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Red Tape presents a major new theory of the state developed by the renowned anthropologist Akhil Gupta. Seeking to understand the chronic and widespread poverty in India, the world's fourth largest economy, Gupta conceives of the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence. Every year this violence kills between two and three million peop Red Tape presents a major new theory of the state developed by the renowned anthropologist Akhil Gupta. Seeking to understand the chronic and widespread poverty in India, the world's fourth largest economy, Gupta conceives of the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence. Every year this violence kills between two and three million people, especially women and girls, and lower-caste and indigenous peoples. Yet India's poor are not disenfranchised; they actively participate in the democratic project. Nor is the state indifferent to the plight of the poor; it sponsors many poverty amelioration programs.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. "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 "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


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Red Tape presents a major new theory of the state developed by the renowned anthropologist Akhil Gupta. Seeking to understand the chronic and widespread poverty in India, the world's fourth largest economy, Gupta conceives of the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence. Every year this violence kills between two and three million peop Red Tape presents a major new theory of the state developed by the renowned anthropologist Akhil Gupta. Seeking to understand the chronic and widespread poverty in India, the world's fourth largest economy, Gupta conceives of the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence. Every year this violence kills between two and three million people, especially women and girls, and lower-caste and indigenous peoples. Yet India's poor are not disenfranchised; they actively participate in the democratic project. Nor is the state indifferent to the plight of the poor; it sponsors many poverty amelioration programs.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. "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 "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

30 review for Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Zu

    Only read the intro and skimmed the rest. An awesome read! structural violence as a modern form of governmentality, systemic arbitrariness as the mechanism of structural violence; writing as another integral part of governmental violence; enthnographic studies add strength to the argument--how the subaltern experience the structural violence is the focus and kudos to Gupta! weakness: didn't talk too much about the language problem, how to manage writing and communicating through media when your o Only read the intro and skimmed the rest. An awesome read! structural violence as a modern form of governmentality, systemic arbitrariness as the mechanism of structural violence; writing as another integral part of governmental violence; enthnographic studies add strength to the argument--how the subaltern experience the structural violence is the focus and kudos to Gupta! weakness: didn't talk too much about the language problem, how to manage writing and communicating through media when your official languages are > 300?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex Knipp

    An eye opening, ethnographic deep dive into why our conceptualizations of the state may be the very thing holding our scholarship back. I definitely know I will be drawing upon this work for my thesis, but I also have a few points of contention with his theoretical framework. Mostly, his methodology is outstanding –something that is taken for granted now, but almost cost him his tenureship. (Ah, the open mindedness that is academia). However, his largest issue lies in the grainy expanse between An eye opening, ethnographic deep dive into why our conceptualizations of the state may be the very thing holding our scholarship back. I definitely know I will be drawing upon this work for my thesis, but I also have a few points of contention with his theoretical framework. Mostly, his methodology is outstanding –something that is taken for granted now, but almost cost him his tenureship. (Ah, the open mindedness that is academia). However, his largest issue lies in the grainy expanse between his understanding of indifference and what, in my eyes, is simply watered down intention. These are the methodological k/nots I’ll try to untie in my research, but for now, it’s just good to acknowledge they exist!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    In Gupta’s ethnography, the state works to actively define poverty using its own statistical methods, contributing to the poor’s isolation and normalizing their lower-caste status, high infant morality rate, and the malnourishment of an entire social class of people in post-colonial India. By breaking down the problems of the state into corruption, inscription, and governmentality, Gupta can provide an original account and analyses of the bureaucratic structure in India. However, at times, the s In Gupta’s ethnography, the state works to actively define poverty using its own statistical methods, contributing to the poor’s isolation and normalizing their lower-caste status, high infant morality rate, and the malnourishment of an entire social class of people in post-colonial India. By breaking down the problems of the state into corruption, inscription, and governmentality, Gupta can provide an original account and analyses of the bureaucratic structure in India. However, at times, the system appears too complex to effectively evaluate in a broad ethnography and one wonders how this in-depth analyses ultimately matters to the poor. That said, Gupta provides the reader with a series of effective episodic examples that are generally helpful in keeping all of his ideas cohesive. In Red Tape, Gupta evaluates the mechanisms for the enactment of structural violence that are intimately bound to the normalization of poverty by the state in India.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nayana Renukumar

    "Red Tape" is a powerful ethnographic exploration into the baffling coexistence of a welfare state and abject poverty in the state of India. Through examination of three major themes, Corruption, Governmentality and Inscription, Gupta helps us understand how structural violence operates through the bureaucratic procedures of to perpetuate extreme poverty and inequality. As a student of policy deeply interested in the practicalities of State and society, I have found most anthropological works den "Red Tape" is a powerful ethnographic exploration into the baffling coexistence of a welfare state and abject poverty in the state of India. Through examination of three major themes, Corruption, Governmentality and Inscription, Gupta helps us understand how structural violence operates through the bureaucratic procedures of to perpetuate extreme poverty and inequality. As a student of policy deeply interested in the practicalities of State and society, I have found most anthropological works dense and inaccessible, a pity since they have many important lessons to convey us. Akhil Gupta has succeeded in transcending the divide between esoteric anthropology and highly engaging narrative. It is a book that will engage the policy maker, citizens and the academics alike.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joma

