Agency of development and agents of change: localization, resistance, and empowerment.

Author:Natarajan, Tara

The counterforce of development through localization is indispensable for rural poverty alleviation and development in India to be a sustaining and sustainable process. Rural poverty in India derives from a complex set of forces that often reinforce one another. The thesis in this paper focuses on particular strategies developed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their communities in rural India that not only help mitigate various forces that create and reinforce poverty but also serve as counter-development strategies. The focus in this paper is on two complex forces that have direct and indirect effects on rural poverty: (1) seasonality and (2) a global capitalist transformation of agriculture. Rural localization among the marginalized could be a counterdevelopment strategy that seeks to promote an alternative working model of rural regeneration. This process of regeneration is focused on creating an ecologically driven local agrarian economy that primarily functions as a provisioning mechanism of livelihood and food security and instrumentally also empowers people through the creation of local self-dependent communities. Based in a systems framework, rural localization aims to establish sustainable, self-sufficient livelihoods through the creation of internal markets between various village-level self-help groups. The power of localization as a socioeconomic movement lies in its ability to create civil society through community action. (1) This notion is echoed in the vision statement of Deccan Development Society (DDS), a rural development organization in southern India, which hopes to consolidate its village-level groups into vibrant organs of primary local governance and a strong pressure lobby for socially deprived groups such as woman, poor, and dalit (2) (

The Central Argument

I make the case for promoting particularly those self-help groups engaged in what Richa Nagar and Saraswati Raju have called processive and systemic change rather than cosmetic change (2003, 4, 5). The processive change that some NGOs seek to foster lies in a particular approach to development that operationalizes the link between agency and agents of developmental change and thereby generates spaces of empowerment. These spaces of empowerment are considered as being key in promoting social justice and thereby alleviating poverty and advancing sustainable forms of development. I argue that it is in fact localization, viewed as an institutional process, which is the agency of development. I use the term localization to mean local movements or processes that create action at the local level. I follow Urea Kothari and Martin Minogue in their definition of agency: "the network of institutions and actors that through their actions and interactions 'produce' development. The analysis of agency is crucial because it allows us to capture the complexities of the process by which ideas are mediated into objectives and translated into practice" (2002, 13). While the practical function of localization lies in its ability to create sustainable local economies, its instrumental value lies in its ability to empower individuals and their communities by making the "recipients" of development be the agents of development. The ownership of resources is central to developmental change as is the control over the meaning and material and nonmaterial process of development to creating agents of change. Spaces of empowerment can now be created in the individual, familial, and larger social sphere by penetrating through the complexities of social barriers such as gender and caste.

While this paper is primarily a theoretical exploration of the benefits of such an approach and not an in-depth case study of any particular organization, for illustrative purposes it will draw upon the conceptual framework and workings of the DDS in the Zaheerabad district of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. (3) Localization in the case of DDS has taken the form of constructive resistance to the local manifestation of global capital. Dalit women's sanghams (collectives or associations which consist of voluntary groups at the village level) have locally derived ("produced") their own future through an ecologically centered local agrarian economy which is the counterdevelopment strategy.

Organization: Construction of Ideas and Arguments

This paper is divided into three distinct sections. The first is a description of the currently dominant macro level agrarian development strategy in India as it derives from neoliberal ideology, mediated through global capital, and then translated into a variety of investments in the agrarian sector at the micro level. The second section argues that the aforementioned development strategy creates problems in the realms of poverty and ecology by simultaneously marginalizing the already marginalized and creating new ecological problems in the semiarid areas. The third section briefly links the work of DDS as an illustration of a direct response to the various transformations induced by global capital.

Agrarian Transformation in India

The dominant conception and understanding of a market society, its role, and function derives almost exclusively from a neoliberal ideology. Karl Polanyi asserted that in its simplest form a liberal economy resides in the commodification of land and labor (1968, 61). Furthermore, Polanyi argued that hunger and gain are in fact linked with production through the need to earn income (1968, 64). Increasingly agrarian India is under pressure to create this income-earning potential by making agriculture profitable. Both the domestic and global food industry financed by domestic and global corporate finance capital are viewed as natural partners to expand the profit-earning potential of agriculture. The fundamental shift in opening agriculture to corporate finance is elemental to the nature of agrarian transformation in India today. The production of food and the very understanding of food are undergoing a historical change not only due to the injections of finance capital but also due to dietary changes that derive from the influence of western food...

To continue reading