Celebratory news features about India’s thriving middle-class tell only part of the story of the country’s recent economic rise, frequently glossing over the 300 million Indian who live on the margins and struggle to survive under economic liberalization. How do these, cast out of their country’s successes, Perceive and respond to their position and mobilize against disempowerment ?
Aradhana Sharma takes up these questions, focusing on the work of an innovative women’s programme called Mahila Samakhya, that is part governmental and part non-governmental and strives to empower those rural Indian women who have been pushed aside. Detailing the awkward ideological articulations and paradoxical outcomes of this unique activist-cum-government organization, Paradoxes of Empowerment fosters a deeper understanding of development and politics in contemporary India.
Aradhana Sharma is assistant professor of anthropology and feminist studies at Wesleyan University. She is the co-editor of The Anthropology of the state.
The cover of the March 6, 2006 issue of Newsweek featured the Food TV celebrity Padma Lakshmi, in an ethnically marked outfit and hands folded in a namaste, the common Indian gesture of greeting. The captions read, “The New India” and “Asia’s Other Powerhouse Steps Out.” Inside was an article by Fareed Zakaria titled “India Rising:’ Written in the wake of the 2006 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Zakaria’s article outlined India’s economic coming of age and extolled some strategies used by the Indian government to mark their arrival on the world economic stage.
In the decade that I’ve been going to Davos, no country has captured the imagination of the conference and dominated the conversation as India in 2006. As you got off the plane in Zurich, there were large billboards extolling INCREDIBLE INDIA. Davos itself was plastered with signs. WORLD’S FASTEST GROWING FREE MARKET DEMOCRACY! proclaimed the town’s buses. When you got to your room, you found an iPod Shuffle loaded with Bollywood songs, and a pashmina shawl, gifts from the Indian delegation. When you entered the meeting rooms, you were likely to hear an Indian voice, one of the dozens of CEOs of world-class Indian companies. And then there were the government officials, India’s “Dream Team,” all intelligent and articulate, and all selling their country. (Zakaria 2006, 34)
Zakaria chronicled the recent economic strides that India has taken and credited many of these not so much to the “dream team” of bureaucrats who were at Davos, but to an entrepreneurial society. He contrasted China’s authoritarian growth model, a favorite point of comparison I might add, with India’s. Unlike China’s efficiently planned development, “India’s growth is messy, chaotic and largely unplanned. It is not top-down but bottom-up. It is happening not because of the government, but largely despite it” (Zakaria 2006, 36). The author attributed India’s economic miracle to innovative individuals who have discovered their potential, and who have the desire to make money and also the “smarts” to overcome bureaucratic hurdles.
Zakaria set up India’s recent economic growth as an example of the struggle of society against the state. He noted that 1947 marked
the birth of India as an independent state. What is happening today is the birth of India as an independent society boisterous, colorful, open, vibrant and, above all, ready for change. [India] is not a quiet, controlled, quasi-authoritarian country that is slowly opening up according to plans. It is a noisy democracy that has finally empowered its people economically. In this respect India, one of the poorest countries in the world, looks strikingly similar to the world’s wealthiest country, the United States of America. In both places, society has triumphed over the state. (Zakaria 2006, 37 38; emphasis mine)
Zakaria described society as the driving force behind India’s bottom-up development and painted the state as a tedious, obstacle-ridden, overgrown entity that needed to be reformed and rid of both its socialist and corrupt elements. He did not, however, deny that the state had a crucial role to play in India’s continued economic success but limited it to providing an enabling institutional environment for the proper functioning of markets, to producing a skilled labor force (through its technology schools), and to addressing the environmental and AIDS crises. Therefore, he warned, “If India’s governance does not improve, the country will never fully achieve its potential” (Zakaria 2006, 40).
