"This is a landmark study of bureaucratic practices through which the state is actualized in the lives of the poor in India. Akhil Gupta's theoretical sophistication and the ethnographic depth in this book demonstrate how South Asian studies continues to challenge and shape the direction of social theory. This book is a stunning achievement."—Veena Das, author of Life and Words
"This long-awaited book is a masterful achievement that offers a close look at the culture of bureaucracy in India and, through this lens, casts new light on structural violence, liberalization, and the paradox of misery in the midst of explosive economic growth. Akhil Gupta's sensitive analysis of the everyday practices of writing, recording, filing, and reporting at every level of the state in India joins a rich literature on the politics of inscription and marks a brilliant new benchmark for political anthropology in India and beyond."—Arjun Appadurai, author of Fear of Small Numbers
"Why has the postcolonial state in India seemed so incapable of improving the life chances of the country's poor? In his brilliant book Red Tape, Akhil Gupta argues that the structural violence inherent in the state operates as a form of biopower in which normal bureaucratic procedures depoliticize the killing of the poor. Whether exploring corruption, literacy, or population policy, Gupta provides an utterly original account of the deadly operations of state power associated with the ascendancy of new industrial classes and of neoliberal practice in contemporary India. A tour de force."—Michael Watts, author of Silent Violence
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Gupta conducted ethnographic research among officials charged with coordinating development programs in rural Uttar Pradesh. Drawing on that research, he offers insightful analyses of corruption; the significance of writing and written records; and governmentality, or the expansion of bureaucracies. Those analyses underlie his argument that care is arbitrary in its consequences, and that arbitrariness is systematically produced by the very mechanisms that are meant to ameliorate social suffering. What must be explained is not only why government programs aimed at providing nutrition, employment, housing, healthcare, and education to poor people do not succeed in their objectives, but also why, when they do succeed, they do so unevenly and erratically.
Akhil Gupta is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for India and South Asia at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India and a coeditor of Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, both also published by Duke University Press. He is also a coeditor of The State in India after Liberalization: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science, The Anthropology of the State: A Reader, and Caste and Outcast.