The righteous and the rightful

The technomoral politics of NGOs, social movements, and the state in India

by Erica Bornstein and Aradhana Sharma

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Civil society groups today are honored and relied on by governments, as well as tightly regulated and scrutinized for challenging state policies and agencies. In contemporary India, political dynamics of collaboration and confrontation between state and nonstate actors increasingly unfold in legal-social fields, taking “technomoral” forms. Mixing technocratic languages of law and policy with moral pronouncements, these actors assert themselves as virtuous agents, marking their political legitimacy as keepers of the public interest. Using ethnographic research with Indian NGOs, social movements, and a political party, we show that as civil society groups interact with state bodies, they redefine institutional boundaries and claim moral authority over public stewardship. Technomoral strategies are neither depoliticized nor antipolitical, but constitute a righteous and rightful form of politics.