This Newsweek article tells a now oft-repeated story about the economic success of neoliberal India as a battle pitting two giant, yet evidently distinct, entities the state and the society in which the latter has finally trumped the former. To be sure, the “society” that Zakaria lauded, is not one billion strong. The visionary and entrepreneurial society that he counterposed to the cumbersome and slow-changing state consists of the estimated three hundred million upper- and middle-class urban Indians whose “can do” spirit is credited for firing the economic engine of their country. It is this society, painted as the ideal civil society, that is viewed as being at loggerheads with the Indian state, and if it were not for the persistence and empowerment of this society as Zakaria suggested, India would not be as “incredible” as the bureaucrats at Davos claimed it was.
Celebratory narratives about economic liberalization in India often gloss over its underbelly the over three hundred million Indians who eke out a living on less than a dollar a day on the social, economic, and political margins of the country. The exploitation of their labor has enabled the success of the dominant classes. Their survival, meanwhile, has been rendered increasingly tenuous by the very processes of liberalization that have benefited some.
Postliberalization India looks quite different when seen from the margins of society. Whereas Indian elites and middle classes have gained from: economic liberalization, those on the fringes have suffered its spectacular .unevenness and inequalities. While the dominant classes have successfully avoided bureaucratic hurdles along the path of economic growth, the subalterns have had to contend with bureaucratic agencies that might be avoiding them. How do those left out or cast out of the successes of liberalization understand and address their marginalization? How do they encounter and interpret the changing faces of the state and governance in contemporary India? Finally, if the upper third of Indian society (in terms of income and wealth) is economically empowered, as the Newsweek article claimed, what is being done to address the simultaneous disempowerment of the bottom third?
This book takes up precisely these questions and narrates less-often-told about the state, development, gender, subaltern subjects, and popular protest in neoliberal India. I engage these issues through the lens of grassroots ‘empowerment?” I ethnographically detail the paradoxes and politics engendered by an innovative women’s empowerment project undertaken by state agencies and feminist groups in partnership with each other. The program, Mahila Samakhya (MS), is structured as a hybrid “government-organized non-governmental organization” (GONGO), and aims to collectively empower and mobilize low-caste, rural Indian women who have been actively and systematically disempowered by economic forces and by social and political structures.
Empowerment in the Neoliberal Age
In the contemporary neoliberal era, empowerment has emerged as a keyword effectively replacing the now much-maligned term welfare. The former U.S. ‘resident Bill Clinton (2006) pointed to this transition in an opinion piece titled “How We Ended Welfare, Together.” The erstwhile U.S. welfare system, he wrote, urgently needed overhauling and many “Democrats and Republicans wanted to pass welfare legislation shifting the emphasis from dependence to empowerment” (emphasis mine). Clinton credited the success of his decade-old welfare-reform bill to bipartisan partnerships, a strong economy, and especially “empowerment policies [that] made a big difference:’ I am interested in exploring the conceptual sleight of hand by which the “end welfare” (and of “dependence”) becomes coded as “empowerment,” and discussing the material, discursive, and political implications of the use of empowerment as a state-driven development policy targeting subaltern women in India.
The recent focus on empowerment is an important part of neoliberal transformations taking place around the world, as states attempt to downsize their welfare bureaucracies and reinvent themselves as streamlined and efficient institutions. Along with economic liberalization, austerity programs, privatization, and participatory governance, empowerment is now an accepted part of development orthodoxy. Various development actors, including international agencies, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working at international, national, and local levels, are scrambling to implement grassroots empowerment programs. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG), for instance, featured the need to “promote gender equality and empower women” as a key objective of our times (United Nations n.d.); the World Bank’s new “human” face is about poverty alleviation and empowerment (Kahn 2000); the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is facilitating empowerment programs (Leve 2001); and the Government of India declared 2001 as “Women’s Empowerment Year” (Menon-Sen 2001). Tempered by the current emphasis on dismantling welfare, exerting fiscal discipline, and privatizing state services, the neoliberally imagined empowerment logic seeks to enable grassroots actors, and especially women, to fulfill their own needs through market mechanisms instead of relying on state largesse. I analyze how and to what effect the move away from welfare-style dependent development toward empowerment-style self-development has manifested itself in the “gender and development” (GAD) policy regime of the neoliberal Indian state. I use the Indian case to explore what happens when the state, in collaboration with NGOs, implements empowerment as a technology of government (Cruilcshank 1999) or “a category of governance” (Chatterjee 2004, 69) and the tensions and unexpected results that follow from such usage.
