This essay is part of the Cultural Anthropology Virtual Issue on Water.
In the November 2007 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Ananthakrishnan Aiyer analyzes the struggle for water in Plachimada, in the Indian state of Kerala, where The Coca-Cola Company bottling plant has both drained and contaminated groundwater on which the local farming community depends. Aiyer’s essay “The Allure of the Transnational: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India,” argues that media and government interest in these conflicts over water rights privileges transnational dynamics, and obscures the complexity of preexisting local resource struggles in Plachimada, Kerala. More than another example of neoliberalism and the impact of transnational corporations, Aiyer argues that the Plachimada conflict needs to be situated within India’s ongoing agrarian crisis, inter-government politics, and shifting demographics. These social factors, Aiyer shows, preceded the arrival of The Coca-Cola Company, and upon the departure of The Coca-Cola Company, Plachimada inhabitants “will return back to their original struggle—land, water rights, and self-governance. Their targets this time will be the local landowning classes and the state of Kerala.”
Instead of focusing on the plight of Plachimada farmers and landowners, the Indian media and government rallied opposition against The Coca-Cola Company around reports that soft drinks had been contaminated with pesticides, Aiyer describes. Publicized as product toxicity affecting middle-class consumers rather than as an issue of water rights for the Plachimada community, the essay demonstrates how critical analysis succumbs to the “allure of the transnational.” Aiyer’s essay calls for ethnographic attention to preexisting and emerging social challenges in understanding current resource struggles. This essay will be of interest to readers concerned with resource politics, local and transnational complexities, India, governance, neoliberalism, and agrarian crisis.
Ananthakrishnan Aiyer is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan-Flint. Other essays on the Coca-Cola Company and water politics can be found in the November 2007 issue of Cultural Anthropology (www.culanth.org).
Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles that examine the effects of neoliberalism on rural populations and contexts. See, for example, Shao Jing’s “Fluid Labor and Blood Money: The Economy of HIV/AIDS in Rural Central China” (2006), Aradhana Sharma’s “Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women’s Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India” (2006), and Yan Hairong’s “Neoliberal Governmentality and Neohumanism: Organizing Suzhi/Value Flow through Labor Recruitment Networks” (2003).
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RELATED SCHOLARLY WORKS
Ghosh, Kaushik (2006) Between Global Flows and Local Dams: Indigenousness, Locality, and the Transnational Sphere in Jharkhand, India. Cultural Anthropology 21(4): 501–534.
Gill, Lesley (2005) Labor and Human Rights: “The Real Thing” in Colombia. Transforming Anthropology 13(2): 110–115.
Gill, Lesley (2006) Fighting for Justice, Dying for Hope: On the Protest Line in Colombia. North American Dialogue 9(2): 9–13.
QUESTIONS FOR CLASS DISCUSSION
Aiyer writes that, “there are issues peculiar to local, regional, and national dynamics in India that need to be analyzed in a manner quite distinct from the literature on transnationalism and globalization”; does this essay succeed in shifting the discussion away from a “globalized framework”?
What is Aiyer’s rationale for privileging the agrarian crises over issues of transnational corporate take-over?
What Indian institutions played a role in the Coca-Cola controversy, and what do the reactions and interactions of various government branches say about state politics?
Who are the Adivasi and where do they figure into the struggle against the Coca-Cola Company?
Who is served by the bottled water industry in India? Who isn’t served? How does this relate to existing struggles over groundwater and the way the Coca-Cola pesticide controversy was publicized?
What does Aiyer mean by “the India of the 88%”? How is this category historically situated and what class struggles are emerging from here?
IN-CLASS ACTIVITY OR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
Mapping Exercise—In small groups, pairs, or individually, have students make a list of 1) actors, institutions, or groups; 2) events; 3) historical and emerging issues; 4) other relevant factors. Students will then draw on these lists to create a map of the situation discussed in the essay. The map should show and explain connections between actors, events, issues and other relevant factors.