New Brooms and Old: Sweeping Corruption in India, One Law at a Time – University of Copenhagen

New Brooms and Old: Sweeping Corruption in India, One Law at a Time

Guest lecture with Aradhana Sharma, associate professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University

From a bureaucrat who reportedly emptied his office garbage, to a movement activist who agitated for transparent and clean governance, to an elected representative who literally wields the broom, Arvind Kejriwal, currently the Chief Minister of Delhi, is iconic of popular mobilization against corruption in India. His main technomoral agenda has been to clean the system by enacting a new anti-corruption law.

In this paper, I take up two key questions this strategy raises: what is “the system” that requires cleaning, and why use the law as a broom. These questions, as I show through my ethnography, defy consensus. I use the notion of “limits” to delve into problem of corruption. How to precisely delimit “the system” that needs purification: is it the state or culture or capitalism? And what are the limits of the law in tackling the problem of corruption?

I offer a rumination on corruption as a limit phenomenon. Corruption is a shifting, performative effect of modern (liberal) boundaries between the public and the private, the legal and the illegal, the state and society, and the formal and informal for example. As an act of transgressive in-betweenness and vernacularization, corruption also threatens these very boundaries, exposing the untidy, dangerous backstage of modernity that must be contained. Finally, if corruption is a product of modern dualisms and systems of rule, including the law, then using the law to root it out becomes a paradoxical and inherently limited project.


Aradhana (Anu) Sharma is associate professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is a political anthropologist with a keen interest in questions of governance, the state, democracy, law, development, NGOs, social movements, and activism in India. 

She is the author of Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and co-editor of The Anthropology of the State: A Reader (Blackwell Publishing, 2006). Her articles have appeared in several edited volumes and journals, including Cultural Anthropology, Current Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Citizenship Studies, and Anthropology Now.