The paper is an attempt to do an ethnography of the state by examining the discourses of corruption in contemporary India in public culture, and in villagers’ everyday encounters with local government institutions. The paper focuses on the practices of lower levels of bureaucracy in a small north Indian town and on representations of the state in the mass media. The author argues that a number of methodological and conceptual problems arise in the conducting of an ethnography of the state that include the reification inherent in unitary descriptions of the state and the translocality of state institutions. The problems also include the discursive construction of the state; the historical and cultural specificity of constructions of the state; and the choice of the theory of the state and this choice’s impact on strategies for political action. The author argues that seizing on the contradictions in the policies; institutions and discourses of the state allow people to create varying possibilities for political action and activism.