Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, works at the intersection of scholarship and practice. He 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 embed researchers within large-scale interventions to help improve the capacity for local collective action and improve the conversation between citizens and governments.
Brief Description: Oral Democracy studies citizens’ voices in civic and political deliberations in India’s gram sabhas (village assemblies), the largest deliberative institution in human history. It analyses nearly three hundred transcripts of gram sabhas, sampled within the framework of a natural experiment, allowing the authors to study how state policy affects the quality of discourse, citizens’ discursive performances and state enactments embodied by elected leaders and public officials. By drawing out the varieties of speech apparent in citizen and state interactions, their analysis shows that citizens’ oral participation in development and governance can be improved by strengthening deliberative spaces through policy. Even in conditions of high inequality and illiteracy, gram sabhas can create discursive equality by developing the ‘oral competence’ of citizens and establishing a space in which they can articulate their interests. The authors develop the concept of ‘oral democracy’ to aid the understanding of deliberative systems in non-Western and developing countries.