Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

New Water in New India: How Does IT Sector Philanthropy Re-cast Water and Citizenship?
by Vogt, Lindsay Nicole, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2019, 538; 27669096
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines a curious new configuration within contemporary development – the development philanthropy of high-tech sector entrepreneurs and institutions – in India. This wave of development comprises an increasingly common but under-studied realm of techno-scientific imagining and practice that is distinctly moral in nature. The moral dimensions of this field of activity are defined by interactions between people of widely differing class positions and also by the similarly classed ideological construction of their moral subject-types: (a) the tech entrepreneur-celebrity, whose economic success has cast them as a key symbol for both success and virtue in a neoliberalized economy and who often use their exposure to the public sphere to advocate for the idea that information and knowledge provide salient pathways to a more just society; (b) the development subject who is indexed as backward by her/his/their hygiene practices, livelihood, family size, language, and position in a rural economy and whose face is frequently represented but whose name is never known; and (c) the organizational form of the NGO and those who work there (often self-identifying as development practitioners or activists), categories which drip heavy with connotations of moral purity and sacrifice. In this dissertation, I examine several programs that manifest this new configuration of development, asking the following questions: How and why have information, knowledge, and digital technologies become important development commodities? Who participates in a development based on knowledge transfer, information dissemination, and advertising campaigns? How does the application of tech sector aspiration and moral celebrity change the process and image of development? What historical forces have assembled the current cultural formation in which IT figures are seen as moral leaders and information is seen as a key to fulfilling the aims of national development?

With data drawn from ethnographic interviews, participant observation, web analytics, and two surveys, this dissertation explicates many day-to-day politics of development funded and envisioned by several well-known figures associated with the Indian high-tech industry as well as three higher order contributions to scholarship. Those contributions are as follows: First, I call attention to and investigate the particularly moral dimensions of the IT entrepreneur-celebrity figure, who has emerged as a patron of national development in India’s post-liberalization era, as well as several programs of philanthropy some of these figures have enacted. Second, by investigating the philanthropy and visions of national improvement originating from the Indian tech sector and popularly fetishized senses of new technologies, I show how the larger task of development and the webs of relations it produces transform the world at multiple sites of privatized development brokerage. Based on these several sites of development brokerage, I argue that tech sector philanthropy is a form of patronage that often does not travel far. Its benefits, though socially constitutive as they create worlds of work and life, are largely conferred to elite class others rather than traversing to benefit those of significantly different class or caste positions. Lastly, I conclude that the wealthy tech celebrities at the root of these development programs not only continually attempt to alter the larger social imaginary but that these attempts are often successful largely because their economic patronage of development programs (rather than their discursive or political influence) creates substantive impacts in the world. However, it is important to emphasize both that the most beneficial impacts of this development patronage tend to be concentrated to elite segments of society and that even though the high-tech industry figures I discuss in this dissertation do alter the larger social imaginary, they do so while acting in concert with many other, and much more potent, forces.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Walsh, Casey, Hancock, Mary
Commitee: Parks, Lisa
School: University of California, Santa Barbara
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/8(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Keywords: Development, Digital platforms, India, Information technology, Philanthropy, Water
Publication Number: 27669096
ISBN: 9781392519806
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