Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten

Deep Roots and Tangled Branches: Bureaucracy and Collaboration in Natural Resource Governance in South India

  • Datum: 05 juni, kl. 10.15
  • Plats: Brusewitz, Östra Ågatan 19, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Wangel, Marcus
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
  • Kontaktperson: Wangel, Marcus
  • Disputation


This is a study about collaboration within bureaucracies tasked with natural resource management in the contemporary Global South. It seeks to fill a considerable knowledge gap in the extant literature by exploring how individual public officials perceive the policy environment they work in. These individuals face multiple pressures to work more collaboratively yet the ways in which they are incentivised and develop goals and strategies for collaboration have been neglected in past research. A deeper understanding of this process is essential as public officials are largely responsible for implementing policies ensuring the welfare of millions of deprived people in rural areas, and for safeguarding the sustainable use of the natural commons.

This book is an institutional analysis of the drivers of collaboration at the individual level. It builds on immersive ethnographic fieldwork on the forest bureaucracy in Kerala, South India where field observations and ninety interviews were conducted with state forest officials. The empirical analysis finds that the majority of officials are in favour of working more collaboratively for a plurality of reasons, but perceive themselves constrained by the formal institutional setup of the forest bureaucracy. To mitigate these limitations forest officials design numerous boundary-spanning, informal networks that function as vehicles of institutionalised coordination and collaboration.

Importantly, the officials develop preferences for joint action on policy issues which they perceive the formal organisation is incapable of delivering, not least improved forest livelihoods. These findings are a significant contribution and stand in contrast to most previous related research which has focused on issues of bureaucratic malfeasance in the context of natural resource governance. The findings are also noteworthy as they point to a rich variety of more nuanced roles and abilities individual public officials in India may hold, beyond that of the stereotype corrupt bureaucrat.

In addition to the contextualised and vivified empirical description of informal collaboration this study makes two additional contributions. First, it highlights and demonstrates the utility of an ethnographic approach to the study of informal institutions and institutionally constrained behaviour in settings that are little studied and hard to access. Second, it contributes to theoretical discussions on the interplay between formal and informal institutions. In particular this concerns the rationality and necessity of informal strategies when formal institutional frameworks impose constraints on individual agents or lack the capacity to solve complex problems.