Arundhati Roy and the Narmada Dams controversy: development journalism and the 'new international public sphere'?

Jane Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In my 2006 article for this journal (16 (2) Sept- Dec) on the subject of the 15 year long Narmada protest, I examined some activist mass communications that have made an impact internationally. Stressing the new, interdisciplinary nature of activist cultural communication, I analysed some of the essay writings of Arundhati Roy as well as two documentaries by Anand Patwardhan and Franny Armstrong. In this essay I return to her key anti big dam texts- in particular her seminal The Cost of Living (1999), the short essay Ahimsa published in The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2004a), and her writings about the role of Enron in the construction of a gas plant at Dabhol (an allied development story), featured in Power Politics (2001). The purpose of this enquiry is to further define Roy’s internationally acknowledged contribution. In particular, I will discuss elements of continuity versus change: is she breaking new ground as a global ‘writer activist’ who is contributing to the growth of a ‘new international public sphere’? Or is her contribution better understood either within the context of Gandhi’s tradition of journalism, or alongside some of India’s more eminent contemporary development journalists? By examining Roy’s literary techniques and intentions, I hope to highlight some issues relating to the future more generally for activist journalism on development issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
JournalInternational journal of communication
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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