(2006) JLP 53-54: 45-75


From Subjects to Citizens:

Legalism from Below and the Homogenisation

of the Legal Sphere


Julia Eckert




The paper examines the increasing relative social significance of the normative and institutional complex of state law, particularly in relation to political structures of domination and procedures of ruling in urban India. Resistance to everyday structures of domination is increasingly sought by the use of law that complements or even replaces other modes of resistance such as protest, withdrawal, subversion or other ‘weapons of the weak’.


The use of law as a ‘weapon of the weak’ is interlinked with the wider political processes of democratisation in India. Democratisation is transforming a sense of entitlement rooted in the Nehruvian ideology of the developmental state into a rights consciousness. Particularly those who have to face transgressions of state legal norms by the state agencies on an everyday basis increasingly use the law to negotiate their rights.


The paper discusses the immediate effects of law as a weapon of the weak, as well as the longer-term effects, such as the reproduction or transformation of structures of domination. It proposes to open up the analysis of practices of citizens and state agents to their productive and transformative potentials. It proposes to look at the way practices entail a gradual transformation of institutions of government and thus shape the state beyond producing a ‘state effect’ or the mimetic reproduction of bureaucratic procedures.