This book elaborates how the mobilization of empowerment is altering the state and governance, reconfiguring the relationships between state and social actors, transforming development, and reshaping citizenship and popular politics under the regime of neoliberal governmentality. Michel Foucault (1991) used the term governmentality to describe an important transition in the aim and modes of governance in Europe from repressive sovereign power that was primarily concerned with control over territory to a form of biopower and rule that is centrally focused on the care and well-being of the population living in a particular territory (Burchell et al. 1991). He drew attention to the entire range of practices and institutions of surveillance and governance, including but not limited to state agencies, which regulate the conduct of a population and direct it toward particular ends (Dean 1999). Following Foucault, I deploy the concept of governmentality to signal the diffusion of self-regulatory modes governance, such as empowerment, throughout society and the imbrications of varied social actors, including individuals and NGOs, in the project of rule; the state, in this frame, is one among several nodes of governance, albeit a ominant, coordinating one.
Recent scholarship on neoliberal governmentality, which is largely focused on the global North, suggests that neoliberal mechanisms of self-governance, such as empowerment and participation, are reforming the state, rule, sub-jectivity, and resistance (Barry et al. 1996; Rose 1996). I ask whether these shifts in the technologies and entities of governance follow a standard script everywhere and how an ethnographic study of neoliberal developments in one part of the global South might trouble the taken-for-granted homogeneity of their effects. Some scholars have recently highlighted the emergent nature of neoliberalism, its variegated flows, geographies and dynamics, and its contingent results (Clarke 2007; Ong 2006; Peck 2004). Ethnographies that analyze the workings of neoliberalism in those places where this doctrine is not the general, or even the primary, ethic and where it sits in sometimes teeth gritting harmony (in the Althusserian sense) with other political projects, situated histories, and ethical discourses are important in that they reveal the nonessentialized nature and contested effects of neoliberalism (Ong 2006, 3-91). An inquiry into the “particular” and the “peculiar:’ in other words, complicates neoliberalism’s so-called universal core and consequences and illuminates the cracks in its purported global hegemony.
It is in this spirit that I undertook this study of the governmental workings of empowerment in a specific postcolonial, liberalizing Southern setting. The tale I tell is not one about a one-way localization, or “vernacularization’ of global neoliberalism in India. Instead, I offer a situated look at how transnational neoliberal ideologies of development articulate and jostle with histories of state and subject formation and of popular movements in India, producing a spatially uneven and ambiguous terrain of changes not easily captured by the rubric of dewelfarized states, depoliticized existence, and disciplined, consuming, individuated civic actors. I construct a nuanced picture of how neoliberal globalization mutates state identity and practices viz, development and citizen identity and practices viz, the state, and how these mutations impact governance and grassroots activism in contemporary India.
