The personal is problematic: Capturing activist biographies and NGO narratives in South India

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper links analysis of biographical accounts of activism and non-elite cosmopolitanism in South India to a consideration of life history methods in the global South. It argues that whilst 'the personal' can be productive in generating critically important data, we cannot assume a shared understanding of the concept between researcher and researched. This leads us to identify a tension between the desire to acknowledge the voice of the 'subaltern' through a biographical approach, and an approach which may lack meaning for those researched, running the risk of reinscribing the power relations the approach seeks to challenge. We explore how a life history perspective provides an opportunity to uncover, and open to analysis, new narratives, experiences, skills and dispositions, as well as patterns of exclusion and marginalisation, that are pivotal to development, but which fall between the twin focal points of elite global networks and grassroots community activism. However, although a biographical approach can generate rich data which unsettles dominant narratives and understandings, it is not unproblematic and demands reflexivity on the part of researcher and researched. We consider how these issues played out in our research and how our biographical approach in some respects ran counter to both our findings and our concern with the subaltern. We particularly explore the unease of those we researched in narrating themselves, and the resultant difficulty of disentangling individual and institutional life histories in our research.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2010
EventAAG Annual Meeting 2010 - Washington D.C.
Duration: 18 Apr 2010 → …


ConferenceAAG Annual Meeting 2010
Period18/04/10 → …


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