Kena Wani (Duke University)

Archives of Modern Managerialism

A corner of the ATIRA Library, Ahmedabad

My work follows a series of techno-social experiments, institutions, and philanthropic endeavours that were conceived by certain actors from the world of ‘big business’ around the period of decolonization in the Gujarat region of western India. My first interest in this has been to study these endeavours as modalities by which these actors sought to introduce ‘modern managerialism’ as a critique of extant forms of statecraft, both colonial and (emerging) post-colonial, in the region. I also try to understand how ‘modern managerialism’ was pitched both as a novel form of government of economic life in India while also becoming a modality by which such men of ‘big business’ sought to reinvent their socio-political standing within the new nation-state. This reinvention happened in interaction with a globally expanding network of expertise, entrepreneurialism and science, and drew its legitimacy by engaging with the archetypal categories of mid-century developmental discourse: the ‘unruly labourer’ and the ‘uneducated farmer.’

The archival record of modern managerialism spans the holdings of both the state and private organizations. Over the course of my research, I accessed the following archives:

Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA) Library, Ahmedabad, Gujarat:

Established by influential Ahmedabad textile industrialists Vikram Sarabhai and Kasturbhai Lalbhai in 1947, ATIRA conducted some of the first experiments and hosted conferences on industrial psychology, human resource management, behavioral training, group studies, and studies on leadership and efficiency in private enterprise. In a period marked by massive labour unrest and state-regulation of the private sector, Ford Foundation and UN-sponsored managerial consultants organized lectures and conferences in ATIRA. They promoted managerialism as a “democratic” model of industrial governance, positioning it in opposition to the bureaucratic state. The ATIRA library houses annual reports, conference reports, and the institution’s own series of publications. Unfortunately, not all of them, have been catalogued and organized chronologically. There are several missing and torn issues/documents.

National Archives of India, New Delhi:

Thankfully, some documents related to ATIRA can be found at the National Archives in New Delhi. Interpreted together, documents from NAI and ATIRA can be used to paint a clear picture of the advent of managerial ideas in India. The NAI private collections also comprise of documents related to the development of the Hyderabad Staff College – one of the first institutions which sought to train bureaucrats in the language of managerial efficiency. 

Ford Foundation Records, Rockefeller Archive Centre (RAC), USA:

The Ford Foundation played a crucial role in the promotion of managerial discourse in India. These ideas found immediate support and interest from the private business patriarchs of Ahmedabad. Correspondences outlining such collaborations can be found here. The archives also provide insights into the debates that led to the formation of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).  The documents, reports and correspondences found at RAC can help us stitch the historical narrative within a larger framework of transnational regimes and the Cold War.   

Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) Library, Gujarat:

Established in 1979, the IRMA library leads one towards the historical shifts in the language and practices of development in the post-Nehruvian (post-1964) era. IRMA bookends an important chapter in the history of modern managerialism, especially as applied to rural development. In Anand, the institution has its own publication series that consists of reports and case studies illustrating ‘rural-managerialism.’

May 2019