Saturday, February 5, 2011

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.