Upcoming research presentations

January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here are details of two papers I am presenting at SOAS this term, based on my PhD research:

With or against the state when the government changes?: Narratives of activist ‘engagement’ within Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement), India

SOAS Anthropology of Development Seminar, 25 January 2012, 1-3pm, room B102 (Brunei Gallery) http://www.soas.ac.uk/anthropology/events/anthropology-of-development-seminar/?showprevious=1

Based on 20 months’ fieldwork with a network of health activists in India, this paper explores the way in which different activists deal with the question of whether it is right to work with the government or against it, in the context of a change of central government from a BJP-led coalition opposed by all the activists, to a Congress-led coalition that some activists think has more potential for progressive change. I examine controversies within the network. One controversy is between two conflicting views of civil society, between those who see its role as pushing the state to perform better, and those who see the state as representing the interests of the ruling classes and the role of civil society as building the class consciousness of the oppressed in order to overthrow the existing system. Another controversy is between those who see the mainstream left parties (who were allied to the new government) as part of the solution and those who see them as part of the problem.

The core argument of the paper is that the ways in which activists articulate themselves is crucial to how activism works, and that for this reason it is important to analyse the narratives of activism: how activists construct and maintain their identities in relation to each other, the consequences of these constructions and the purposes they serve. In particular I emphasise the significance of the mutually constitutive processes of ‘moral selving’ and ‘moral othering’ that occur among activists, arguing that these processes play an important role in the shaping of collective identities within Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA). I develop this argument through the case study material by examining the way in which when the government changes, my research participants shift from a situation in which it is relatively easy for them to reconcile their non-radical identity as salaried employees of funded, registered NGOs with the radical (anti-government) activist identity they associate with their voluntary, unpaid work with the JSA platform, to a situation in which the tensions between these identities become increasingly problematic as the activists engage with the government’s National Rural Health Mission.

“Organisational Voluntarism”: Pure gifts, dirty money and the field of social action in India

SOAS Development Studies Seminar, 7 February 2012, 5.15-7pm, G50, Russell Square


Drawing on my doctoral research on Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (Hindi: People’s Health Movement), a national network of health activists, this paper examines the relationships between the ideas and practices of my informants through a discussion of voluntary social action. Activists draw upon moral rhetorics to differentiate between themselves, between their organisations and their coalitions by ranking different types of practices in terms of their moral value, and ranking different actors on the basis of the practices in which they are perceived to be involved. In this paper I describe activist ‘hierarchies of virtue’ and explore how the hierarchies articulated relate to activist practices, focusing on the ways in which different hierarchies are mutually constitutive and play an important role in legitimating (and shaping) particular practices for diverse audiences that include other activists, would-be beneficiaries, government officials and donor agencies.


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