Activating Citizens, Remaking Brokerage: Transparency Activism, Ethical Scenes, and the Urban Poor in Delhi



Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out with transparency activists in Delhi between 2006 and 2007, this article explores their attempts to help Delhi's poor engage with the state as active citizens claiming their rights to welfare. Drawing on Lawrence Cohen's recent writing on ethical publicity I argue that the work of transparency activists is directed at producing an “ethical scene” in which their poor clients are encouraged to understand themselves as potentially empowered citizens of a nation wounded by corruption and bad governance. However, this ethical scene is partly framed by exclusionary middle-class discourses about corruption, dirty politics, and brokerage that problematize the need for the urban poor to negotiate their existence in the city through informal mediated connections to political and bureaucratic power. The same mediated connections between “political society” and the local state which transparency and accountability activists work to expose and reform. Furthermore, my ethnography shows how the process of promoting and implementing transparency mechanisms in the social and political context of urban India produces new relationships of brokerage between activists and those who seek their assistance as expert mediators with the state.