An ethnographic investigation of the class politics that underscore the emergence of neoliberalism in urban India
BITS of Belonging
Information Technology, Water, and Neoliberal Governance in India
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India’s global success in the Information Technology industry has also prompted the growth of neoliberalism and the re-emergence of the middle class in contemporary urban areas, such as Bangalore. In her significant study, BITS of Belonging, Simanti Dasgupta shows that this economic shift produces new forms of social inequality while reinforcing older ones. She investigates this economic disparity by looking at IT and water privatization to explain how these otherwise unrelated domains correspond to our thinking about citizenship, governance, and belonging.
Dasgupta’s ethnographic study shows how work and human processes in the IT industry intertwine to meet the market stipulations of the global economy. Meanwhile, in the recasting of water from a public good to a commodity, the middle class insists on a governance and citizenship model based upon market participation. Dasgupta provides a critical analysis of the grassroots activism involved in a contested water project where different classes lay their divergent claims to the city.
"BITS of Belonging is a very timely and important book, with significant theoretical insights and compelling data. Its critique of the rhetoric of IT leaders and professionals in India is rigorous. Dasgupta provides an exploration of lived experience of the IT boom for those on the ground in the city of Bangalore. Her analysis moves fluidly back and forth from slums and governmental water boards, to affluent IT firms and corporate parks. With a geographer’s eye, she shows us firsthand the disconnect between these worlds—which are all affected by the IT boom—and it is extremely powerful."
"Dasgupta's ethnography is a worthy, intelligent contribution to our understanding of the discursive and institutional mechanisms at work in the world of neoliberal reforms, especially those such as the privatization of water that challenge societies to deal with the instability induced by the injustices of deep inequality.... Dasgupta's main contribution is to show us just how the many are recruited to the neoliberal reform agenda, how it is discursively and institutionally deployed, and how it is reproduced by its beneficiaries and resisted by those who feel its sting.... BITS of Belonging may be at times a challenging read, but it is no less an important one."
Simanti Dasgupta is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Dayton.