Keywords for India - Power - Professor John Harriss

Australia India Institute

Leaders with strength and force are highly valued by many Indians. This is one reason why such a high proportion of elected politicians have criminal charges standing against them. But force is only one dimension of power. There is also the subtler capacity to manipulate and influence decision-making – a second dimension of power as the sociologist Steven Lukes describes it – and beyond this, a third dimension, too, the capacity to secure the consent to domination on the parts of willing subjects. Reflection on these aspects of power in modern India leads to consideration of the contending influences on public policy of different social classes, and to the question of why there is not more forceful resistance to their exclusion and oppression, on the part of the masses who have been left behind in the course of India’s dramatic surge of economic growth.

About the speaker:

John Harriss became interested in the anthropology of India and in the political economy of development as a result of a journey overland to India, and of travels in Punjab, in 1969, just as the ‘green revolution’ was taking off. His first field research, in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, in the early 1970s, was concerned with the social implications of the introduction of modern agricultural technology, and resulted in one of the few Indian village monographs to deal substantially with agrarian production relations, as well as with caste and kinship. He has retained a strong interest in agrarian change, and in the transformations of caste, reflected in recent writing, some of it based on further village studies in Tamil Nadu. His second major project took him, however, to the industrial city of Coimbatore, and to work both on the sociology of labour markets, and on industrial organization. A third body of research, based mainly on fieldwork in Chennai, had to do with ideas of trust and of social capital, but also led him to revisit the work of Milton Singer on the ‘industrial leaders’ of Madras, and this to some study of modern Hinduism. Subsequently he has undertaken ethnographic research on civil society and urban politics in both Delhi and Chennai, and most recently on the politics of business in Tamil Nadu. He has written widely on modern India.