Essay on Beyond and Beneath Collective Action: Unearthing Rationality in the Farmers’ Protests in India

Published: 2021/12/13
Number of words: 2726


The farmers’ protest in India has been thus far examined on grounds of response and objectivity towards state dispositions and control. In whereas such an understanding is complicit of what is apparently visible, the objective of this paper lies in establishing the linkages of rationality and reason to the analysis of the protest movements, allowing a consonance between identity, legitimacy and power to be theoretically and empirically interplayed for a understanding of the deeper structures involved.


collective action, identity, farmers, legitimacy, state, power

Introduction: Beyond the optics of collective action

The optics of collective action are often embedded in such institutional facets of activity that the mere expressions of the same could be argued to be not exactly the effective means of understanding its orientation. In other words, the demonstration of protests and oppositionality are often quite not the instruments of understanding the rationality of any manner of collective action, especially on macrocosmic scales, since the inherent legitimacy of it could be located within the deeper structures of its performativity. In light of that, while the current genesis of farmers’ protest taking place in India has been extensively attributed to the causalities of three particular constitutional amendments, and that there have been multiple arguments related to the ontologies and epistemologies of the viability of it, what sustains in essence the corollaries of such kind of a social movement, could be extrapolated on grounds of its structural parenthesis. The intention of this particular discussion is therefore to understand this particular protest from a sociological lens that acknowledges the deeper structures of it, in the sense that the former wishes to go beyond the apparent reality of constitutional amendments, capitalistic outgrowth and state imposition machineries to understand whether it is simply the rationality of the draconian nature of the laws that the farmers are protesting against or are there larger overreaching elements to its modalities that are invisible and are therefore perhaps disposed with connotations of power. Whereas in such an understanding there could be a feeling of a classical Weberian dilemma being explored through a methodological apparatus that is quasi-ethnological in nature, it would be unwise to not underline the necessity of a ‘thick description’ of the protest in order to examine the same in terms of its proposed trajectory.

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It should however be noted that the objective of this paper does not lie in deliberating upon the Weberian notion of rationality. It is only the perspective of the theoretical establishments that this paper seeks to utilize for the purpose of clearly articulating the protest movement as a unique form of collective action that is not just driven by the plausibility of contentions or differences between one institutional signature and the other, but rather as a manifestation of the interplay of power projectiles mainly being flanked by the question of identity and its socio-political construction on one hand and a ubiquitous obstinacy on part of the dispensation of the state for the consolidation of its own extensions of the embodiment of control and legitimacy on the other.

The farmers’ protest and the question of identity

To elaborate upon the historicity of the protest in question, without which a further comprehensive analysis would be unmeaningful, it is necessary to delve into the problematics of the discourse of the collective action as it has been expressed by the protesting parties. To explain simply, the point of concern and contention in the transformed legislative framework that has led to the demonstration of oppositionality and its associated attitudinal fortifications by the farmers is centered around a particularly insinuating perception in the laws that have been thus conceived as a result of the constitutional amendments. This insinuating perception is that of the absence of the minimum support price (hereafter referred to as MSP) in the linguistic framework of the operative complex of the laws in the guise of the de-regularization of the agricultural sector, which has been socially translated to the conclusion of minimum government intervention in the matter of the welfare and livelihood of those who are occupationally integrated with agriculture by virtue of them being automatically subservient to the matrix of private individuals and organization, thereby creating maximum possibility of subversion from the traditional frameworks of agricultural practices as far as both procurement and consumption are concerned.