I approach these issues through a detailed analysis of the structure, practices, and effects of the MS program, a part-state, part-NGO subaltern women’s empowerment project. The initiation of MS and of empowerment as a matter of state policy was the outcome of several intersecting factors, including the political mobilization of subaltern groups in India by grassroots organizations and political parties, feminist activism directed at Indian state agencies, Southern feminist debates about gender and development issues, and the transnational circulations of Paulo Freire’s radical pedagogy. Interestingly, the launch of the MS program coincided with the liberalization of the Indian economy. Facing a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the Indian government, under pressure from the IMP, implemented a strenuous program of economic and social adjustment. Although the market-friendly reforms initiated in 1991 are often regarded as having liberalized the Indian economy, many of the restructuring measures were already under way by the mid-1980s, during the Rajiv Gandhi era (Corbridge and Harriss 2000; Khilnani 1999). The temporal conjucture between the implementation of liberalization policies and the MS program does not, in itself, make MS an archetypal neoliberal program. Indeed, MS can be seen as much as a response to the growing contradictions and inequalities of capitalist globalization as a selective manifestation of some ideas that have since been co-opted into the hegemonic neoliberal bundle. Even though MS is not a straightforward reflection of global neoliberalism writ large, it does provide striking examples of how certain development initiatives in India articulate with neoliberal principles. My book focuses on precisely such awkward confluences and analyzes their consequences for the reconfiguration of the state, governance, and subaltern subjectivities and activism.
Theoretical Groundings and Departures
This book investigates the politics, practices, and paradoxes of state-cum-feminist sponsored subaltern women’s empowerment and development strategies with a critical anthropological and feminist eye. I analyze the discursive meanings and material manifestations of the state, empowerment, development subaltern women’s subjectivity, agency and struggles, and feminist praxis under neoliberalism with insights drawn from political economy, poststructuralist theory, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies. Instead of viewing development, empowerment, the state, and identity as definitive or tologica1 givens, I interrogate their performativity (Butler 1999) and mutual construction as cultural and gendered products of translocal historical processes. My purpose is not to ask whether development, empowerment, the state, or collective feminist politics are necessary or valuable, but rather interrogate what these ideas mean in practice and how they are brought to e through everyday actions and interactions.
This book, therefore, is not an evaluation of the success or failure of empowerment-style development programs targeting marginalized women relative to the goals that they set for themselves. Such assessments rest on preconceived notions of what success and failure might look like, how it may be measured, and who might be qualified to make such a judgment. Takaing success or failure oriented approach also forecloses the possibility of digging deeper into the workings of governmental initiatives and examing their unplanned consequences, even in the face of overt achievement or breakdown. My aim, following James Ferguson (1994), is to examine how empowerment is conceptualized and implemented as a strategy of development and governance and what it does on the ground, and to pay particular attention to the unintended results that follow.
Analyzing the inadvertent consequences of governmental projects also requires avoiding quick and easy “good versus bad” judgments about these effects. Here Foucault’s assertion that not everything is bad but dangerous (1982, 231) provides a useful frame for my work. Neither development programs nor empowerment initiatives, regardless of their underlying aims or the nature of the agencies implementing them (i.e., states, NGOs, or feminist groups), are self-evidently good or bad; instead, I argue, these projects carry predictable and unforeseen dangers and provoke bitter and often empowering political struggles.
One of the key criticisms of development discourse has been that it depoliticizes poverty by rendering it into a technically manageable problem Escobar 1995; Ferguson 1994; Harriss 2002). Ferguson closes his study of the operations and effects of the development apparatus in Lesotho by asserting that since it is powerlessness that ultimately underlies the surface conditions of poverty; ill-health, and hunger, the larger goal ought therefore to be empowerment” (1994, 279 280). I take the neoliberal rearticulation of development-as-empowerment as my point of entry. Is empowerment yet another weapon “in the armoury of the ‘anti-politics machine’ that is constituted by the practices of ‘international development” (Harriss 2002, 2)? Do the professionalization and bureaucratization of empowerment, as a prepackaged development strategy, represent a depoliticization of poverty and powerlessness? Or can this recent reworking of development orthodoxy be interpreted as an attempt to put power back where it belongs?
