Infrastructures of Democracy is the website for a research project entitled Infrastructures of Democracy: State Building as Everyday Practice in Nepal’s Agrarian Districts, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project is comprised of several nested scales of collaboration. Core research teams are based at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (co-PIs and affiliated doctoral students) and at the Martin Chautari Research and Policy Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal (Research Fellow and Tribhuvan University doctoral students). Two peer researchers participate from three district-scale research sites in Nepal. A group of prominent scholars and policy makers in Canada and Nepal serve as collaborators to the research in an advisory capacity.

Launched in 2015, Infrastructures of Democracy employs comparative ethnographic methods and deliberative public engagement to explore how people enact and participate in ‘democracy’ in contexts of governmental transition. Following the end of a decade-long civil conflict, local institutions emerged as key sites of on-going struggle over democratic futures in Nepal. Much of those struggles are waged around the governance of infrastructure development, in a country characterized by challenging topographies and smallholder agrarian livelihoods.

Through a focus on infrastructure governance, the research explores how everyday practices at the sub-national scale constitute state building, and how they enable or constrain transformative social change. “Infrastructures of Democracy’ references the contested physical infrastructures (especially the project’s topical focus on rural roads), as well as the social infrastructures through which governance transpires and aspirations for democracy are pursued. In so doing, the research engages with the interdisciplinary literatures on the ‘politics and poetics of infrastructure’ (Larkin 2013) and on the governmentality and cultural politics of development.

Recently, on April 25, 2015, a 7.9 richter scale earthquake hit Nepal killing more than 8,800 people, injuring over 23,000, and causing extensive damage to already limited and vulnerable infrastructure. The earthquake and its many aftershocks have placed local governmental institutions under tremendous strain while also prompting a groundswell of local and trans-local support for a massive rebuilding effort. In this context, a better understanding of the dynamics of local governance has become all the more critical.

In addition to academic contributions, the project aims to participate in democratic state building by providing policy-relevant analysis of local institutional dynamics, and by supporting processes of public reflection and deliberation through a series of analysis workshops and community-based research methods.

Project Summary
Research Questions and Methods