Civil society activists and vulnerability in South India: the relational politics of life history methods and development research

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Abstract

Life history methods are gaining popularity in Development research, linked to attempts to capture narratives marginalised by dominant accounts of Development. In this paper, we reflect on using life history methods with NGO activists in India. We explore how this approach led us to develop particular understandings of the participants as ‘vulnerable’, and the implications of this for the research process and the knowledges it produced. We explore how activists’ individual biographies were interwoven with institutional narratives, complicating but also enriching our understanding of activists’ experiences of Development. Secondly, we analyse the relationality of our subjects’ vulnerability and our own positionality as global North Development scholars. We reflect on how our engagement with Development actors we consider as vulnerable takes place through and against the relational histories and presents that brought us together. We explore the implications of this for the ways the research created both discursive and physical spaces for meeting and talking, and what this means for our approach to vulnerability. This requires an uncomfortable acknowledgement that Development research may reproduce vulnerabilities, even as it seeks to challenge them. The paper contributes to broader theorising of vulnerability, recognising vulnerability as embedded in the relationalities of the research moment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Early online date8 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Aug 2016

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