Introduced and moderated by Bill Maurer, Anthropology, UCI and Director, IMTFI

About the talk:
Contemporary politics in India present a puzzle: the last decade has led to serious economic deprivations for the urban poor like street vendors because of demonetization, the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the rise of eCommerce, inflation and the COVID-19 lockdowns. Nevertheless a large number of street vendors in the Sarojini Nagar market of New Delhi, my main ethnographic site, remain in support of the BJP-led government and claim that the nation is prospering. What explains this? Scholars of populism have attempted to explain the popularity of the current government in India through two important lines of argument: first, is the large literature on remaking India in a Hindu nationalist identity and second, are arguments about social media and the age of misinformation. Relatively less work has been done on the techno-economic dimensions of populism. The privately aided government initiatives on digital biometric identification (Aadhaar) and digital payments (Unified Payments Interface) have been widely taken up by the urban poor, despite their breakdowns on the ground. In this talk, I draw from several years of ethnographic fieldwork with street vendors to explore the following questions: Why and how do digital biometric identification and real-time mobile payments become sites for garnering popular support, especially from the urban poor? How does the digital economy enroll and include otherwise marginal and poor citizens into the national economy and a project of nation-building?

About the speaker:
Pariroo Rattan is a 5th year PhD candidate at Harvard working in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), and is doing a secondary field in Music. She is a Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Science, Technology and Society (STS), and  has been awarded the Carr Center for Technology and Human Rights Fellowship for 2024-25. Her doctoral work is on the moral politics of the digital economy and the rise of populism in India, where she conducts ethnography on the adoption of digital biometrics and payment systems by street vendors. She also works comparatively on citizen resistance to data regulation regimes across the EU, China, India, and the US. Apart from digitization, Pariroo is interested in the acoustics and sound politics of the urban economy. Her work is supported by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Vicki Norberg-Bohm Fellowship, Harvard Fellowship for Students from India (in honour of Amartya Sen), Jens Aubrey Westengard Scholarship, Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative, Harvard University Asia Center, and the Lakshmi Mittal South Asian Institute. Pariroo is also a co-founder of the Graduate Research in Science and Technology Studies (GRiSTS) network. She holds a Masters degree in Development Economics from Yale University and a bachelors in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi.

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766