The Infrastructure of Rumor: Development and Democracy in a Postcolony
This talk is based on my current book project that contemplates the postcolonial trajectories of development and democracy. My focus is a river bridge in Bangladesh which is one of the largest and priciest infrastructural projects so far. In 2011, the World Bank suspected possible corruption and decided to withdraw crucial funding. A Canadian court later dismissed the case in absence of acceptable evidence, labeling it as hearsay and rumor. In 2019, multiple people in Bangladesh were publicly killed in mob violence based on a rumor that the bridge needed children’s heads for faster completion. My paper asks three questions on the basis of this set of events: How do rumors, a set of utterances without clear authorship or audience connect the local, national, and global contexts within which the bridge emerges at once as an ideal and a scandal? What ideas of legitimacy, justice and sacrifice are activated at these disparate sites that in turn shape politics and policies? And, what do their entanglements and afterlives tell us about the political and economic imaginations in the postcolony? I argue that, while infrastructural development thrives on and energizes visibilities, language is often seen as a supplement to the visual. I want to rethink this relationship to argue that aurality, as much as visibility, is constitutive of the connections forged through these events.

Professor Nusrat S. Chowdhury is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Amherst College. A political anthropologist interested in questions of popular sovereignty and political communication, her larger conceptual interests are in protest, political affect, rumour, sacrifice, and development, with Bangladesh as her primary fieldsite. Professor Chowdhury’s first book, Paradoxes of the Popular: Crowd Politics in Bangladesh (Stanford University Press, 2019) is an anthropology of crowds, which explores the crowd as a defining feature and foundational force of democratic practices in South Asia. Her writing has appeared in leading academic journals such as Anthropological Quarterly and the Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, and she has contributed to academic blogs such as The Immanent Frame (SSRC), Post-Covid Fantasies (American Ethnologist), and the Cultural Anthropology Editor’s Forum. Her current book project explores the concept of sacrifice in relation to postcolonial development. Professor Chowdhury is currently serving as an elected member of the South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies.

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Date: 21 February 2022, 16:00 (Monday, 6th week, Hilary 2022)
Venue: Online with Zoom
Speaker: Professor Nusrat S. Chowdhury (Amherst College)
Organising department: Faculty of History
Organiser: Zobia Haq (University of Oxford)
Organiser contact email address:
Part of: South Asian Intellectual History Seminar
Booking required?: Required
Booking email:
Audience: Public
Editor: Zobia Haq