Saturday, February 5, 2011

field notes ponduru....

Field notes: Ponduru. 22nd-25th Jan 10

I had twenty chances to introduce my research question, and fumbled every time. I tried to be relevant and clear to the person answering my questions, but what do I know? So I tried different things each time. In any case Ponduru was emotional for many reasons. I have some reasonable understanding of the group there, and feel part of their journey to modern markets. I take most pride in the product that emerged out of there, almost in the first year; with some input from me, through training in natural dyes, and encouraging them to go back to using moga silk in their borders, and bringing the manager’s attention to their own old samples. I also have an unnerving experience that I make a joke of, of an old weaver looking for me, when I visited last time, after a gap of 5 years, in order to shake my hand and thank me. That did more than anything; I think to stop me from going back to Ponduru, in the last few years. Not that I need an excuse, I have found it increasingly difficult to ‘face’ the field, except to sort out problems in places where they don’t ‘know’ me and have no expectations.

This time, my visit had been preceded by field workers Ravindra and Srilakshmi to the weaver’s society, and to the weavers’ houses, in two streets of Ponduru. They had already communicated that we would be doing a study, and that I was doing a PhD on handloom. Whether because of that, or something I don’t still understand, this visit was much more peaceful for me, even though the situation of the weavers’ themselves was not that much better than before. The water and sanitation system has pretty much stayed the same too. This i think is the single biggest issue in any village. We walked around many houses, the manager Krishna Rao insisted on coming with us, he asked me why I wanted to do this; I told him that I had run out of ideas on how to work in DA, but that luckily the others in the organization still had some ideas for the next ten years, and that they were happy for me to find out what weavers were saying about directions for interventions for the next ten years. He was quiet when I asked him about his own plans for the society when he left, two years from now.

There is a sense of a tide, in the way weavers talk of moving in and out of weaving. A sense of a lack of control about the strength of the waves that sweep them out of weaving, out of the village, into other things, and other ways of living. What came across strongly was that they felt strongly that things were not getting better. There was not an unthinking unreflective abandoning of weaving, which I had always secretly suspected was the case. The pain on their face when they spoke of working in ‘lesser’ trades was too acute to miss. Working in the jute mills, working as construction labour, their hands were not made for this. There was not as much expectation also of either the state or of NGOs or the co-operative. The reality of the market was visible; there was better wage in the cities, and in the mills. Both were true, the children who did well in school and moved out, into better jobs, in the cities, and the children who did not do so well, and stayed on the loom, and were being forced out to work in the mills around the village. The community was not anymore united in its goal of clothing the world around them, the family did not see it as a better option, to work together to produce cloth. A repeated articulation, that communities and families did not anymore want to work together closely, and earn together makes me wonder if the truth was actually the opposite, in relation to the outside. This is a community that knows what it means to work together, and articulate clearly and constantly the constraints of doing that. To me in the past, it sounded very much like they were explaining why they did not want to work together. Now I wonder, if that is their way of dealing with the fact that they do, in reality constantly work together, and depend on each other. Ponduru has its Muslim reed makers, its Reddy women customers, still. Both devangulas and padmasali castes weave here, still. The whole family works with each other, both on loom and outside the loom to keep the household together.

Boodidi appaRao [55]wears his silver shiva lingam and vibhooti very overtly, to my secular and conservative mind. Are all devangulas shaivites? I didn’t ask. His concern for his wife struck me as a very important part of him. Is it something about the dependence on each other, when on the loom that brings about this sense of harmony? He is a weaver of much skill, and flexibility, taught himself silk weaving, though now worried about the increase in silk price. Gets ‘ready [to weave] warps’ from Berhampur, and weaves for a master weaver there. He was approached by the master weaver, decided to teach himself silk weaving, and only went back to him when he was confident that he could demand his price. He has also worked in a stone quarry, decided to come back since his wife was alone at home, rather both weave and live together, now that the children are gone from the house. His wife Rashmi says that it is inevitable that children don’t weave, they want to be self sufficient, and weaving makes you dependent. One son venkat rao [20]is home from his work in a textile mill in chilakalooripeta, in Guntur. The boy says he would never stoop to weave in a jute mill. He was chosen to work in this mill because of his ability to manage yarn. It seems an inevitable trajectory that handloom weavers work for power loom and mill, and consider it progress. He said that his children’s education would be part of the perks he gets from the mill, one reason why he wouldn’t think of coming back into weaving.

Maanem Vishwanath has four daughters, and no house, we sat in Krishna Rao’s brother’s house for the interview. The recorder really helped to maintain order, so that the discussion did not descend into a free-for-all. I think you have to have nothing, to make the kind of statements that vishwanath made, about what is important in life. He spoke of travelling to the city, looking for work, with his four daughters and wife, and deciding to move back and do the same work here. I think that having made the jump in his mind, to take up other work, moving back to the village did not seem so difficult. He said his wife works in a hotel, and gets a good meal there in the afternoon, along with a wage. He revealed the knowledge of too many days when he had felt the pain of not providing her with food, in the satisfaction of where she works now. He spoke with wisdom and contempt, for where society was headed, that a wife had now become someone who could bring you a gold chain that you could ‘hang’ around your neck, rather than someone who lived with you and shared your life. Is it weaving that is unsustainable, or having four daughters, I wonder? It was a rare moment of understanding for me, sitting in that house, as he revealed his vulnerabilities to me, as one would to a friend and loved one, not expecting anything except comfort and understanding of his situation. Krishna Rao said at the end, we should put a loom in the society for him. I think I will follow up on that, using my influence in the society. He may not benefit much from it, but it will buy my peace of mind.

The conversation on what one considers ‘avasaralu’ or needs, which a livelihood should satisfy, took the conversation to buying gold. As the women there joked about their husbands’ incapability to buy them the gold they ‘deserved’ and had been promised, I begin to understand again the metaphor that gold holds in our lives as women. It is not a metaphor I even begin to understand, and it is too basic to even try…but it is something that goes beyond desire and greed to own something of value, but becomes key to the woman’s identity, it is both her area of expertise, and her assertion of her right to the family resource.

Muppena AppaRao and I have had words in the past, when I was a young field worker, and from his embarrassed face, he remembers it. Both of us pretended of course to meet for the first time, as I sat in his house to interview him, and his son who works in the jute mill. I learnt two words from him, which I have to understand better; ‘swanta vritti,’ and ‘kaala kshepam’; I suspect these words have a significance that I am not getting. Literally they mean livelihood, and ‘time-pass’ but the way they were used, they shouted ‘self reliance’ and ‘productive way of life’. It was the son of Muppena Appa Rao, Gopi who said when I asked him ‘so why do you not weave’ to stop saying that. I do weave, he said, I have not left it, there is still a loom in my house. Find me a way to stay, and I wont go anywhere else. He said there is no self-respect in working for someone else, but there is no money here, not even enough to live. And how long will I ask my father for handouts, in a combined income? I wonder then, if it is the father who wants the son out of weaving, in order to ‘better’ himself. When I asked the boy what he found most difficult about weaving, he said we make a living from day to day, there is no one to pay us if we don’t work that day, on the other hand no one to stop us from taking a day off. He said, when someone falls ill it is more difficult, because we have to continue to weave to make up for that person, and there is no time to actually take care of that person. Keeping the loom running is the most important thing, and it plays on your mind all the time.

Balla Bhadraiah has been in and out of weaving two times already, by the age of 33. He moved out of the village to the north, and came back after some problem with his employer, interestingly it wasn’t any Devangula contact, but a friend who he went to, looking for work. Still not happy, even as we were talking to him, he was negotiating for a job at the BSNL tower, weaving was a stopgap for him. His sister Jayalakshmi was home from Tiruppur, where she worked in a garment factory. She had been a beneficiary under the SERP women’s group training in tailoring, and had found a job with one of the companies, where she worked as a supervisor, said she didn’t know much ‘tiching’ but knew how to talk to buyers and do ‘kolity’. She was dressed in a night pyjama type of two-piece suit, and was comfortable walking around like that. Liberation that came with a factory job or my pre conceived notion of what young women in villages should wear?

Allada Asiri naidu was visiting his parents for the festival, he had married a girl without paying dowry, and his father had thrown him out. He had friends along with whom he set up some kind of liquor shop, lost money, and now works as an auto driver to distribute water in the city of Vishakapatnam. He says he’s too fat now to return to the loom, and feels pride in working to distribute water, which is an essential commodity. He has a strong relationship with his ‘owner’ the proprietor of the company he works for, and is happy to work as hard as he can, to keep the business going. He is firmly citified; and talks with a swagger, the prodigal son come home, after having done well. The village boys sitting around see him as a bit of a hero, and he enjoys it. I suspect it comes from the fact that he married independent of his parents choice, and probably also made it in the city against a lot of adversity.

Puchala Paidraju was the final weaver we visited in Ponduru, in a way a good way to stop. He is a weaver of Dastkar Andhra, for the last ten years, and there is a sense of stability around him, which I missed with the other weavers. He openly acknowledged that it came from having security at work, though it was still not enough to keep his children studying. The deep rooted need for this community that their children should be educated showed itself time and again. Speaking about neighbors who were migrating, he said that children suffered, mostly in their studies. Villages were better places for them, he said. The move may be better financially, but how many children actually did better? But most of the conversations around needs that were or not being fulfilled by handloom were around education; with older weavers. He spoke of the son who made it into engineering college, but could not study, as he was too poor for the fees. I know for sure that the son of that boy will study engineering.

