The imagination of physical location, natural environment, and the historical constitution of the city are all undergoing significant change directly linked to the changes in the economy over the last ten or twenty years. Auge’s decentring is now a central feature of urban culture as expressed in lifestyle, architecture as well as the de facto regional planning that is realized by specific initiatives like that of setting up small lifestyle ‘cities’ like Lavasa and AMby Valley near Mumbai. I also hope to explore an irony underlying this culture as seen in high-brow architecture: elite India believes it is an emerging economic power, but its imagination of place (landscape, city, architecture) is much more closely tied to broadly Western (or American) than it was perhaps in a period of greater economic vulnerability after Independence. I also hope to point to some critical approaches that are not governed by this irony, and which propose more culturally appropriate ways of imagining place and its making in contemporary India.

Awadhendra Sharan: Sarai, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi : “Exiling Risks”

Over the last two decades cities in India, especially metropolitan centres, have sought to reposition themselves in the global order through efforts at exiling environmental ‘risks’ from the core to the margins, while creating increased value within the city and its immediate periphery. This strategy, I suggest, is not new, having been part of the urban planning imaginary for over half a century. What is new is its intensification through a renewed emphasis on legality, a new discourse around security of ‘life’ itself, and a new urgency to lower carbon footprints in the wake of climate discourse. In other instances, where exiling risks has not been a possibility, a different strategy has emerged wherein the effort is at taming risks through science and technology, while deploying emerging legal principles of polluter pays and precautionary principle. My presentation will speak to the similarities and distinctions between these two strategies and their implications for the emerging city-region interface, with particular reference to the city of Delhi.


Session 5: New Political Ecologies

Jiang Jun: China : “What’s Special in China’s Special Zone?”

Special zone might not be invented by China, but China could be most in need of it in the world. The pre­modern China used to solve the puzzle between political-culture unity and social-economic diversity with the philosophy that “seeks common ground while reserves minor differences”, in which diversified economy models could be developed in a self-organized family-model within the framework of Great Unity system. The 1980s experiment of SEZs (Special Economic Zones) was not about market economy per se, but about “planned market economy” – a fusion of upstream planned economy and downstream free-trade economy, which is special not only to China, but also to the world. The modernization of China is a process in which the pre-modern institutions is supposed to be reformed in a gradual progress. It is also a process parallel to the “special reform” of urbanization, in which China will transform from agriculture China to urban China. Special zone provides a temporary space for the experiment in temporary institution, as well as the impetus for it. The real ambition behind SEZ is not a temporary great leap forward in economy, but a superstructure that underlies sustainable economic achievements.

Gautam Bhan: Writer and civil rights activist, Delhi : “In the Public's Interest: the Urban Poor and the Judiciary in Millenial Delhi”

In early 2004, an estimated 35,000 households – colloquially called ‘Pushta’— on the banks of Delhi’s river Yamuna were destroyed in what was the first in a series of evictions. Between 1990-2003, official statistics say that 51, 461 households were evicted and resettled in Delhi. Yet between 2003-2007 –a third of the time – 45,000 households were evicted, with less than 25% receiving any resettlement or compensation. These evictions are different not just in degree or intensity but also in kind. They were not initiated by the city’s planning agency, its municipal bodies or by either the city or central government. Each was the result of a verdict in an innovative judicial mechanism created, ironically, to protect the poor: the Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

How has the eviction of nearly half a million urban residents and national citizens been recast, justified and legally endorsed in the name of “public interest” within the judiciary and within the city as a whole? How has this translation been made possible juridically and politically? How has the government negotiated both the emergence of the judiciary and its electoral responsibilities to so many of its citizens? What do these juridically sanctioned evictions tell us contemporary urban politics and the citizenship of the poor in particular? What explains the inability of anti-eviction social movements to raise empathy for the poor? How does the emergence of the judiciary as an actor of urban planning and governance challenge and re­configure state-government-citizen relationships and alter claims of the right to the city?

Vikram Dayal: Institute of Economic Growth Delhi, University Enclave: “Exploiting multilevel modeling for institutional analysis in environment and development economics”

Some initial ideas for work that is beginning will be presented. Although economists are increasingly aware of institutions, often using case studies, the use of the single actor rational choice model and econometrics may crowd out institutional analyses. This is partly a matter of interpretation, partly of observability, and partly of institutions tending to vary at a higher level than the unit of analysis. Statistical multilevel models allow us to unpack variations at different levels—household and village, for example. These models may foster institutional analyses. This claim will be evaluated by re-analyzing and reinterpreting data used in past analyses of protected area biomass extraction, rural indoor and outdoor air pollution, and sanitation that were done in the individual rational actor mode, and not informed by an institutional perspective.


Session 6: Special Arts Practice Discussion

Jeebesh Bagchi , Monica Narula, Shuddhabrata Sengupta: Sarai, CSDS,Raqs Media Collective: "Reverse Engineering The Euphoria Machine: A Counterpoint to the Cultural Logic of Extractive Accumulation

A quasi-libidinal drive acts as the motor of the logic of extractive accumulation in India today. While there is nothing specifically 'Indian' about the origin of this phenomenon (all 'rising powers' indulge their specific narcissistic fantasies in their own way, in their own time) there is no denying that it does ride on culturally specific vehicles. Whatever form it takes, this drive arms itself with the processed euphoria that accompanies the fantasy of apparently endless growth. The Raqs Media Collective's work in contemporary art insists on troubling this ruthless frenzy of self definition by undertaking a 'reverse engineering of the euphoria machine'. In this presentation, the Raqs Collective will offer a brief itinerary through the body of some of their recent work as a rough guide to navigating the landscape of detritus left in the wake of the lurching progress of the euphoria machine.