Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Rajesh Veeraraghavan

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs

Biography

Rajesh Veeraraghavan is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He works in the intersection of information technology, development, and governance, with a focus on India. His research combines both the design and study of technological solutions to development and governance problems. He is currently interested in understanding the role of information and technology in making systems of governance more participatory. He was previously a Fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard University. He started his academic career after working nearly for a decade as a software engineer at Microsoft. He has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information. In addition to studying sociology and information studies at UC Berkeley, he has earned graduate degrees in Economics, Computer Science and Management.

Research

My book project and dissertation grapples with the questions: Does transparency lead to accountability? Is it possible to "democratize" surveillance, turning surveillance into an instrument of democratic control over state bureaucracy?  Can a state bureaucracy combine visions of surveillance within the state and "openness" to citizens to help police itself? To address these questions, I used comparative ethnographic field work to study an "open governance" project located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and involving the countrywide National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The main argument that I make is that legibility both by the state and within the state may be necessary for democracy. Based on my findings, I recommend that open government projects go beyond the rhetoric of democratizing information to the more challenging task of democratizing administrative surveillance, Overall, I argue that instead of the prevalent metaphor of "sunlight," open governance is better thought of as a "flashlight" and that people embrace openness and reject surveillance depending on whether they are the subject or the object of the "flashlight."  This shift in metaphor helps to raise more directly the inevitable issues of power.

Seeing the invisible: Mapping informal settlements in Delhi

The project’s vision is to render “legible” patterns of access to public services in the city of Delhi. I ask to what extent does where a citizen lives in Delhi determine the level of basic public services he or she receives? I am working with Patrick Heller and the Cities of Delhi project.

Combating corruption with mobile phones

I am also a research partner in a Stanford based Combating corruption with mobile phones project at the Liberation Technology group, that is working through activists, NGOs and state officials to provide citizens living in rural India with "relevant" information about changing government practices and public records to foster local public action.  

Interrogating the use of data and technology at the last-mile by transparency activists in the world

Through interviews we are gathering perspectives of grassroots activists who do not self-identify as “open data or technology” activists but are doing work to make states accountable. I am working with folks at the Transparency/Accountability Initiative at the Open society foundation. 

Teaching

“Information Technology and Governance”, Fall 2015. (DEVL 1810)

Publications

Veeraraghavan, R. Seeing with Paper: Government Documents and Material Participation. Documents and work track. (Authorship equally shared with Finn, M. and Srinivasan, J.) HICCS.  Hawaii, January 2014. (Best Paper Award under Digital and Social Media Category

Veeraraghavan, R. Dealing with the Digital Panopticon: The Use and Subversion of ICT in an Indian Bureaucracy. IEEE/ACM Int’l Conf. on Information & Communication Technologies for Development, Cape Town, South Africa, December 2013.

Veeraraghavan, R., Yasodhar, N., Toyama, K. Warana Unwired: Replacing PCs with Mobile Phones in a Rural Sugarcane Cooperative. Information Technologies & International Development, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pp 81-95, spring 2009. 

Gandhi, R., Veeraraghavan, R., Toyama, K., Ramprasad, V. Digital Green: Participatory Video for Agricultural Extension. Information Technologies & International Development, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pp1-15, spring 2009.