About Vijayendra Rao
Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries.
He leads the Social Observatory, an inter-disciplinary effort to improve the conversation between citizens and governments. It does this – first – by improving the quality of civic action by strengthening forums for deliberation and developing tools to facilitate collective action, and – second – by building the “adaptive capacity” of large-scale anti-poverty projects; i.e. the ability of projects to make everyday decisions, and modify project design, on the basis of high-quality descriptive, evaluative and process-oriented information.
His research has spanned a wide variety of subjects including participatory development, deliberative democracy, the rise in dowries in India, the determinants and consequences of domestic violence, the economics of sex work, public celebrations, and culture and development policy.
New book, Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Village Assemblies, Cambridge University Press. (Open Access)
This book studies citizen’s voice in India’s gram sabhas (village assemblies), the largest deliberative institution in human history. It analyses nearly 300 transcripts of gram sabhas sampled within the framework of a natural experiment that allows the authors to study how state policy affects the quality of discourse. The book draws out the different kinds of talk, and the variety of citizen and state performances, displayed in these assemblies. The analysis shows that state policy can have a major effect on the quality of State-citizen interactions by strengthening deliberative spaces. It shows that, even under conditions of high inequality and illiteracy, gram sabhas can create discursive equality by developing the “oral competence” of poor people and give them the space to articulate their interests. The book concludes by inductively developing the concept of “oral democracy” to help better understand deliberative systems in non-western, and poorer, countries.