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.
Speculative state planning, informality, and neoliberal governance on the Hooghly
For a New Materialist Analytics of Time
How might we construct a reinvigorated materialist analytics of human time that pushes beyond Marxist approaches? Here, I suggest that anthropology contains rich resources with which to achieve this aim. In particular, it can help us understand the qualities of secular and capitalist ‘modern’ time. An emphasis on time-tricking is especially useful in revealing the technologies of imagination, the ethics and the inequalities of such a temporal orientation. This concept brings into view the materialist ethic, ludic and aesthetic practices, and misrecognitions characteristic of current forms of ‘modern’ time. In addition, ethnographies of time-tricking provide the foundations for a reworking of Marx’s model of free and disposable time by focusing on informalized, social reproductive, excessive and domestic labour. A re-centring of our theories on these significant activities within capitalism is long overdue.
Remaking the Public Good
Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur
In this introductory article, we call for a new anthropology of bureaucracy focused on 'the public good'. We aim to recapture this concept from its classic setting within the discipline of economics. We argue that such a move is particularly important now because new public goods – of transparency, fiscal discipline and decentralization – are being pressed into the service of states and transnational organizations: it has therefore become critical to focus on their techniques, effects and affects through fine-grained ethnography that challenges the economization of the political. We demonstrate our approach through some ethnographic findings from different parts of India. These show how fiscal austerity leads to new limited social contracts and precarious intimacies with the post-liberalization Indian state. This relationship between new public goods and forms of precarious citizenship is then further illuminated by the six articles that follow in this special issue.
Between Theory, Ethnography, and Method
Martin Holbraad, Sarah Green, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Veena Das, Nurit Bird-David, Eduardo Kohn, Ghassan Hage, Laura Bear, Hannah Knox and Bruce Kapferer
Recent years in anthropology have seen a noticeable trend, moving from debates about theory to a concern with method. So while some generations ago we would tend to identify ourselves as anthropologists with reference to particular theoretical paradigms—for example, Marxism, (post-)structuralism, cognitivism, cultural materialism, interpretivism—these days our tendency is to align ourselves, often eclectically, with proposals conceived as methodological: entanglements, assemblages, ontologies, technologies of description, epistemic partnerships, problematizations, collaborative anthropology, the art of noticing, and so on.