What Exclusion Leaves out: The “Life-worlds” of Educational Policy Making in Contemporary India

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Malini Ghose.

Malini Ghose is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Goettingen as part of the Max Weber Foundation Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India”. Before joining the TRG, she had been advocating issues of education, gender and equity in India for two decades.

This research seeks to examine the creation of narratives and discourses around educational policies in India from the mid-80s and subjects of policies, primarily women and girls from marginalised communities. Briefly, the objectives of the research are to examine the historical, political, and lived dynamics that shape-and complicate- the categorical imperatives and assumptions of policy-making, and to embed policy debates and practices in ethnographic, micro-political and historical life histories, thereby providing meaning to the `big picture data’ that is regularly generated by the Indian state. The research will also interrogate the binaries – for example included/excluded, powerful/powerless, structure/agency – through which policies and lives are typically examined. Some of the questions it asks are: In the context of education, how is ‘exclusion’ actually lived and experienced and what does this tell us about how it might be undone? In what ways has education enabled new opportunities and subjectivities to evolve? How do ‘target populations’ as both subjects and objects of policies fashion discourses, policies and programmes in their own ways, by bringing with them their own expectations, understandings and politics? What informs their aspirations and strategic choices related to education?

The term ‘life-worlds’ is used consciously in the title to encompass policies, life histories of `subjects’ and the larger socio-economic and political context within a connected analytical frame; this draws on the understanding that policies are not just texts but developed from experience and are lived, and that the boundaries between policy and experience that are often set up are constructed. The project uses a feminist lens to conduct the ethnographic work, which will thus entail interrogating multiple, intersecting and mediated power relations, including those between the researcher and the researched. Having been an activist working on these issues, reflexivity about the researcher’s location will add another layer to the analysis. The project will draw on the Foucauldian idea of governmentality, thus engaging with the nature of the modern state and the exercise of power through an ensemble of institutions, procedures, analysis and tactics.

The `subjects’ will be from three `generations’ of policies representing particular discourses, educational initiatives, socio-economic and political imperatives and an intergenerational perspective: those between the mid 80s and 90s when the ‘empowerment’ discourse was prevalent; from the mid 90s to the 2000s when the focus was on universalising primary education and the neo-liberal economic paradigm was taking root, and from the mid 2000s when rights based discourses and policy making processes have no longer remained only within the domain of the state, but informed a variety of ‘stakeholders’ and networks. While the research is framed in this manner, these ruptures themselves will be interrogated. The notion of `circulation’ of ideas, language, programmes, politics will be used to unpack policies. The analysis will begin with the narratives of individual women and move outwards to encompass the family, community and institutions, particularly those related to education. The research work will be grounded in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, specifically Banda and Chitrakoot districts, which are amongst the poorest and less researched regions of India.


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