Visiting International Fellow Presents WISERD Seminar on “Civil Society and Democratization in India”

Thursday 20th October saw Professor Paul Chaney introduce Visiting International Fellow Professor Sahoo Sarbeswar of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Professor Sarbeswar was giving the latest in the WISERD civil society seminar series at Cardiff University.

The presentation examined how Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), as part of civil society, contribute towards democratization in India. In particular, the stimulating discussion explored the factors that facilitate and/or inhibit NGOs’ contribution. The research was theoretically-informed and drew on an extensive body of empirical data. Comparative case studies of three developmental NGOs were outlined. These work among the tribal communities in south Rajasthan. In turn, qualitative data analysis identified three different kinds of politics within civil society – liberal pluralist, neo-Marxist and communitarian.

In the seminar Professor Sarbeswar analysed their contrasting implications in relation to democratization. Importantly, the discussion demonstrated that civil society is not necessarily a democratizing force. It made a powerful case for how it can have contradictory consequences. In particular, the findings showed how the democratizing effect of civil society is not a result of the “stock of social capital” in the community, but is contingent upon the kinds of ideologies and interests that are present or ascendant not just within the institutions of civil society but also within the state. The well-received seminar offered a nuanced understanding of civil society’s capacity to influence democratization in the developing world.

Sahoo Sarbeswar is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. Amongst his international posts he has been Adjunct Fellow at the University of Groningen, Netherlands; visiting Professor at University of Muenster, Germany; Post-doctoral Fellow, at the Max Weber Centre at the University of Erfurt, Germany; and Visiting Fellow, at the National University of Singapore. His research interests include issues related to Postcolonial State, Civil Society and Democratization, Identity Politics, Hindu Nationalism, Poverty, and Neo-liberal Globalization.

His book Civil Society and Democratization in India: Institutions, Ideologies and Interests is published by Routledge (2013). His forthcoming book is on Christian Pentecostalism and conversion and will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.