These questions get to the heart of the “dangers” and murkiness that empowerment presents. I contend that empowerment is a risky and deeply political act whose results cannot be known in advance; it is “a power relationship and one deserving of careful scrutiny” (Cruikshank 1999, 69). Although empowerment has generally been viewed as a good strategy for political mobilization by leftist and feminist groups, it is also a perilous means of governance in the Foucauldian sense. Under neoliberalism, empowerment has quickly become a preferred tool with which to produce self-governing and self-caring social actors, orient them toward the free market, direct their behaviors toward entrepreneurial ends, and attach them to the project of rule (Cruikshank 1999; Dean 1999; Hindess 2004; Rose 1996). While the neoliberal governmentalization of empowerment can connote depoliticization, I argue that it also makes possible political activism and transformation.
Whether radical or mainstream, NGO or state-implemented, projects that aim to empower subalterns are intrinsically political interventions and sites of contestation and, therefore, full of risks for the various actors involved. In a feminist-conceived GONGO program, such as MS, the women undergoing and facilitating empowerment face the ever-present dangers of state regulation, repression, and recuperation of an alternative feminist empowerment agenda. State actors, however, also face the risk that their initiatives might produce results that are contrary to what they had imagined that empowerment programs will not bring about the orderly and manageable transformation that officials seek but will generate an uncontrollable excess, bitter opposition, disruptive conduct, and imperfect subjects. These lurking dangers compel us to carefully scrutinize the forms of political action (whether banal or exceptional, individual or collective) that bureaucratized empowerment projects open up and foreclose, and this is what my study undertakes. My goal is to shed light on the messy interplay between depoliticization and repoliticization, surveillance and subversion, and regulation and unruliness in the context of governance projects in India today.
In so doing, I heed Partha Chatterjee’s call to postcolonial scholars to dirty [their] hands in the complicated business of the politics of govern-mentality” (Chatterjee 2004, 23). Modern governmental systems, he argues, are altering the relationships between those who govern and those who are governed, and these relationships, in turn, are defining “political society” struggles in India today. Chatterjee uses the term political society to denote underorivileged groups who do not fit the small, elite domain of lawful civil society “citizens” in India and who are constituted as “target populations” by governmental regimes and administrative classifications. He states,
Most of the inhabitants of India are only tenuously, and even then ambiguously and contextually, rights-bearing citizens in the sense imagined by the constitution. They are not, therefore, proper members of civil society and are not regarded as such by the institutions of the state. But it is not as though they are outside the reach of the state or even excluded from the domain of politics. As populations within the territorial jurisdiction of the state, they have to be both looked after and controlled by various governmental agencies. These activities bring these populations into a certain political relationship with the state. . . . It is to understand these relatively recent forms of entanglements [in postcolonial societies] of elite and subaltern politics that I am proposing the notion of a political society. (Chatterjee 2004, 38 40)
Chatterjee contends that depoliticizing governmental acts, such as development ironically foster political identifications and political society mobilizations. This is a politics driven by entitlements, rights, and governmental and often crosses over into the zone of illegalities.7 Governmentality, Chatterjee further suggests, “always operates on a heterogeneous social field, on multiple population groups, and with multiple strategies” (Chatterjee 60). Thus the politics that governmentality makes possible is equally festering and ubiquitous: it is dispersed, multitactic oriented, tied to specific and exigencies, and fragile in the sense that victory is not given and endings are not always blissful.
I argue in this book that even though NGO and state-partnered, empowerment-based development interventions have the potential to deradicalize empowerment, depoliticize inequality, and reproduce power hierarchies they also spawn subaltern political activism centered on redistribution and justice. Whereas neoliberal policies aim to deflect poor people’s gazes and demands away from the state and toward themselves, their communities, and other civil society bodies, the use of administrative or governance techniques such as empowerment paradoxically ends up producing a critical practice directed at state agencies; this is a politics of citizenship centered on demanding resources-as-rights from government bodies. In the face’ of neoliberal orthodoxy, which desires to sculpt dewelfarized states, poor people’s activism in India today refuses to let the redistributive state fade away. The state, in other words, is remade from “above” (by neoliberal gurus and state managers) as well as “below” (by subaltern struggles).
