Seminar – 16 May – Anastasia Piliavsky

May 5th, 2017 by anna.c


Tuesday 16  May 2017

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Anastasia Piliavsky

University of Cambridge

Masterhood, hierarchy and political responsibility in North India’s democratic politics

Idioms of masterhood, patronage and kingship in India’s popular politics have prompted suggestions that India is not a true representative democracy, where sovereign citizens hold politicians responsible for delivering what they want, but a top-down system of inequality and coercive rule. I suggest that, to the contrary, the democratic process I have observed over a dozen years across rural and urban northern India, is robustly representative. What confuses external analysts is the fact that here hierarchy – and the hierarchical master-servant relations - which we treat as democracy’s greatest foe, is itself the core structure of representation and mechanism of political responsibility. I show that to place demands on politicians and hold them responsible, voters deliberately and insistently elevate leaders above themselves as patrons or masters. It is precisely through this relation that they can demand political responsibility. My ethnography further challenges the equation of power and status, which is widely assumed in social analysis today – the idea that the higher a person stands the more power they have over others. I show that hierarchy, as a structure of expectations, upturns this formulation. Superiors have more power, but they also bear a greater degree of responsibility, an idea that gives those below great leverage over political grandees, who must act according to their standing. These are, of course, ideal horizons, but their force is not diminished by the difficulty of their attainment.