While the present narrative of the protest has been adjudged to be on the grounds of such a metamorphosis that is perceived to be inimical to the occupational and professional embodiments of farmers and their respective ancillaries, it could be argued that such an analytical schema ignores the complexities behind the protest. The attribution of it to the absence of the MSP as well as the possible automatic subservience to the large private organizations due to the gradual erosion of the mandis throws light on only the apparent causalities of the protest on strict grounds of welfare economics and does not consider the undercurrents of the rationality behind the farmers considering the thus formulated laws to be illegitimate and ostracizing in nature. To therefore foray into the section of going beyond and beneath such commonly accepted and analytically unsubstantiated arguments, it is necessary to dwell on the functional prescriptions of identity in terms of its socio-political construct vis-à-vis the question of power and legitimacy. Whereas in considering the continuum of such nature as it has been proposed, a justified query could be as to what role does the instrument of identity play in the discourse of this particular case of collective action, such that is synthesized with an enjoinment between the connotation of power and the institution of legitimacy, it would be safe to say, going by the contextuality of the protest and not its circumstantiality, the elemental depictions of it do not only commensurate to any specific standard of non-acceptance due to gross miscarriage of welfarism but also convey an attitude of negation in completeness to be subjected to the transformed legislations. It might be further enquired as to what substantiates such an observation, in which case it is best to give the example of the multiple rounds of discussions and deliberations that have ended in failure between the farmers’ unions and the representations from the state and its establishments, even after the assurances of the MSP being restored into the language of the legislation and the Supreme Court of India’s directives of non-implementation till the complete dissolution of the concerns. To any schema of understanding this would seem to be an interaction between the synergies of collective bargain and that of the entrapments of the disposition of the state, which otherwise could have been a plausible explanation if the protest had not transcended the boundaries of its own exasperation and asserted into the domains of everyday-life. That the obstinacy of the state, which of course deems such protest to be construed out of misinformation, is an aspect of its imposing and dictating calculi in its own existence, has been received by multiple socio-political arrangements, to the effect of being considered as an inherent part of their everyday assertions, thus leading to magnanimous and unilateral solidarity being expressed on account of the protest from all corners of the social sphere, be it the public or private domain.

The aspect of identity in this case has to examined in terms of not being an element that is justificative on account of its ability to be able to carry the meaning of an individual’s occupational or professional self, but as a ‘figuration that is representative of the historicity of one’s existence, in the sense that the question of identity in the case of the protest has to be looked at not from being inscribed to a person’s ‘self’ but a gradually unfolding mechanism of an individual’s social substantiation’ (Oliver 276). In that case, the instrumentalities of power and legitimacy achieve greater importance since both ‘the elements act as an impetus and/or impediment to this unfolding nature of identity as a socio-political construct whereby the former governs and advocates the manners of its construction across space and time’ (Muller & Karl-Dieter 480).

At this juncture it could be highlighted that the question of identity being central to the matter of protest is not something which is without its historical roots. In fact, if one looks through the conceptual variability introduced by the eminent social scientist Partha Chatterjee on his argument of protests and demonstrations, it would become clear that the operational locus of identity if looked at through an interactional approach where the state could be argued to be a political construction of its own tendencies and practices juxtaposed against the intersubjective alignment of other similar dispensations which do not subscribe to the mainframe of the latter, could be found to be existing in a matrix arising out of the shared subjectivities of those in contention with the state, in conjunction with the state’s own representation towards the articulative measures of such dispensations. In other words, for Chatterjee, the figment of identity is located spatially and having an ‘extremely esoteric character if considered in case of collective action’ (Mason 46). However, this particular theoretical stand is outwitted by Roberto Melucci, who takes on Habermas’s theoretical position on Communicative Action and responds to the question of identity in collective action to be a manifestation of the jurisdictional remonstration of the state, bound by the prefectures of self-expression which means that for Melucci, identity is not ‘simply an existing attachment to an individual’s conscious but rather a responsive and circumstantial entanglement to different discourses in everyday life as far as collective action is concerned’( Buechler 450).

Collective action and Identity construction; Analyzing Power and Legitimacy

If such considerations are put into perspective, combined with the exclamations of legitimacy and power, the it could perhaps be argued that it is gradual and timely erosion of identity that sustains the intricacies of the farmers’ protest being instituted in the heart of India’s capital city. To come to the understanding of such an argument, it has to be understood that there is an ecological angle to the identity and its manifestations as far as the farmers of India are concerned where their respective conditionalities across a wide timeframe not been completely homogeneous in light of the turmoil that the same have witnessed as a social category of individuals right up to the commencement of the Green Revolution , which again did not bring about exactly equal benefits for all regions across the country.