My book takes a cultural and transnational approach to delineating how the state is discursively transformed through neoliberal rhetoric and strategies and through grassroots praxis (Sharma and Gupta 2006). A cultural framing of the state means that instead of seeing the state as an already- constituted, known, and unified actor, I examine how its discreetness and singularity is defined through development practices and encounters (Mitchell 1999). In so doing, I build on anthropological analyses of the state, which argue that the state is not a thing but a performative effect or a product of everyday bureaucratic work, people’s interactions with officials, and public cultural representations (Gupta 1995; Hall 1986; Scott 1998). Such studies, as Steinmetz (1999b) notes, have refocused attention on questions of culture that were insufficiently addressed within dominant, macrolevel Marxist (Lenin 1943; Miliband 1969; Poulantzas 1973), and neo-Weberian analyses of the state (Evans et al. 1985; Skocpol 1979). Enculturing the state means disaggregating the structural unity and “itness” (Abrams 1988) the word connotes and paying attention to how the state manifests in the daily lives of people through specific policies. Here the work of feminists is helpful. Feminist scholars have laid bare the patriarchal or masculinist (Brown 1995) dimensions of state power through examining the gendered assumptions, operations, and results of different state policies (Alexander 1997; Fraser 1989; Sunder Rajan 2003).12 I draw upon these studies to analyze the MS program’s GONGO structure, practices, dynamics, and effects, thereby illuminating the discursive and gendered aspects of state reformation in neoliberal India.
In addition to viewing the state as a cultural artifact conjured up by routine development practices and encounters, I also approach it as a product of processes that cannot be contained within the territorial boundaries of the nation-state. Locating the state in a transnational frame is imperative in the context of globalization (Ferguson and Gupta 2002; Sharma and Gupta 2006 Trouillot 2003). The apparatuses and instruments of transnational-ernance, such as structural adjustment, environmental accords, military maneuvers, the international development machinery, and the human rights regime, complicate the idea of nation-state sovereignty (Gupta 1998; Sassen 1998. The boundary-transgressing movements of policies, images, capital, instruments and ideologies of violence, and people have rendered nations transterritorial and citizenship transnational (Basch et al. 1994; Coutin 2003; Grewal 2005; Ong 1999). They have also upended the bounded sanctity of states and the territorial effectiveness and reach of state work. Using ransnational approach, I delineate how the Indian state is fabricated as shifting effect of development ideologies that operate both above and below nation-state frame.
Official and popular imaginations of the state in India are inextricably linked with development. Development provided the basis for the nationalist demand for independence from colonial rule (which had caused the underdevelopment of the nation) and continues to serve a crucial legitimating function for the postcolonial Indian state (Chatterjee 1993, 1998; Ludden 1992). Given this ineluctable relationship, discursive productions of the state in contemporary India simultaneously reference development. The meaning of development in such narratives, however, is anything but fixed.
This book emphasizes the performative and heteroglossic nature of development and argues that it does more than simply regulate and suppress. I have gained much from critical analyses, which contend that development functions as an ideological system of domination that defines norms and identities for the nations and peoples of the global South, thereby exerting control over them (Escobar 1995; Esteva 1992; Sachs 1992). However, such overarching and one-sided picture of development allows little room for examining how various actors engage with development discourse or how they locate themselves in relation to the identity slots made available to them Cooper and Packard 1997; Moore 1999; Sivaramakrishnan and Agrawal 2003; Walley 2004).’ In this book I illuminate how subjects and identities are made, political agency enacted, and the meaning of development debated in the context of everyday development encounters; I do so by putting the critical scholarship on development in conversation with the literatures on performance (Kondo 1997; Turner, 1988), performativity (Butler 1999) and (post)colonial modernity (Bhabha 1997; Chakrabarty 2000; Mitchell 2000).
