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Groundwater governmentality: hegemony and technologies of resistance in Rajasthan's (India) groundwater governance

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Globally, decentralisation has become the dominant paradigm for environmental governance. This paper explores the linkages between green governmentality approaches to subjectivity and Gramscian notions of hegemony to examine recent efforts in Rajasthan, India to decentralise groundwater governance through targeted formal regulations and outreach activities, such as water awareness campaigns (Jal Abhiyaan). The latter seeks to alter the beliefs and practices of farmers by institutionalising their support for state groundwater conservation efforts, including privatisation. The paper draws on household surveys and interviews with farmers and government agents to examine the relationship between the political economic motivations for and practices of state subject-making and differential resistance to these efforts based on farmers’ multiple subject positions. Findings suggest, first, that the state is motivated through its monetary and advisory relationship with donor agencies, such as the World Bank. Through both outreach activities and coercion, it attempts to gain ‘consent’ for its proposals, which devolve state control rather than truly decentralising decision-making, to make self-conducting and willing subjects of specifically neoliberal groundwater conservation. But, second, these attempts are being resisted by some farmers through protests, informal discussions, non-participation, and the collectivisation of access to groundwater and irrigation through irrigation partnerships. Third, resistance to these efforts, or support for them, is different between farmers based on their multiple subjectivities (caste, class and ecological conditions). The paper advances both our understanding of the processes of environmental subject-making and of the devolution of environmental governance, by integrating the lessons from governmentality and Gramscian approaches to social power and subjectivity.
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Keywords: India; decentralisation; environmentality; irrigation; subjectivity; water conflict

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Rutgers University, 54 Joyce Kilmer Ave., Piscataway, NJ 08854-8045, USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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