AAG 2015 CFP: Development as improvisation? Exploring the significance of improvisation in contemporary development contexts
Development as improvisation?
Exploring the significance of improvisation in contemporary development contexts
Call for Papers, AAG 2015, Chicago April 21 – 25
Idea behind the session
Li (2005: 389) argues that “practical knowledge… is at work everywhere, at all times. It is not concentrated in remote rural areas, and it is not associated with the past or "tradition." The knowledge a person needs to negotiate the bureaucracy or find a moment's peace on an assembly line, a factory farm, or in a prison is just as localized, often collective, transmitted informally, and continuously revised”. This is how development programmes, their targets and technologies are often de-shaped and re-shaped by various peoples in ways not imagined or intended by those designing. This is the improvisation of development.
|Solar lantern improvised to charge mobile phones (Photo: Ankit Kumar)|
In many contemporary situations we can see improvisation at play. In a village in Bihar, an eastern state of India, a solar lantern designed and distributed to bring light is hacked into to charge mobile phones. In another village in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, locally manufactured parts are soldered together with low quality solar panels imported from China to assemble cheap solar home systems, more popular than costly government promoted solar panels. Improvisation helps Indian private news channels to create space for themselves in a state dominated news landscape, but also democratises news channels, giving opportunities to those previously considered below the “minimum requirements of higher education and even literacy” (Roy 2011: 767). In a diamond-cutting factory in Karnataka, south India, the workings of the factory and its spaces are continuously re-shaped by improvisations and alternative dreams of planners, managers and workers (Cross, 2014).
|locally improvised solar home systems (Photo: Jonathan Balls)|
Improvisation is contextual, local, often informal and to be transmitted informally. However, improvisation is not just about poorer people, it is as much about “elite informalities” (Roy 2011). They can often involve systemic risk(s) and disruptive innovation(s), a sign of resources being stretched too far (Birtchnell 2011). Improvisations are also non-egalitarian, with those who have the “feel for the game” often better at it (Jeffrey & Young 2014: 189). This may be because improvisations are often based on Scott's (1998: 334) metis – knowledges that are local and contingent – but “not democratically distributed”.
Questions that the session would explore (inter alia):
1. What are the conceptual/theoretical tools that could help us unpack ‘improvisation’?
2. How does improvisation reflect action(s) brought about within contemporary development and economic situations?
3. Is improvisation always local in scale, to particular places, and of the moment? Or can a wider story of improvisation be told?
4. What issues of power and politics does improvisation open up?
5. Is improvisation too malleable a term, too vague to be of much conceptual use?
6. What other empirical accounts could be found that explore improvisation 'at play', and its significance.
Please send abstracts (max 250 words) and contact details to Ankit Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jonathan Balls (email@example.com) by 31th October 2014. We will notify contributors of acceptance shortly after. Participants will be expected to register, submit their abstracts online at the AAG website and send us their PIN by October 3rd of November 2014, ahead of the session proposal deadline of 5th November 2014. Please note a range of registration fees will apply and must be paid before the submission of abstracts. For general information on the conference: http://www.aag.org/annualmeeting
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