The story I narrate is not so much about a unified and smoothly functioning hegemonic development discourse but about contestations, ruptures, and counterhegemonic moves; it underscores the point that the process of maintaining the hegemony of dominant development ideas and hierarchies is bitterly contentious and requires an enormous amount of work. My purpose, therefore, is not to replace a critical narrative about development with a celebratory one, but to ethnographically tease out the tensions, contradictions, redefinitions, and, indeed, suppressions that development work generates on the ground. I underscore the ambivalent nature of development that condenses both emancipatory and dangerous possibilities it engenders a (political society) politics of citizenship that is, to borrow a term Stuart Hall used in another context, without “absolute guarantee” (1989, 72).
I illustrate how development operates not as a moribund discourse, but as a fecund terrain for argumentation, identity formation, and resignification. Although development is indeed a powerful mode through which subaltern subjects are named and normalized, it also enables counteridentifications. Marginalized actors use the development idiom to fashion themselves as morally upright and deserving citizens, to reflect on their rights, and to criticize and reimagine the state. They not only imbue dominant notions of development with new meaning, but also contest neoliberal ideas about self-interested, entrepreneurial citizenship, abstract rights, and dewelfarized states.
I position subaltern women as vital actors on the political society stage and analyze their critiques of powerful ideologies and agents, and struggles with and for development. In so doing, I heed feminist calls to strategically include subaltern women as subjects of history and, I might add, politics (Spivak 1988a, 1988b). This is an enormously important political project, as Chandra Talpade Mohanty suggests, given that poor “third world” women have been largely depicted within development literature as victims who “have ‘needs’ and ‘problems: but few if any have ‘choices’ or the freedom to act” (1991, 64). Furthermore, an analytical focus on the lives of marginalized women, as many feminist activists and scholars have suggested, provides a broad and inclusive perspective on social justice and equality,’6 which is a key motivation for and concern of my work.
The women I write about are not timeless beings, subordinated by equally timeless traditions. Rather, they are historically positioned actors who, given their marginalized locations (in relation to class, caste, gender, and geography, for instance), experience disempowerment, inequities, and injustices in and of the modern, capitalist, governmental world. They are also not unidimensional subjects, whose existence can be captured by the single word oppression and whose consciousness, if it exists at all, is prepolitical. I view and represent subaltern women as the political actors they are. While undoubtedly subjugated by larger forces, they are not passive and fatalistic beings, .E. unquestioningly accept their lot and cannot imagine a different present or future. They fight to survive against formidable odds, negotiate opessive situations, and act to bring about change. It is the minutiae of their daily struggles the micropolitics of routine critique and resistances, as well as mass mobilization conditioned by modern governmental practices that interest me (see also Chatterjee 2004; Scott 1985; Susser 1982). I set the everyday and exceptional political acts of subaltern women against the backdrop powerful translocal projects, putting forth an analysis that links “the micropolitics of context, subjectivity and struggle [with] the macropolitics of global economic and political systems and processes” (Mohanty 2002, 501).
Feminist and cultural theories of subjectivity; especially those that focus on subject formation in the context of (post)coloniality and state policy, guide my endeavor to illuminate the “material complexity; reality, and agency Third World women’s bodies and lives” (Mohanty 2002, 510).’ Rather than assuming that women come into development programs as preconstituted subjects, I delineate the performativity of gendered subjectivities, which are constituted in conflicting and sometimes inequality-producing ways through statist development practices. Subaltern women’s identities are neither rigid, nor singular, nor necessarily cohesive but represent a fluid and morphing amalgam of multiple axes. Women are both positioned by various social relation (such as class, gender, caste, kinship, and age) and discourses (such as development) and also negotiate these hegemonic positionings; it is in this interplay that their identities and subjectivities are defined (Hall 1989). This open-ended and ambivalent process of subject formation, as I show, raises thorny problems for a feminist collectivist politics that is rooted in assumption of a common (gender) identity and naturalized sisterhood and problematizes any easy notions of the inevitably good consequences of collective empowerment.
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