Deliberative Inequality: A Text-as-Data Study of Tamil Nadu's Village Assemblies

49 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2017 Last revised: 28 Aug 2018

See all articles by Ramya Parthasarathy

Ramya Parthasarathy

Stanford University

Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Nethra Palaniswamy

World Bank

Date Written: June 27, 2017


The resurgence of deliberative institutions in the developing world has prompted a renewed interest in the dynamics of citizen engagement. Using text-as-data methods on an original corpus of village assembly transcripts from rural Tamil Nadu, India, this paper opens the "black box" of deliberation to examine the gendered and status-based patterns of influence. Drawing on normative theories of deliberation, this analysis identifies a set of clear empirical standards for ?good? deliberation, based on an individual's ability both to speak and be heard, and uses natural language processing methods to generate these measures. The study first shows that these assemblies are not mere "talking shop" for state officials to bluster and read banal announcements, but rather, provide opportunities for citizens to challenge their elected officials, demand transparency, and provide information about authentic local development needs. Second, the study finds that across multiple measures of deliberative influence, women are at a disadvantage relative to men; women are less likely to speak, set the agenda, and receive a relevant response from state officials. Finally, the paper shows that although quotas for women on village councils have little impact on the likelihood that they speak, they do improve the likelihood that female citizens are heard.

Keywords: Hydrology, Gender and Development, Inequality, Water Supply and Sanitation Economics, Small Private Water Supply Providers, Environmental Engineering, Health and Sanitation, Town Water Supply and Sanitation, Sanitation and Sewerage, Engineering, Sanitary Environmental Engineering, Water and Human Health, Educational Sciences

Suggested Citation

Parthasarathy, Ramya and Rao, Vijayendra and Palaniswamy, Nethra, Deliberative Inequality: A Text-as-Data Study of Tamil Nadu's Village Assemblies (June 27, 2017). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 8119. Available at SSRN:

Ramya Parthasarathy (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-458-8034 (Phone)
202-522-1153 (Fax)


Nethra Palaniswamy

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics