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Agency/Voice in Development Discourse

A.R. Vasavi

Edited by Ranjita Mohanty and Rajesh Tandon
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 249, Rs. 550.00


In the current trajectory of development literature and practice few words are as central as that of participation, inclusion and identity. Located within a template of a yet to be fully democratic society and nation, efforts have been directed to address the wide range of exclusions that stem from class, caste and gender based differences in India. In deploying these terms the discourse of development has shifted emphasis from the unilinear Rostowian paths of West-based, imitative growth to focusing on issues of agency, identity, voice, and participation. Yet, significant as these are in the milestones of development, they also adumbrate the complexities and challenges that any development agenda faces in realizing them. This volume emanating from the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), an institution that is engaged in a range of development activities, is the result not of just academic pontification but is culled from reflections that have resulted from development encounters, experiences and expressions. The introduction by the editors summarises the key perspectives and definitions; the need for participatory citizenship to factor in the differential power of people, their ability to engage with institutions and the need to challenge the range of domination and oppression, and the role of the State in facilitating these. In sum, participatory citizenship is to enable the marginalized to lay claim on the State and its institutions and benefits. But this is to be realized not through the conventional mode of “welfarism and entitlements, (but through) emphasis on decision, distribution and access to public goods defined from the vantage point of the excluded citizenry” (pg 17). The editors identify four key challenges; that of the diversity of groups or classes, the need to not romanticize the community, competing identities, and the problem of replacing State centrism with that of market fundamentalism. In addition, T.K. Oommen provides an overview of the evolution of the notions and practices of citizenship, highlighting the contemporary trend where issues of diversity, equality, and identity have become central. John Gaventa seconds much of this pointing to the ways in which these issues are expressed in policy contexts. These ideas are circulated in the other essays in the volume, many of which detail experiences related to enabling participatory citizenship in a range of contexts.   Ranjita Mohanty differenciates between participation in State institutions, social movements and civil society organisations and further qualifies these in terms of gender, class and occupation ...

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