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Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India

Mathur, Nayanika (University of Cambridge)

978 1 108 45817 7
List price(s):
32.99 USD
21.99 GBP
25.66 EUR

Publication date:
31 October 2018

Short description: 

Paper Tiger shifts the debate on state failure and opens up new understanding of the workings of the contemporary Indian state.

Full description: 

A big cat overthrows the Indian state and establishes a reign of terror over the residents of a Himalayan town. A welfare legislation aimed at providing employment and commanding a huge budget becomes 'unimplementable' in a region bedeviled by high levels of poverty and unemployment. Paper Tiger provides a lively ethnographic account of how such seemingly bizarre scenarios come to be in contemporary India. Based on eighteen months of intensive fieldwork, this book presents a unique explanation for why and how progressive laws can do what they do and not, ever-so-often, what they are supposed to do. It reveals the double-edged effects of the reforms that have been ushered in by the post-liberalization Indian state, particularly the effort to render itself more transparent and accountable. Through a meticulous detailing of everyday bureaucratic life on the Himalayan borderland, Paper Tiger makes an argument for shifting the very frames of thought through which we apprehend the workings of the developmental Indian state.

Table of contents: 

Acknowledgements; Glossary; Acronyms; Prologue; Introduction; 1. A remote town: the paper state; 2. The state life of law; 3. The material production of transparency; 4. The letter of the state; 5. Meeting one another: paper tiger?; 6. The reign of terror of the big cat; Conclusion: the state as a paper tiger; References; Index.


Nayanika Mathur is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.




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