    I really enjoyed this book. Methodologically is where it shined. Gupta's use of his own ethnographic work and triangulating it with novels and popular ethnographies was insightful and shows some of the strengths of anthropology as a discipline. His 'intervention', I understand I'm speaking 8-years after its publishing, has become standard of the field: i.e. disaggregating the state; and calling into question its coherence. Not much to comment there; besides there needs to be a both/and approach. I really enjoyed this book. Methodologically is where it shined. Gupta's use of his own ethnographic work and triangulating it with novels and popular ethnographies was insightful and shows some of the strengths of anthropology as a discipline. His 'intervention', I understand I'm speaking 8-years after its publishing, has become standard of the field: i.e. disaggregating the state; and calling into question its coherence. Not much to comment there; besides there needs to be a both/and approach. I think a turn to Philip Abrams, Radcliffe-Brown and Bourdieu are helpful in this regard. Gupta's rebuttal to Agamben is a good one; rather than the figure of homo sacer emerging out of the state of exception; this is the norm for how bureaucratic states function. The paradox he's trying to solve: why do states whose goals are development—and in some ways depend on the success of achieving development— fail to end chronic poverty which kills millions," ignores two key factors that are related: 'surplus labor' and 'urbanization without industrialization'. Or as Mike Davis describes "outcast proletariat." That is, in the development of India, there are structural limitations placed on the state that's a function of an uneven and integrated world-system. This is the limits of Gupta's fidelity to post-structuralism, tbh. Anyways, these are some immediate thoughts. He does touch on my critique in the epilogue, which makes me think this was brought up in reviews but who knows. A good book and worth to be read for theorists of the state; its limitations noted. Despite his use of post-structuralist jargon (I counted discourse showing up on 75 out of 290 pages) lol; his writing was clear and crisp with each paragraph containing one thought unit. A true joy to read actually. Had his writing-style been more of a slog it would've been a 3-star.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Renu Singh

    This treaty on corruption in India is an anthropological study, a great seminal work, singular of its kind with no alternative. An undeniable treasure for those working on the subject.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jessie Pants

    Hugely important read for anthropologists of the state, or those working on bureaucracy and social assistance in the context neoliberalism(s). Gupta interrogates the linkages between regimes of care, structural violence, and the production of arbitrariness through bureaucratic processes. He questions why the deaths of the poor in India are not considered a crisis or scandal, linking Agamben's "homo sacer" with the exposure of the marginalized to death. "Importantly, such violence was enacted at t Hugely important read for anthropologists of the state, or those working on bureaucracy and social assistance in the context neoliberalism(s). Gupta interrogates the linkages between regimes of care, structural violence, and the production of arbitrariness through bureaucratic processes. He questions why the deaths of the poor in India are not considered a crisis or scandal, linking Agamben's "homo sacer" with the exposure of the marginalized to death. "Importantly, such violence was enacted at the very scene of care. In stressing the intimate connections between violence and caring and in rejecting narratives of the indifference or inattentiveness of that state, I am trying to articulate the ethics and politics of care that is arbitrary in its consequences. I am arguing that such arbitrariness is not itself arbitrary; rather, it is systematically produced by the very mechanisms that are meant to ameliorate social suffering."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    Really interesting section contesting the automatic links between literacy/"empowerment" Discussion of indigenous resistance in conclusion Disaggregating the "state" to see multiple levels at which the state operates...good reminder for those who use "the state did x" easily Biopolitics in Indian context, continuities in biopolitics before/after liberalization, also good summary of "bare life" and who is killed/allowed to die Loved but wish had been a little shorter---some parts felt repetitive, Really interesting section contesting the automatic links between literacy/"empowerment" Discussion of indigenous resistance in conclusion Disaggregating the "state" to see multiple levels at which the state operates...good reminder for those who use "the state did x" easily Biopolitics in Indian context, continuities in biopolitics before/after liberalization, also good summary of "bare life" and who is killed/allowed to die Loved but wish had been a little shorter---some parts felt repetitive, but maybe b/c designed for academic skimming and not close reading front-back

  9. 4 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

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  10. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amna Ben Yedder

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shilki

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stockfish

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

  15. 5 out of 5

    Efad

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joe Clifford

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  18. 5 out of 5

    Saravanan Tamizhan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samantha King

  20. 4 out of 5

    Addi

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yatin Diwakar

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Halaska

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christien

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ebrukayaalp

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alisha

  26. 5 out of 5

    Juan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nikunj

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeffer

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dmaj

  30. 5 out of 5

    Middlethought

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