Democracy in the woods: The politics of institutional change in India's forest areas
My dissertation answers a key question related to institutional change: How might the interplay of pre-existing institutions – rules, norms, and conventions in use, as also political-economic relationships – affect attempts at reforming India’s long-standing forest property rights? I seek to answer these questions by studying the ongoing implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 as a case of institutional change under conditions of significant power asymmetries. I employ a mixed-methods research approach combining statistical hypothesis testing with rigorous qualitative analysis of field interviews.
The findings show that outcomes of institutional change are shaped substantially by pre-existing forest conservation institutions, the interests of forest protection committee leaders, and the interventions of social movement activists in the policy process. Although past forest conservation arrangements have multiple causal effects contingent on the interests and actions of local leaders, electoral competition has weak and uncertain effects in shaping the demand for forest property rights. The subjective understanding of institutions and institutional change that different actors brought to the table also influenced the actors’ responses to the institutional change. These findings contribute to the debates over questions of institutional change, democratic representation, and participatory reforms under asymmetric power conditions.
0615: Political science
0630: Public policy