Organized Panel Session
This panel examines the various dimensions of 'corruption' in colonial and postcolonial South Asia. The almost axiomatic assumptions see 'corruption' as abuse of public office for private gain. The panel interrogates this presumption by demonstrating how the very discourse of corruption continues to be shaped by the Western ideals of state-formation. The panel contends that it is not entirely clear what “corruption” means and the term itself refers to a variety of meanings and various phenomena.
We examine the historical and anthropological composition of corruption as a moral and social breakdown that influenced labor regimes, gender norms, and public comportment. In querying the discourse on corruption, this panel demonstrates how the British colonial state used corruption to discipline forms of commercial and physical labor. The panel discusses various consequences of this process of disciplining and its long afterlife in the contemporary social formations of South Asia. Does corruption reflect the failure of South Asian countries to keep up with the canonical conditions of modern states? Or, is corruption in South Asia also a reference to the diversity of its social institutions? The broader question we seek to answer is how can one think of a colonial/postcolonial state without the cultural contestations, the political dysfunctions, and the moral breach that shape it?
Through these papers, the panel seeks to offer new, refreshing interpretations of how corruption in both colonial and postcolonial South Asia has been a continually-conceived idea with shifting definitions and, above all, shaped by regional and local contexts.