Where is the public sphere? Political communications and the morality of disclosure in rural Rajasthan

Piliavsky, A.

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Piliavsky, A. (2013). Where is the public sphere? Political communications and the morality of disclosure in rural Rajasthan. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 31(2), 104–122.

democracy , market , North India , political communication , public sphere , Rajasthan , secrets , transparency , vernacular politics

The public sphere has been centre stage in celebrations of India's political triumphs. Leading commentators tell us that the astonishing post-independence surge of democracy has been contingent on the rise of a new kind of sociopolitical formation: the public sphere. This paper takes a closer look at the popular deliberative terrain in North India to question this claim. Drawing on research conducted in a provincial town in the North Indian state of Rajasthan, we see that where metropolitan political theorists see 'transparency' as promoting discursive and political possibilities, Rajasthani villagers see an exposure which prevents expression, communication and the making of political choices. In their view, it is secrecy and social seclusion that enable political interactions and elicit political judgments. 'The public sphere' is an unfit heuristic for locating popular politics within (and beyond) Rajasthan, where it obscures much more than it reveals.

Main finding
For the studied site, the author finds that Rajasthani residents value secrecy and use seclusion for political discussions. They see the transparency of public space as a stage for rehearsed performance, such as speeches for political campaigns. Rather than fostering open dialogue, residents view theses spaces as a threat to authentic conversations. They use exclusionary spaces, behind closed doors or among a huddled group in the bazaar, as places for real political discourse.

Description of method used in the article
The author uses interviews and participant observation over a twenty month research period in a medium sized market town in southeastern Rajasthan.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Interviews Participant Observation
Physical types
Markets Streets
Geographic locations