Culture Matters: Understanding Development From Perspectives of Marginal Communities (CM2006)

Venue: Sanskriti Kendra

Location: New Delhi-, delhi, India

Event Date/Time: Oct 13, 2006 End Date/Time: Oct 15, 2006
Registration Date: Aug 01, 2006
Early Registration Date: Jul 01, 2006
Abstract Submission Date: Apr 30, 2006
Paper Submission Date: Jul 31, 2006
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A major development over the last century in South Asia and, even in Africa, South America and other parts of Asia is the conceptualization of marginal communities as only oppressed and poor. In various theories of progress and change put forward so far very disparate communities have begun to look alike. They have become two-dimensional. Such communities are oppressed and poor all right, but to fight their oppression and poverty they need cultural and social resources, which they have in plenty.

Our understanding of ‘culture’ from working with marginal communities is that cultural practices have been responsible for enabling them to aspire to lead a ‘good life’. Cultural practices are also ‘living’ heritage which helps these communities to maintain separate identities, values, beliefs, traditions as well as promote the development of self-esteem. Besides, culture as a resource is also utilized for self-evaluation to promote dialogue, debate and action on various critical issues that influences the process of positive change and transformation within society. The conference seeks to capitalize upon a growing interest in issues such as how does culture matter to marginal communities and how culture enables the process of self-empowerment among marginal communities. This self-empowerment is considered crucial for understanding and developing liberative public action policies of change and progress.

One of the fundamental social and cultural ethos of marginal communities' is their 'we- feeling' embedded in their everyday struggle, which finds creative expressions in their community-specific myths, legends and modes of artistic self-expressions. This has special connotation in the sense that availability of material resources has always been amazingly limited for the marginal communities. Their communitarian ethos of progress and change has organically evolved within the community drawing on everyday have experiences. Dignity and self-esteem are inherent in their aspirations, voices of hope, everyday struggles. In this sense the search for dignity dignity is a way of life which is expressed through cultural practices.

The ethos and values of marginal communities are concrete and real philosophies of life that shape much of their ideas on progress and change. Following these concrete philosophies of life, developmental practices should necessarily respect the ethos of the community to create enabling conditions where they have the freedom to choose. However, in the globalizing world, contemporary development thinking and practice consider the cultural practices of marginal communities as a major obstacle towards achieving the modern notion of development. Against this background the critical question that arises here is- how are the ethos and values of marginal communities relevant in a globalizing world? Put another way, does margin have anything to offer to a globalizing society?

In the changing context of politics, economy and society, the marginal communities through their discursive cultural practices are increasingly engaged in creating enabling conditions by launching new struggles to navigate their multiple voices in democratic politics, modern education and entrepreneurship. Through decades of struggle they have been able to carve out a niche for themselves by expanding the existing democratic space. For them it has not been just a matter of inculcating democratic norms, but constructing meaningful ways for engaging in dialogues on immediate social, political and economic issues at the grassroot level. Such radicalization of democratic space has not only strengthened the democratic processes but it also questioned modern institutions for their capacity to accommodate and integrate diverse voices.

Although marginal communities have been able to acquire critical awareness of their oppression through the praxis of their struggle and their present assessment of oppressed reality bears a liberative orientation. In fact their self-assessment has been largely a culturally mediated process whereby they are not only combating subjective immobility within themselves but are also constructively engaged in building bridges within communities to rise above narrow sectarian selves. Such actions of marginal communities reflect their visions for meaningful coexistence in a multiple and plural society.

Progress and change from the margin appears more of an availability of opportunities and freedom of choice than abundance of material goods and services. If progress and change is understood as enabling and facilitating the capacities of marginal communities then policies of governance need to be based on ethical values and principles fostering plurality, diversity, equity, democratic participation, sustainable development and dignity. However, no matter what has been the technique, measure or indicator adopted by contemporary development practice marginal communities have appeared only as oppressed and poor. In this context the all-important question is why do marginal communities always appear only as oppressed and poor in mainstream development practices? Is it the lack of innovative indicators only, or the lack of a perspective? But from whose perspectivedo we understand whom?


Our journey to understand marginal cultures and development began with research and documentation of the Musahars who are often referred to as ‘Dalits among Dalits’ and occupy the bottom-rung of society in the middle Gangetic plains. Descendents of a Chotanagpur tribe, the Musahars are scattered all over the paddy-growing areas, providing the so-called unskilled labour. We were first confronted with the dominant image of Musahar community that emerges from mainstream development discourses that considers them either as subjects of the modern production mechanism or as objects that get defined through discussions around land relations.

The overpowering presence of the dominant image of the Musahar community posed daunting challenges to us to understand what is indeed development from the Musahar point of view. Our present understanding of Musahar community emerges from the experiences and feelings that Musahar reality was captured from a position outside of that reality. The realization was not simply that development has failed, but that mainstream perspective of development is profoundly alien to native perspectives of Musahars. In the process we had to unlearn to look development from the lens of the Musahar community. We became aware that it is only from the mainstream perspective of development that Musahar community looks backward and stagnant. Our understanding of the Musahar community is that it is not essentially an oppositional stance that rejects whatever comes from mainstream development but rather a two-way flow between different collectivities that constructively creates spaces for dialogues and negotiations.

This conference provides all interested stakeholders an invaluable multi-organizational and multi-sectoral networking opportunity as it aims to bring together organizations, academicians, non-governmental, volunteers, policy makers, governmental and inter-governmental professionals, UN agency staff as well as grassroots organizations and representatives to share and learn from development experiences of marginal communities. Through discussions on the seemingly complex issues of culture, development and empowerment we not only intend to enrich, broaden and situate our present understanding but also generate new insights crucial for developing liberative public action policy.

Broad Themes:
1.Alternative Indicators of Change and Well Being
2.Cultural and Ecological Resources, Communities and Survival
3.Solidarity, Communities and Development
4.Diversity, Multiple Voices and Development
5.Culture, Dignity and Empowerment
6.Capabilities, Culture and Marginal Communities
7.Social Taboos, Livelihood and Sustainability
8.Institutions, Communities and Modernity
9.Mobility, Marginality and Development


Annad Gram, M.G. Road, Aya Nagar,
New Delhi-

Additional Information

The organizers will cover travel costs and other participation expenses for successful applicants. However, air tickets will be issued only receipt of acceptable papers i.e. the paper submission deadline must be met. Abstract submitted after the deadline will only be considered depending on the perspective of the proposed paper in meeting the overall objective of the conference.