Making a river of gold

Speculative state planning, informality, and neoliberal governance on the Hooghly

in Focaal
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This article examines the forms of state planning associated with neoliberalism, through a history and ethnography of the Kolkata Port Trust during liberalization. All state plans are promised futures which create a contested dialogue between bureaucrats and citizens. Neoliberal governance makes these interactions particularly ambiguous and opaque, because it relies on decentralized, speculative planning and the stimulation of public-private partnerships. These produce diverse, behind-the-scenes negotiations whose outcome is entirely different from the schemes initially outlined in textual state promises. It also places low-level bureaucrats in a liminal, Janus-faced role, in which they act both to create and to cross a boundary between public and private action. This new mode of rule is particularly problematic in settings such as the Hooghly River, where informality dominates in labor relationships. Bureaucrats deploy practices previously associated with “corruption” and patronage in order to enfold networks of unprotected labor into the revenue streams and plans of the state.

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology