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Making and Misconceiving Community in South Indian Tank Irrigation

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Mosse, David
Conference: Crossing Boundaries, the Seventh Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Conf. Date: June 10-14
Date: 1998
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/882
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
irrigation
community participation
water users' associations
anthropology
Abstract: "There is today a pervasive policy consensus in favour of the transfer of resources management from state to community. The rationale for such policy hardly needs to be rehearsed for the present readership (cf. Ostrom 1990). The assumptions about community, resource management and the state which are involved, however, do invite reflection. "While, as I will show below, ideas of community (in irrigation) are sociologically naive and inaccurate in their assumptions of homogeneity, co-operation, autonomy from the state (etc.), and while they divert attention away from some of the most significant social dynamics of resources 'management', this is not the only: measure by which the notion of community is to be judged (Li 1996). In common property debates today, 'community' is, above all, a cultural idea actively evoked and manipulated in the legitimation of strategies of resource use at local and governmental levels. "The force of 'community' as a cultural idea comes from its place in policy discourse. I want now to show how contemporary policy on 'community management' within south Indian irrigation has its roots in the exigencies of colonial government, and how community 'tradition' was evoked to validate state irrigation strategies in 19th century Madras. The case not only illustrates the connection between power and forms of knowing 'the other' (Said 1979), but also shows that 'Orientalism...is not just a way of thinking...but: a way of conceptualising the landscape of the colonial world that makes it susceptible to certain kinds of management' (Breckenridge & van der Veer 1993:6)."

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