Therefore, behind the construction of identity of the farmer participating in the collective action being examined, there is a unique socio-cultural architecture that resonates varying degrees of economic complexity, unbalanced sensational ties of welfare and its subjective doctrines along with grinding realities of enduring unchecked inequalities across a specific time period. The social ecology of their identity in terms of such a socio-cultural architecture could be argued to be something which has been curated through heterogenous environments but at the same time is a culmination of the effects of such environments, to the extent that that as much as their identity is a formulation of self-sufficiency and at the same time acting as a universal provider of food substances, it carries the deeper connotation of struggle and oppression against unified formalities of viciousness that have historicized the lifeworld of these individuals. It has to be understood that the deeper connotations of the identity of the farmer is what provokes her or his conscience to undertake her or his participation in the movement as an approach to safeguard themselves from the uncertainties and inequalities that have been central to their identity complex for a long period of time, which perhaps could be rekindled with the application of the laws in case the MSP stands to be absolved and the traditionality of transactions that have internalized over the years are done away with. It might also be argued that there is then a three-fold case which could be made of the question of identity in this regard, one being its preservation as it is, the other being the fear of its transformation into what it was in its historical ordainment and the final one being what it could be as a result of the application of the laws.

The elements of legitimacy and power become important is deliberating upon the configuration of the identity whose fear drives the rationality of the farmers’ protest. It has to be understood that the consideration of the laws to be illegitimate on part of the farmers and their representations is not simply about rejecting the structure and embodiment of the newly formed legislation on specific grounds. The more important question rather is, what causes the development of their conscience to enumerate the constitutional amendment to be illegitimate as opposed to those who have formulated the constitutional amendment constitute it to be legitimate. In this regard although the debate is seemingly complicated since on one hand the quotient of legitimacy is being derived from precedential substantiation while on the other hand, such a derivation is being questioned under the ambit of majoritarian values, it is at this juncture that the formidability of the identity of the farmer could be deployed for a rigorous understanding.

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It might be argued then that since the socio-cultural architecture of the identity of the farmers, as it has been explained above, has been rudimentarily disposed towards conformity and compulsion for a great period of time, in light of the circumstances that might abolish the system which had brought them a degree of empowerment, such a socio-cultural architecture might exist in threat of being destroyed, thereby affecting the very construction of identity in that case. To explain further, the fact that decades of practice which have only ensured a sense of prosperity and nothing else in alternatives for the protesting farmers could be challenged to the point of extermination might be understood to be corrosive to their ‘self’ mechanisms, whereby their identities as not just as farmers but individuals having a significant power over the country’s resources of nourishment could be demolished. The element of legitimacy in such a situation thus becomes bifurcated, since at its very base the laws are deemed to be illegitimate by virtue of being unnecessarily intrusive to the equation between the farmers and their prospective avenues, whereas as far as the state is concerned, its reliance on its own mechanism of enforcement (which is an expression of its power) provides it the with the meaningfulness of the laws. Thus, the incidental plantation of the flag of one of the farmers’ unions at the mast of the Red Fort, while was understood to be a subversion of democratic principles, it might be argued that the same could have been an outpouring of the extenuating circumstances affecting the nucleus of the identity of these individuals thereby affecting their psyche to commit such an action.


The question of rationality behind the farmers’ protest taking place in India has only been answered to the levels of very commonly placed understandings. In going beyond the same and harnessing the very figuration of rationality to an explanatory and exploratory setup, the farmers’ protest in India could be argued to be one that involves the question of legitimacy, power and identity. The relationship between these three elements have been argued in terms of their deeper structures and historicized heterogeneities, such that the truth of such a manner of collective action is understood beyond the optics of it and that the transformation in laws are not accounted for in any analysis as the sole point of substantiation. Therefore, it is articulation of rationality that in effect has been sought but only by the means of the aforementioned and carefully considered elements.

Works Cited

  1. Oliver, Pamela E. “Formal Models of Collective Action.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 19, 1993, pp. 271–300.
  2. Muller, Edward N., and Karl-Dieter Opp. “Rational Choice and Rebellious Collective Action.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 80, no. 2, 1986, pp. 471–488.
  3. Mason, David S. “Solidarity as a New Social Movement.” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 104, no. 1, 1989, pp. 41–58.
  4. Buechler, Steven M. “New Social Movement Theories.” The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3, 1995, pp. 441–464.

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