Presentation at King’s
January 14, 2013 §
On 23 January I will be presenting a paper as part of the India @ King’s Weekly Seminar Series. Here are the details of the paper:
Activist Classification: Narratives of ‘engagement with the state’ within Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement), India
This paper draws on research conducted with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), a national network of health activists in India, to examine the role of activist classification within activist decision-making processes. Discussing in detail the actions and narratives of JSA activists, the paper argues that the ability of activists to control the outcomes of their actions is limited, and that in this context, controlling the interpretation of their actions is important to them. The paper shows how activist attempts to control the interpretation of their actions significantly shape decision-making processes and their consequences. For this reason, those who wish to understand activism cannot afford to take for granted the categories activists adopt to explain themselves, because these categories are not statements of fact expressed to a neutral observer, but interventions in a live set of power relations. Therefore a productive analysis of activism could begin from an examination of how the categories activists use to explain themselves are contested, posing the question: for whom are these categories useful, and how? The paper suggests that such an analysis sheds considerable light on the exigencies of activist practice.
This argument is developed by examining the ways in which different members of JSA deal with the question of how to engage the state, in the context of the election of the United Progressive Alliance central government in 2004 – a change from a BJP-led coalition government opposed by all the activists, to a Congress-led coalition government towards which some activists advocated constructive engagement. The paper argues that some members of JSA experienced the election of the United Progressive Alliance as a transition from a situation in which it was relatively easy for them to reconcile their non-radical identity as salaried employees of funded, registered NGOs with the radical activist identity they associate with their voluntary, unpaid work with the JSA platform, to a situation in which the tensions between these identities became increasingly problematic as the activists sought to engage with the new government’s National Rural Health Mission.