STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE
Jeffrey Lauer, India, Urban Development & Planning
The Future of the Village: Alternative rural development
Both capitalist and socialist schemes of development borrow urban models and approach rural communities with an urban-centric perspective. Additionally, Yong Sook Lee and Brenda Yeoh have argued that emphasizing urban centers promotes an image of the world empty beyond cities. However, these spaces are not empty. Within them live predominately rural and indigenous populations. In developing countries like India, imported perspectives like globalization stigmatize rural people by labeling them backward and their villages obsolete. Consequently, these areas are absorbed under the influence of cities and set on the path of urbanization. This practice—viewed as the only path to development, to a “better” life—effectively denies rural people a voice and the ability to carve out a future of their own. In contrast, Mahatma Gandhi insisted in Hind Swaraj (1909) that the village has a future of its own. This perspective shifts the vantage point away from cities to rural communities and could contribute to a new path for rural development in the twenty-first century. If awarded a Fulbright, I will explore alternatives to mainstream rural development in India. In particular, I will critically examine the participatory development approach practiced by the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh, Gujarat.
The Adivasi Academy began in 1996 to record indigenous languages. Eventually, the academy sought broader social transformation through education and greater resource accessibility. Its founder, Ganesh Devy took an empathic approach and began by first listening to adivasi communities. This is a notable departure from the past. According to Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize; Economics; 1998), development cannot be measured by economic growth or physical amenities alone, but by people’s ability to live a long life the way they want. Sen suggests that we enhance the capacity of individuals to achieve their aspirations by first removing their deprivations. This development approach is participatory and the academy exemplifies it by providing opportunities for surrounding communities to develop in their own way and at their own speed. Today, it is a library, formal school, cultural center, and health facility. This model offers the most promising insight to the future of the village and alternative rural development in India, perhaps elsewhere in Asia. Thus, studying it is both timely and significant and a critical evaluation is needed in the context of Asia’s ascending prominence in the world. What is lacking here is research empathic to rural people written from within these “empty spaces” of global development. I believe the broader implications of my research will navigate through the rural-urban dichotomy in current development discourse and question mainstream development practice.
My study of the Adivasi Academy will occur in two phases. In the first I will document the history of the academy from conception to present status. In the second I will conduct an indepth study of the academy’s social space and explore how views of development have changed over time. July to September: I will document the growth of the academy at my first host affiliation (DA-IICT) in Gandhinagar where Devy is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities. He has agreed to advise my research. I will begin by interviewing him and other current members. I will also examine early documents, like founding reports and any previous research on the academy. A primary focus of mine will be context. In order to contextualize this study I will critically analyze current development policies, scholarship and practice in rural India. October to January: I will begin living at my second host affiliation: the Adivasi Academy. Through embedded participant observations and interviews, I will generate an everyday perspective of the academy’s role in empowering villagers. I will document the extent to which people incorporate its resources in their everyday life, focusing on how physical space is used and transformed. Trained as an urban planner I am interested in how space influences social relations. Called social space research, this avenue of study offers an analytical power rarely applied in a rural context. This approach attempts to understand how space is constructed, reproduced and lived. I will map out the adivasi built environment and its inscribed social spaces. I will pay attention to what aspects of the academy’s policies have enabled such transformations, if any. Finally, by interviewing the academy’s users, I expect to find what they have achieved and how their aspirations have changed over time. The research questions in this phase are: Has the institution’s presence affected local perceptions of deprivations and aspirations? Have people become more (or less) ambitious and, if so, in what ways? Have views of local deprivation shifted to wider, general concerns? Following Sen, I hypothesize these questions will qualitatively measure any shift in how people think of and enact their development process. Conducting interviews of this kind raises issues of methodology and experience. I have a few years of experience, as a planning student, engaging communities through interviews, surveys, collaborative projects and public meetings. I have experience with community interaction in Gujarat through my participation on a South Asia-based field semester (CapAsiaVI). In January, I will attend a conference focused on indigenous development through arts and culture hosted by the Bhasha Centre called Chotro (in Baroda). This will be a great opportunity to solicit feedback from published scholars in this field. January to March: I will return to the academy and conduct additional interviews and complete my fieldwork.
Only English is required to conduct a Fulbright in India. However, knowledge of English will not be as useful for this project due to its location. In rural areas villagers may not speak English or even Hindi. It is vital that I learn Gujarati—the regional language. The Adivasi Academy has translators willing to assist me on arrangement. Devy is a linguist and I will have access to several language resources as well as personal guidance. But based on my experience in India, personal connections can be powerful in overcoming language barriers. Even with introductory levels of the regional language these connections can be forged. Thus, I have applied for a CLEA to study Gujarati in Ahmedabad prior to field research. In addition, according to Devy, every language is a worldview. Although, studying Gujarati in three to six months will not provide me the fluency I need to conduct substantive interviews on my own, but my intention to study Gujarati is simply a doorway into this cultural worldview and can only offer my research further insight. Furthermore, I feel it will demonstrate to adivasi villagers my dedication and willingness to understand them, perhaps affording me greater access and movement in the village.
Following my Fulbright, I intend to present at relevant conferences. I will submit a paper to the South Asian Studies Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I look to build on this research by pursuing a Ph.D. in international development, hopefully in India, with an emphasis on rural communities in South Asia. My hope for the future is to advance an understanding of rural communities, even as the rise of modernity pushes us to think they are no longer necessary.
January 25, 2013.
On the Amtrak.
Somewhere between West Virginia and Virginia.
It is amazing what you can discover by simply asking people to tell their stories. Some people exist, coupe, and/or thrive in worlds that most cannot possibly imagine, let alone understand. Since I am certain this will be a recurring theme in my travels I wanted to begin this blog by addressing it. To do this I will reveal a few of the stories I have heard thus far.
You don’t have to go far to see the world is global. A defining mark of our times is that “home” has lost its moorings. I have met three gentlemen this morning on the train to Washington D.C. who have rendered this clear; more clear than anything I have read or heard in class. I would like to tell you the story of Mike, Kevin and Brian.
Mike: I first saw Mike at the “train station” in Indianapolis (more like a train shed). We sat next to each other for a while waiting for our train (the 50 Cardinal). We didn’t say anything to each other. After we boarded, around midnight, we were seated together. On our way out of town we struck up a conversation. Turns out Mike lived in India for 8 months while consulting for a global orthopedics company based out of Warsaw, Indiana. After divorcing his first wife, Mike remarried a woman who used to be a ballet dancer in San Francisco. She went back to school and is now a nurse at a hospital assisting with post-heart surgery stabilization. Mike’s job takes him all around the world, from Warsaw, Indiana to Galway Bay, Ireland and all places in-between.
Kevin: I met Kevin and Brian at the same time. We were seated together at breakfast this morning. Kevin was in his late thirties, heavy-set, with one of the most positive demeanors I have ever experienced. He is a boot salesman for a company based out of Washington State. He was born in Michigan, grew up in California then moved to Roanoke, Virginia for love. His wife works a job that sends her back and forth from Roanoke to Paris, France. Kevin has mild dyslexia, which he was completely unembarrassed to talk about. He said this sometimes affects his work, but he’s been able to manage it. Kevin actually went to school to be a 3D digital designer for TV and film. He is responsible for a character in a cartoon from the 1980s.
Brian: Lastly there’s Brian. Brian is an incredible man! If anyone’s story speaks to the inability for outsiders to understand, it is Brian’s. Brian is a scruffy looking gentleman in his mid-forties. Gray all over with a beard to boot and a mustache that confidently flaunts his years. Brain is from California, born and raised. However this trip is taking him to Philadelphia. Brian still has a home in California but works in Philadelphia as a tow-man for an insurance company. Typically he hulls cars from the garage to auction houses for purchase after wrecks. He operates a 3-car rig called the “Shame on Me” (not his choice). There is another reason that Brian travels back and forth to Philadelphia. His daughter is 12 years old. She is a quadriplegic, blind in one eye with severe impairment in the other and struggles with acute cerebral palsy. She is going to school in Philadelphia at a place that specializes in children with cerebral palsy. I have heard before that empathy is better than sympathy, but how could I ever begin to empathize with this man besides on a level so superficial that our conversations is rendered virtually meaningless? I just let the man speak and the more and more he shared the more and more I was left to sympathize. His whole life was uprooted and transplanted in order to provide the most stable and productive environment for his daughter. The man’s sacrifice is apparent, but it is also clear that he doesn’t even remotely think of it in such terms. To him, he’s just being a father.
The story of these men is not wholly uncommon, but each is unique in its own right. When taken together it is easy to see that “translocation” is more common than generally acknowledged. These men are nomadic to a certain extent, but what is more important are the different perspectives of their own “uprootedness”. Each framed it as a necessity of circumstance. For Mike it was work. For Kevin it was Love. For Brian it is being a father.
These men gave me a moments pause to reflect on my own “uprootedness,” now that my journey has officially begun, but…more on that later!