Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Village Assemblies

Thursday, March 7, 2019
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Vijayendra (Biju) Rao


A Special Seminar Series

RSVP required by March 6, 2019


Oral Democracy studies citizens' voices in civic and political deliberations in India's gram sabhas (village assemblies), the largest deliberative institution in human history. The book analyses nearly three hundred transcripts of gram sabhas, sampled within the framework of a natural experiment, allowing the authors to study how state policy affects the quality of discourse, citizens' discursive performances and state enactments embodied by elected leaders and public officials. By drawing out the varieties of speech apparent in citizen and state interactions, the authors’ analysis shows that citizens' oral participation in development and governance can be improved by strengthening deliberative spaces through policy. Even in conditions of high inequality and illiteracy, gram sabhas can create discursive equality by developing the “oral competence” of citizens and establishing a space in which they can articulate their interests. The authors develop the concept of 'oral democracy' to aid the understanding of deliberative systems in non-Western and developing countries. 

Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, works at the intersection of scholarship and practice.  He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. He leads the Social Observatory, an inter-disciplinary lab to improve the conversation between citizens and governments.  His research, published in leading journals in Economics, Political Science and Development Studies has spanned a variety of subjects including dowries in India, domestic violence, the economics of sex work, public celebrations, community development, and deliberative democracy.   He and Ghazala Mansuri co-authored  Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? He is speaking about his latest book (with Paromita Sanyal), Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Rural India (Cambridge University Press, 2019).  It be downloaded for free from here. He was a co-author of the 2006 World Development Report on Equity and Development, and has co-edited Culture and Public ActionHistory, Historians and Development Policy, and, Deliberation and Development.  He serves on the editorial boards of several journals and is a  member of the Successful Societies Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).