In Touch with the People: Social Work, Interactive Expertise and Democratic Development in Mid-Century India

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This project analyzes expert debates about the role of social work in managing India’s population in the period between 1957 and 1974, addressing historical questions raised by my previous ethnographic research on gender and development in north India. Social work has long been a site for debating democratic social transformation in India. Mid-century experts imagined the social worker as a channel of communication across deep social divides of class, education, and caste. In doing so, they drew on globally circulating expertise to generate a model of democratic development rooted in communicative practices of “motivation” and “education” that continue to inform development practices today, in India and around the world. By examining how such development practices took shape in the context of mid- century debates about democracy, population, and reform, we can better understand the origins and form of communicative practices in contemporary development work.