This is an essay in the sociology of knowledge. It aims to demonstrate, firstly, how development institutions construct rural society in terms of organizational imperatives, and secondly, how these ‘constructions’ come to be underpinned by social theory. The focus is on irrigation in south India and colonial and contemporary state policy initiatives to promote local institutions for the community management of decentralized resource systems. The essay presents the social and historical origin of an important and powerful set of contemporary policy ideas. The significance of this lies in the continuing misperception of local institutions of resource management, and in particular the systematic isolation of resource management from its particular social and historical context.
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