I continued my quest to find out what happened to these young people who had moved to the city in search of livelihoods with Paidraju, who Ravindra called from Ponduru from his parent’s house to fix up a meeting. I met Paidraju, the son of a weaver in Ponduru, in Kalanikethan in Vishakapatnam. It is a saree shop, but he works as an accountant. He completed his B.Com from Ponduru and came to Vishakapatnam looking for work, a friend found him this job, and he is happy because he is able to send 2000 rupees home, every month. Thirty and unmarried, because he doesn’t think he is stable enough. He says he would move back to Ponduru, to be with his parents, but wants to do well, so that he can take care of them. He says they worked hard to bring him up, and make him capable, now it is his turn to take care of them. No city fascination for this boy, he is worried about what the future will bring, feels his responsibilities strongly, and the debate on modern and tradition is lost on him; what can be more traditional than the urge to take care of his old parents? He saw in me someone who wanted to help others, and said he too had had such an urge when he was younger, had been part of an association called ‘friends association’ that tried to help young people in trouble, in the village. I bought a Gadwal saree in the shop; and we parted in full understanding that our paths would not cross again.

On the way back to the hotel I was staying in, in Vishakapatnam, I bought a battery charger, because the treasured recorder was swallowing up regular batteries like a thirsty man drinking water in a desert. I needed a scissors to cut it open, I found a capable young woman directing cleaning work outside my room, and asked her for one. As we were waiting for someone to bring it, she asked me what I did, I mumbled something about handloom weavers. She asked me ‘but what exactly do you do, with handloom weavers’ and as I again fumbled through an explanation, she said, ‘I’m from that community myself, so I thought I would ask’. She was my next interviewee. Mangamma from Uppada, never wove before she got married, and only wove with her husband for a short while, before her father in law suggested that she should take him back to the city with her, and find themselves jobs. She said ‘weaving is hard to learn’ I wonder if her inability with the loom made it unsustainable for them to continue weaving. She used to work in the hotel, before, and had a family who felt sorry for her that she had to go back to weaving, so when she came back were happy to help her to regain her old job. Her husband now works in the sweet shop. Her children do not know how to weave. The only thing she says, is that most people don’t know the value of handloom cloth, of how hard it is to make a beautiful saree. She says she refused a gift from her brother in law, a woven saree. She told me ‘I don’t want an expensive woven saree, for which they would get a lot of money in the market, I know how much work it is’. Is that what it takes, to recognize the knowledge and hard work that goes into a saree, to try and fail at making it, yourself?

My final appointment for the day was with 20 year old Tutika Mohan Rao, who studied BSc in maths physics and chemistry, working in a stock market. He is living with his sister and her husband, says it is not too hard, though of course not like living at home. He works quite hard, not under any illusions about life in an office. He said he was looking to move, quite obviously had met me in the hope that I would be able to offer him a job. I was quite shocked, since he had taken a day off to meet me, and I wondered how he had got the wrong idea. Was it the word interview? I needed to change that. But actually for him it was just a shot in the dark. At the end of the interview, I asked him how much more he wanted to earn, than the 4000 he was earning, he said, 1500, because that will be the increase in cost for me, to live alone, and I need to send 2000 home, which I am able to now, because I live with my sister and her family. I find this fascinating, how much these children feel the obligation to take care of their parents, is it something to do with this community, or is it village culture? Why has it not survived, in the city, where old people are discarded like used clothes? Anyway Tutika Mohan Rao said he was happy to work for Dastkar Andhra, no problems with working with weavers, he has since sent his bio data to our office. Quite enterprising, but I will leave it to Latha to decide what she wants to do.

As we wound up after one of the interviews in Ponduru, Krishna Rao was telling one of the weavers about his grandchild, who lives in the city. The little boy, on a visit to his home, while watching his grandfather at the loom, said ‘aa thaadu kinda padindi’; he was referring to a broken yarn that had fallen down, as ‘thaadu’, not ‘pogu’. ‘Pogu’ is specifically yarn that is on the loom, ‘thaadu’ is more generic for thread. While relating this, he sounded half shocked and half awed at his ignorance.

The interesting thing about how quickly the next generation move into ‘secular’ ‘city’ ‘modern’ spaces through education or migration makes me wonder about what ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ truly means to them. Is it about how quickly a generation moves into white collar jobs? There is an a-historicity to this movement that makes it seem discontinuous; they shed so many things, when they move; but maybe this is the only way to transition? Does it make a difference when the environment is different? For instance whether in the 90s or in the 2000s, or whether it is 2020? What happens to villages? This will definitely be the next place to go in my research.

phd proposal

Reframing Sustainability:

Funding policy, development theory and livelihood practices in handloom and craft textile production

Annapurna Mamidipudi,

Proposal for PhD Project

Maastricht University

27th June 2009


Today, agriculture as the backbone of villages in India is in a crisis. Handloom weaving industry[1], the second largest employer of rural youth in the country after agriculture, though sustainable in the market, is not reason enough to stop their migration to the city. A new policy to intervene in handloom and agriculture in a radically different way is needed to ensure that the arguments of financial sustainability are complemented by an understanding of subsistence and survival.

I would like to study the very different perceptions of people regarding notions and framing of sustainability, depending on their position in what might be called the relevant ‘knowledge network’, or simplistically formulated the ‘knowledge chain’. The first notion stresses ‘horizontal relations’ among peers, the second stresses certain ‘verticality’, such as in the value chain; which comes closer to the notions of up and down scaling. “Scaling” is therefore a key issue in my conceptual framework, in particular as it relates to knowledge and information management.

I am trained as an engineer, with 18 years of experience in working with Dastkar Andhra[2], a not for profit organization in South India (see appendix for CV). Dastkar Andhra works towards equity and growth in the handloom industry. Dastkar Andhra actively works against the perception of the poor weaver as disempowered, by providing access to the market and by arguing for a policy environment that promotes the growth and development of the handloom industry.

Research Questions

The research questions are asked across different levels of individuals and organisations engaged with and promoting sustainable livelihoods:

  • Marginalized producers in the handloom value chain
  • Policy makers and funding agencies
  • Civil society organizations engaged in livelihoods of the poor
  • Development theory builders

The main research questions are:

  1. How are risks and benefits of up scaling sustainable livelihood models in the craft textile industry evaluated and experienced?
  2. How are international funding policies on sustainable livelihoods shaped, in relation to larger development debates?
  3. How does sustainability defined within funding policy translate into practices of civil society organizations working with livelihoods in the craft textile industry?
  4. How does development theory conceptualize sustainability across policy making, funding, civil society, and marginalised production?

This study will therefore:

  • Question the implications of these intervention processes and transformation for the survival of marginalized producer groups
  • Map the context of development policies that shape the strategies of international funders and influence agendas of civil society organizations in developing countries
  • Examine the transformation of agencies that implement charity or subsidy driven programs to civil society organizations that employ models of long term sustainable development,
  • Explore the theoretical premises of funding policies, and the role of development theory builders in shaping those policies

The project will be based on an in-depth empirical study of textile production and circulation across different contexts. This requires an examination of how technology, society, cultures of production, market and policy interact at the site of textile production and circulation.

Starting from the empirical study of textile production across contexts I will gradually move to broader policy and theoretical questions. I recognise that organizations higher up on the scale of reach hold more aggregate data on how to manage and facilitate larger and more complex processes of development.

While I define the four categories as distinctly different in function, organizations working towards the same set of objectives have certain similarities in nature of operations and organization of work. Some aspects in the work of a funding organization like ICCO[3], for instance, are comparable to the work in Dastkar Andhra and probably constitute the foundation for the partnership between Dastkar and ICCO. Similarly civil society organizations in different geographical and socio economic contexts may differ in form and trajectory to cope with changing policy and market conditions, while being built on similar sets of values and aims. These choices for different organisational trajectories will have to be studied.

Specific research questions

On risks and benefits as understood and experienced in up-scaling craft textile industries across contexts

Livelihoods of poor producers in craft textile industries are highly vulnerable to market conditions, and returns on investments in such categories of producers are very variable. These producers in such livelihoods tend to be less skilled, and need larger investments in order to become stable in the market place. In economies where unemployment is high, the survival of producers who drop out of production is at risk. Such livelihoods would be categorized as high risk.

  • Is it possible for funding policy to conceptualize sustainability differently for high-risk livelihood, and combine it to rights of poor to livelihoods, which will ensure their survival?
  • How do marginalized producers understand and experience the benefits and risks of these programs?
  • How alive is development policy to the risks involved in linking these producers to larger market systems?
  • How is scaling possible, without risking either the intermediate organizations, who are now firmly integrated into the value chain, or the constituencies whose livelihood they represent?

On donor policies for developing sustainable livelihoods

State programs in India in the livelihood sector traditionally subsidize and offer products at discounted prices to the market, making the livelihood of the producer the object of charity. In contrast, most funding policies clearly demarcate what can be driven by economics and the market and what can not. Organizations working for women or for dalits, for example, are seen as activist and rights-based and thus not to be evaluated in economic terms. Livelihood-based organizations, however, are evaluated on their efficiency in meeting business plan targets, usually in economic terms. Such livelihood-based programs offer an opportunity for producers to get beyond being objects of charity, to being sustainable and ensure that investment is made into livelihood support. But it is important to see how these policies are conceptualized and shaped within larger development debates.

· How have policies of funding agencies for supporting livelihoods moved from a base in charity and subsidy to a focus on sustainability?

· How is learning from the field carried back into the funding organizations?

· What role does the capacity of the funding agency itself play in shaping its policy?

· How do funding agencies advocate social change through sustainable livelihood programs?

· How are different contexts and cultures of production and market conditions taken into account, when making funding policy?

On practices of civil society organizations in economic development programs:

Organizations working with the livelihoods of the marginalised have to be market savvy, politically aware, as well as sensitive to the interests of the constituency they represent. When faced with a funding policy that evaluates them on returns on investment, through making livelihoods sustainable in the market, they struggle to fit their social change agenda into the funders’ framework.

With specific respect to handloom and textile production, markets and economies are not uniformly stable across developing countries. This makes it difficult to combine an agenda of economic returns with livelihood sustainability. When efficiency of livelihood support organizations are evaluated on the basis of economic sustainability, they would tend towards working with more stable livelihoods. Micro credit organizations that are evaluated on repayment rates do, for example, tend to work with a cross section of people, not necessarily with the most marginalized people. Marketing organizations evaluated on turnover would tend to work with high-skilled artisans rather than low-skilled artisans whose products would be of lesser value. While this is a good risk mitigation strategy for the organisation, it might limit the positive impact on improving the sustainable livelihoods of marginalized groups.

As a strategy for increasing reach and scale, funding policy promotes and advocates small and locally sustainable systems, which can then be scaled up. In practice, these small systems reach an optimum scale, after which growth requires more investment. Also, integration into a market system that makes livelihoods sustainable does not always have a transforming effect. The shift on account of up-scaling has an effect on the sustainability of these systems too. Organizations working in dispersed production modes, for example, have to make choices about technology when scaling up. But these choices may affect ownership and quality in very different ways. Civil society organizations working in these programs have to innovate to match funding expectations to their practices.

· How do organizations develop measures of sustainability to differentiate between working with sustainable livelihoods, supporting rights of poor producers to production and securing survival of producers with high- risk livelihoods?

· How do local organizations and people adapt themselves to innovate and benefit from the resources provided by funding agencies?

On theoretical frameworks for sustainability within development debates:

Today, the argument of sustainability has developed to include issues of environment and consumption. But the politics and the economics of scale do not feature in these definitions. Economic sustainability for the poor is not about profit, but about survival. These livelihoods are not completely sustainable on economic criteria, and need some support to mitigate market.

While economic criteria are not adequate to define sustainability, leaving economic analysis out of a revised concept of sustainability is not acceptable either. It is necessary to map the various concepts of sustainability across different theoretical frameworks, policies and practices, and to broaden notions of sustainability to include subsistence and survival. It is important to relate these new conceptions to economic theories of societal development, which define some livelihoods as unsustainable in framing them as culture and tradition.

· How can we describe and understand technological choices in society with special attention to the marginalizing effects of these choices on small producers?

· What is the role of development theory builders, and students of development studies in shaping funding policies and economic development?

· How can a better theoretical understanding inform policy and practice of sustainable development to decrease risks to vulnerable producers?


The translation of the general research question into the specific questions makes clear that the methodological core of this project is to understand the relevant cultures and practices, rather than making a quantitative analysis or giving an abstract account at a high level of aggregation. This does not imply that economic and budgetary analyses will not be part of the study, but they will figure within the broader anthropological description of the various practices. This will hopefully help to transcend traditional oppositions as qualitative versus quantitative, theory versus practice, policy versus ideology.

The project will be grounded in empirical case-studies, first at the level of the marginalized producers and then subsequently at higher levels of social aggregation. Though a final choice of research sites can only to be made after more discussion with my supervisors, at this moment I am thinking of four cases:

  1. ‘Padmashali’ handloom weavers, in the districts of Cudappah in Andhra Pradesh where handloom industry is thriving;and Low caste weavers in Bhuj, where handloom is in crisis: Padmashalis, a traditional handloom caste, are the repository of risks and opportunities in the handloom value chain in Andhra pradesh. By studying their culture of local craft textile production and the dynamics of their rural economy in the modern context, and contrasting it to the situation of weavers in Bhuj, I will try to understand how these producers experience the risks and opportunities inherent in the system. Here I will, for example, examine how farmers’ incomes in the geographic vicinity, global yarn prices, unemployment benefits from the state, poverty alleviation programs of development organizations and market trends effect local producers of craft textile.
  2. Internal processes of policy making for program funding of ICCO, the Netherlands. ICCO seems a strategic research site to study a program of a fair economic development by a funding-based organization that for the past 15 years has done path-breaking work in livelihoods in the third world. This case will allow me to study the interactions between policy processes and theoretical frameworks, and alternatives for these policies as articulated from the knowledge built in the organization’s own development practices. Possibly a comparative study of other funding agencies such as OXFAM can be included to see whether there are points of convergence or divergence on specific issues across funding agencies.
  3. ATPS (or another suggested by ICCO). To add a comparative perspective to my experience in promoting sustainable livelihoods in the Indian craft textile sector, this case-study will focus on the practices of civil society organizations in a non-Indian context. This will hopefully suggest alternative practices of innovation, up-scaling and risk mitigation, in economies that are more unstable than in India.
  4. SET-DEV and the STS & DS Network. The EU project SET-DEV and the recently established informal STS & DS Network will provide good entry points to study the engagement of relevant traditions of scholarship (STS, Science, Technology and Society studies; and DS, Development Studies) with development issues. I am actively engaged in the first and have participated in the first workshop of the second, in Amsterdam, June 2009.

These case studies will be carried out by following a participant-observer methodology. In addition to this ethnographic approach, extensive document analysis and interviews with key actors will form the second and third elements in my methodology. In all cases archival sources will be identified and used, in addition to the interviews, to provide an historical perspective on the particular communities, cultures and organisations.

As necessary in studies of interpretative, qualitative sociological nature (rather than of a quantitative nature), the interaction between the cases will be conceptual rather than in terms of simple data transfer. The methodological approach of this PhD comes from the field of STS: an interdisciplinary study of social institutions, technologies, groups, and markets that draws on sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy and economics. Theoretically the project builds on the constructivist tradition within STS. Some exemplary references that give an introduction in STS generally and constructivist studies more specifically are: (Bijker, 1995), (Hackett, Amsterdamska, Lynch, & Wajcman, 2007), (Seale, 1998), (Mueller-Rockstroh, 2007), (Bijker, 2006).


Bijker, W. E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs : toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Bijker, W. E. (2006). Science and Technology Policies through Policy Dialogues. In L. Box & R. Engelhard (Eds.), Science and Technology Policy for Development. Dialogues at the Interface (pp. 109-128). London: Anthem Press.

Hackett, E. J., Amsterdamska, O., Lynch, M., & Wajcman, J. (Eds.). (2007). The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Third Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mueller-Rockstroh, B. (2007). Ultrasound Travels: The Politics of a Medical Technology in Ghana and Tanzania. Unpublished PhD, Maastricht University, Maastricht.

Seale, C. (Ed.). (1998). Researching Society and Culture. London: Sage.

[1] The Handloom Industry currently provides livelihood for 6.5 million families across India, 200.000 families in Andhra Pradesh alone. The industry is decentralised, and mostly in the villages, and has been perceived as traditional technology that is unviable. This perception further strengthened with the lack of market or state support is driving weavers out of villages into the cities, into urban poverty.

[2] Dastkar Andhra’s experience of the last eighteen years shows that with the right support the industry can act as an engine to empower a generation of weavers and provide them with a sustainable livelihood.

[3] Icco [based in the Netherlands]has been one of the funders of Dastkar Andhra in the last 15 years, under their program titled Fair Economic Development.

Monday, December 13, 2010


A framework is a methodology for understanding a problem or process. Thus the problem or process is framed by its methodology. Increasingly, there is an attempt to combine frameworks in order that the limits and boundaries of understanding may be stretched. Here we come up against two problems, one of analysis, and the second of communication.
When we create analytical categories, it is possible to differentiate between science and society, in order to understand each, but then we quickly discover that they are in fact so interlinked that they may be mistaken for each other, in certain situations. Happily, there is still a difference between a scientist, and a sociologist. The difference is in what each knows about science, and what each knows about sociology. This points to the key word, expertise. What combinations of expertise are neccessary, to understand the world around us better? If in effect the world is not to be broken up into science and society, or science and nature, it becomes important to define the boundaries of what constitutes expertise in each. Not that knowledge of one is mutually exclusive of the other, but to know what mix constitutes expertise in science, and what mix constitutes expertise in society.
With this comes another question, so how many kinds of expertise exist? This is based on how we classify knowledge; we have textual or propositional knowledge; contextual or applied knowledge, and the third subtext or tacit knowledge. These exist across all kinds of expertise, each expertise is a mix of these three ways of knowing. Each way of knowing has its history, pedagogy and vocabulary, and these help us locate different kinds of expertise needed to understand specific situations or problems. In addition, this way of understanding expertise can help us with pedagogy as well as vocabulary between different kinds of expertise.

sustainability in terms of vulnerability

The opposite of sustainability is unsustainability. In order to frame a concept of sustainability in livelihoods, we have to look at how different frameworks explicate it, but to complete it we have to include the narratives of those who experience it.
I would propose that we frame unsustainability in terms of vulnerability. The handloom weaver [a person who makes his or her livelihood through handloom weaving] feels vulnerable, to the progress of technology, society and markets. These come to him or her embedded in economic, social and knowledge frameworks that are less and less inclusive. In order that handloom weaving is sustainable as a livelihood, it is important that the weaver is sustainable. But an individual does not experience unsustainability, he or she experiences vulnerability. The question is, does the vulnerability come from handloom weaving; consequently does it mean that moving out of weaving makes the weaver less vulnerable?
I do not have any answers, but would like to explore this question from the point of view of the weaver. It is interesting that the weavers for who weaving is sustainable, are those who do not think in over arching economic terms; the social parameters of happiness play a strong role in keeping them content.
Education, health, home, family, community, these constitute sustainability for weavers, and is this not true of all human kind. So why then do we measure sustainability in terms of financial parameters? Is it possible that in fact handloom technology is ahead, in the progress paradigm, and it is society that is behind in understanding it?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

call me rich

At the introductory session of the WTMC workshop on research for development, Wiebe Bijker and Rob Hagendijk, senior STS scholars were standing with a few of the students. Sabarmatee from the wageningen university, myself and two other dutch Phd students. In a typically indian way, sabarmatee commented on my saree, a tie and die from Orissa; I responded by appreciating the khadi kurta that she wore, which was also woven in Orissa. Wiebe responded to this exchange saying 'this is richness, to be able to place a saree or fabric by looking at it, and to know exactly where it came from; and how it was made, i would have to turn my coat upside down, even to look at the label, and even then it would not tell me much'. I was stunned by what he said, because he was absolutely right, but i had not seen it as a value; rather i had more seen it as a daily attribute of handloom that i lived with.

I commented then, that he was wearing a beautiful shawl that his weaver wife tonny had made for him; and we all agreed that that was then the highest point in the scale of richness. For me this adds another dimension to the way in which i explicate value for the market for handloom.

The aesthetic, or the utility; the design or the technology; the science or the art? What is the value of using any of these categories to explicate the reality that is the richness of the handloom saree?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

colour me poor

What does it mean to be poor? I have answers from poor weavers. But those answers dont tell me anything. I have to listen much better, before i can even begin to understand what those answers mean.
I have half formed thoughts that elude my grasp. I hear the dyer in bhattiprolu saying, when i see a colour, i see the different quantities of chemicals that have to go in together to make that colour. I hear designers say a colour is its place in the palette, i hear forecasters say a colour is its reality in the customer's wardrobe. All this is knowledge about colour, that goes into making the colour real. There is no slippage in the visual reality of the colour. Everyone agrees on what it means to 'be' a colour, say red. But what does red mean to me? Chemical composition to fashion to emotion.

What does it mean to construct 'poor' from the various social groups that participate in constructing poverty? Weaver poor, NGO poor, Government poor, academic poor.....All this goes into colouring poverty..Does the way we understand a 'concept' make a difference to the way we build knowledge around it?

Monday, July 20, 2009

all roads lead to....

In a conversation with two musicians Bart and Sanne, of whom Bart was a fan of michael jackson, we debated what had 'made' the success and the failure that was michael jackson. Talking of idols, Bart said that Michael Jackson was an example of the human failure that was inherent in the moment of reaching for perfection...We watched videos of various performances, and the journey of a perfectionist who could not bear to disappoint his fans.
Talking of fans, Sanne said, dont forget that the idol and the fan make each other. There is no one without the other.

This turned my attention to the other duos that make each other...democracy and citizen; policy and representation; and development and as a broad supervisory guideline, one as an organic proces...
What happens when we use the same word to mean both? What slippages in understanding occur?Why does this happen?
More questions....

Friday, July 10, 2009

beginning the journey

Sequences in theory building and policymaking in development: Chicken and egg.

Good policy can come out of knowledge generated from careful research. But theory builders and policy makers define terms such as scale, sustainability, development etc differently; they understand different things about the same issues. The question of what does each know, and what don’t they know, and where they overlap, becomes important. Sometimes we make assumptions regarding causality between variables that may not be causal. There is always a need to make a case for different kinds and forms of knowing the ‘same’ thing. This helps these different set of people share knowledge, and actively understand processes of policymaking and theory building as dynamic and not static.

Some questions:

• Where is the global south?

We as theory builders or policy makers agree that there are vulnerable people who need support and help from the more privileged; but it has been traditionally a voluntary activity or a normative choice to provide such support. It is also true that through time some groups of people have been consistently marginalized, by others. When we seek to redress this balance in a more generic problem solving way, this is a question that is almost naïve. Who are these people, in this era of globalization? Can we even spot their vulnerability, or define the elusive location of the global south?

• Are the ‘poor’ a problem? If so, to who? How do we solve the problem? What are consequences of being ‘poor’? Who bears these consequences?

Sometimes, in articulating the problem the ‘poor’ are a problem more to the policy makers, who have to bear the moral responsibility of their poverty. But there are consequences to ‘being’ poor, that can be a lack of self reliance, short term thinking, constantly being under resourced in solving their own problems. The set of consequences of poverty, for a society, and for an individual are experienced differently, and by different people. Are we cognizant of this difference in consequence?

• How has the nature of under development changed over the last fifty years?

‘Development’ as defined by a nation state, and by the market seem to be converging. But we see that the role and perspective of each towards the ‘under developed’ is very different. What does that do to the definition of under developed? Is it possible to see how that has changed in the last fifty years? When we encounter multiple framings of ‘development’, it becomes imperative to specify which definition we use, and how that conceptual understanding of each changes. If on the one hand development is seen as technological advancement, by the nation state, and as capital optimizing by the market, the ‘poor’ feature only as passive receivers of charity or welfare benefits. The violence engendered by the exclusive nature of certain technologies and institutions in fact spawn other institutions that endeavor to counter these effects, through ‘inclusion’ in the benefits, either through citizenship, or social benefits. Do these really address the core of the inequity that exists in othering the vulnerable? Could we learn better about the benefits and returns on our investment as a society in science and technology and what has worked and what has not? How can countries or a people ‘catch up’? What are they catching up with, if not advances in technology as framed by ‘developed’ countries?

How do we ‘organise’ transformation? Should we organize it?

Transformation has a sense of scale of impact, which includes in it a sense of participation of the ‘transformed’; in contrast to ‘development’ which is more supervisory in its practice. Transformation speaks of a systemic change, rather than incremental improvements in a system or an institution. Can such a change be ‘organised’; even supposing that it can be ‘organised’, should it be? And if so, by who?

Are we monetizing the human condition by categorizing people as ‘poor’?

In the discussion around the selection and innovations around hybrid rice, we make a distinction between the scientific principle and its social context. The innovations studied have been categorized around economic adversity; and the scientific principle appears to travel in and out of those categories, independent of its social context. It is true that we build value for the knowledge and practices of the ‘poor’ farmer, which are born out of adversity. But where do we build value? Amongst scientists and policy makers? How will that lead to a ‘social’ movement, which includes the ‘poor’ farmer?
In recognizing the value of the knowledge of the ‘poor’, do we segregate knowledge further? Is the science of cross breeding in the lab really the same as the science of widows who ‘select’ cross breeding because of their poverty? How can ‘food security’ be an aspiration or a choice for people? Isn’t it a right, to be assured by the state, or of interest to policy makers who think solving it is their problem?

Knowledge hierarchies: Bill Gates doesn’t listen.

As a society, today we recognize that knowledge carries power. We as knowledge brokers therefore speak from a position of privilege. In choosing to create knowledge about and for the marginalized and vulnerable amongst us, we make a normative choice. But we need the kind of practices that make knowledge powerful and useful. Probably the normative values of development studies are important in this process, and the practices of STS, which are reflexive, are important too. The dialogue between practitioners of development, ‘beneficiaries’ and theory builders and researchers in development has to be strengthened; talking ‘about’ the ‘poor’ is not real; the ‘poor’ is a category that is not about people, but about how much money they have.

We know that poverty can create innovations. And that prosperity can create conditions for innovations too. But to students of science technology and society, economic categorization of conditions for innovation is only one aspect of the story. In the discussion around categorizing technology, it is then surprising that economic categories seemed to play an important role. Technologies of the rich, technologies for the ‘poor’, market technologies, which are evaluated based on productivity, efficiency and returns; and social technologies that deliver benefits. Using these categories to understand the problem is acceptable, but to define the problem within these boundaries forces us to find solutions within these categories. This is already the trap of Development studies; does Science studies want to fall into it?

Some questions:

But how can we define problems so that they are not limited by the solutions that we can offer?

In understanding a problem, there is a latent period where one understands the context, before thinking of ‘a’ solution; never mind a solution that can be offered by the person who studies the problem. When the problem is defined within a designated intervention framework,[DS] it is constrained by the pressures of having to solve it, locating the problem within what is in the knowledge of the framework, and can be controlled. When a theory builder is talking about the situation in the abstract, the knowledge that emerges may be absolutely not applicable.{STS} There are sets of skills of negotiation and learning, which become critical, if one is not to fall into one or the other of these traps.

What makes problems chronic?

From the discussion, we understood that one understanding of a problem is that ‘a’ solution is possible. But a ‘tinkering’ approach, which is more iterative may actually move us into a process of learning, rather than solving, which is more productive. But constant tinkering can produce chronic problems. Does the tinkering approach differentiate between stages of maturity, so that we don’t keep stirring the cooking pot, but invest in a solution that brews over time?

What kind of knowledge does each type of framework [DS/STS] generate?

I see the sts methodology as participative in its practice of research. The STS scholar generates knowledge, for better understanding, and becomes normative only in choosing the site of its investigation. In presenting the vulnerability not just of ‘a group’ but the vulnerability that exists in the system, the researcher points to interventions that can strengthen the system as a whole, rather than a single point intervention that may or not cause systemic change. But there is not a real mechanism for converting this understanding into an intervention, or knowledge that is applicable for the good of a particular group.

In contrast, the DS scholar, while very aware of the power hierarchies, and with a clear normative stand on what he or she serves, still takes an institutional ‘interventionist’ approach to the ‘problem’; in a sense taking agency away from the very people whose purpose they serve. These are not theoretical problems, but real contradictions in the practice of each. One talks about development in the active sense, in order to ‘develop’ someone else, for the other it is used in a more passive sense, to understand what it means to different actors, and maybe extend it in focus, on those who ‘develop’. For STS to lose reflexivity, and prescribe solutions may be fatal to its credibility as a mirror; for DS to endlessly present diverging viewpoints may lead to a lack of accountability to its constituency. In combining the two we have to ask ourselves, what constitutes theory and practice for each of these? Who are they accountable to? Who listens to them? Who do they talk to? Finally, what vocabulary exists, for them to talk to each other? What forums and bridges can be built for productive engagement between the two?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

four cornered triangle - naalugu kaalla be

Four sublists
Methodology....STS et al ''summarise before criticising or evaluating...''
STS and Wiebe- technology and construction of weaving, markets, handloom, development, plurality, identity
DS and Louk-Policy for scaling, segregation of technology, economic as social categories, development slippages
Textiles and Kulkarni/Shiv?-The semiotics of weaving

triangles all the way down

understanding; intervening; being
observing; prescribing; aspiring
technology; policy; identity
value; economics; market
learning; representing; making
knowledge; skills; semiotics
sts; ds; textiles