Skip to Main Navigation

Oral Democracy: An Analysis of Direct Democracy in India

November 28, 2019

Kuala Lumpur World Bank-University of Malaya Joint Seminar

  • Oral Democracy studies citizens' voices in civic and political deliberations in India's gram sabhas (village assemblies), the largest deliberative institution in human history. It analyses nearly three hundred transcripts of gram sabhas, sampled within the framework of a natural experiment, allowing the authors to study how state policy affects the quality of discourse, citizens' discursive performances and state enactments embodied by elected leaders and public officials. By drawing out the varieties of speech apparent in citizen and state interactions, their analysis shows that citizens' oral participation in development and governance can be improved by strengthening deliberative spaces through policy. Even in conditions of high inequality and illiteracy, direct democracy can create discursive equality by developing the 'oral competence' of citizens and establishing a space in which they can articulate their interests. The authors develop the concept of 'oral democracy' to aid the understanding of deliberative systems in non-Western and developing countries.

    Download the paper

  • Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, works at the intersection of scholarship and practice. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. He leads the Social Observatory, an inter-disciplinary effort to improve the conversation between citizens and governments.

    His research, published in the American Economic Review, the American Political Science Review, the European Economic Review, the Journal of Development EconomicsWorld Development and other places has spanned a variety of subjects. In his early work he pioneered empirical research in Economics on dowriesdomestic violence and sex work. His 2004 edited book with Mike Walton, Culture and Public Actionwas an effort to instigate a conversation between anthropologists and economists to open up (then) new questions at the intersection of culture and development including the role of aspirations, inequality traps, and cultural heritage. He is a proponent of mixed-methods to better understand and diagnose issues in development, and in using ethnography to understand the mechanisms that underlie outcomes estimated in impact evaluations. His recent work has focused on participatory approaches to development, deliberative democracy, and voice and agency among the poor. He has been experimenting with the use of Natural Language Processing methods to understand epistemic discrimination in Indian village meetings, and in employing natural experiments to tease out causal links with large-N qualitative data. He and Ghazala Mansuri co-authored  Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? which the Nobel Laureate Roger Myerson has described as “one of the most important books in development in recent years.” His most recent book, co-authored with Paromita Sanyal, is Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Village Assemblies (Cambridge University Press).

    Dr. Rao obtained a BA in Economics from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University, a PhD in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, was a Hewlett post-doctoral fellow at the Economics Research Center and an Associate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, and has been a Mellon Fellow at Population Studies Centers at the University of Michigan and Brown University. He was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Williams College before joining the World Bank’s research department in 1999. 

    He is the Chair of the Advisory Committee of the interdisciplinary program on Boundaries, Membership and Belonging, at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and currently serves on the editorial boards of Global PerspectivesJournal of Development Studies and World Development.


  • WHEN: Thursday, November 28, 2019; 12:30 -2:00PM
  • WHERE: DK4, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya
  • RSVP: Kindly RSVP by Wednesday, November 27, 2019