State Formation, Mass Democratic Politics, Urban Development, Class Relations and the Construction of Poverty in India from the Late‑colonial Period to the Present
a public lecture by
(University of Oxford)
This paper is concerned with the evolution of ideas to do with urban poverty as a social problem and the poor as a social category. The aims of the paper are as follows: (1) To identify the underlying assumptions and ideas about urban poverty and the poor in the discourse and practice of urban development, public policy and dominant politics; (2) To track and explain diverse conceptions of poverty and the poor over‑time from the 1930s to the present, and identify ruptures and continuities; (3) To unravel the historical provenance of some of the contemporary approaches to poverty; and (4) To examine conflicting and contradictory attitudes towards the poor – that is, the simultaneous existence of both negative and positive depictions of the poor, and tendencies of both social and political inclusion and exclusion at the same time. In undertaking this exercise, the following factors will be considered: (1) The process of state formation and the requirements of regime stability; (2) The demands of urban mass politics and democratic electoral politics; (3) The dynamics of urban class formation, in particular the political construction of middle class identity, status and power. Three main conjunctures, which are particularly significant in the history of evolution of ideas about poverty, will be discussed. The paper will start with the formative or foundational era of thinking about poverty in the final phase of anti‑colonial mass nationalism in the 1930s and 40s, and in the period of early post‑colonial state construction in the late 1940s and 1950s. This will be followed by a discussion of the era of populist politics and mass electoral mobilisation in the 1970s, under the premiership of Mrs Indira Gandhi. This period was characterized by major new developments in the history of ideas about urban poverty. Finally, the paper will consider the 1990s and the onset of economic liberalisation that brought about new developments, indeed a sea change, in conceptions of poverty and the poor, although there were significant continuities too from a historical perspective.
Nandini Gooptu is a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. She teaches history and politics at the Oxford Department of International Development, the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, and the Department of Politics, University of Oxford. Educated in Calcutta and at Cambridge, and trained as a historian, she is the author of 'The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early‑Twentieth Century India', published by Cambridge University Press. She is the co‑editor of 'India and the British Empire', published by Oxford University Press. While Dr Gooptu's past research has been on colonial India, her current research is concerned with social and political transformation in contemporary India. She has published articles on a variety of subjects, including caste, religion and politics; urban development and politics; poverty, labour, and work.
Monday, September 17, 5: 30 pm