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Accepted paper:

'We just want to know how it was calculated': Agricultural insurance and techno-moral politics in rural India.


Tim van de Meerendonk (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I show how crop insurance is saturated with techno-moral narratives of vulnerable farmers in need of protection through the machinery of financial technology, while this same language is used by farmers to mobilise resistance to the injustices which they experience.

Paper long abstract:

The moral unease which India has with rural suffering has dominated political debate and agricultural policy for years. This 'agricultural crisis' has provided the imperative for technocratic interventions designed to alleviate rural distress. This paper addresses the techno-moral consequences of one such intervention at the every-day level; an insurance scheme which aims to protect farmers against crop loss. Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in the drought-prone region Marathwada, I argue that techno-moral interactions between farmers and insurance companies do not stop at the 'languages of law and policy' (Bornstein and Sharma 2016, 76) and show how they extend into the idiom of facts and numbers.

To this effect, I describe the actions of a farmer's organisation who has been embroiled in a struggle against an insurance company which they accuse of misrepresenting damages which farmers suffered in 2017. Through India's transparency laws they have gained access to damage reports which the insurance company conducted, whose validity they have subsequently come to question. I suggest that the de-legitimation of these damage reports operates in two interconnected ways. Firstly, farmers use the moral language of rural suffering and uncaring to posit that insurance is an inadequate solution to the problem. Secondly, they substantiate these claims by employing the language of law and number to articulate a refutation of technical knowledge on its own terms. By explicitly questioning the legal terminology, data gathering practices and mathematical formulae, farmers enunciate a value-laden language of resistance against the techno-moral governance crop insurance represents.

panel P103
The rise of technomoral governance: anthropological insights into value-laden scales of evidence