Friday, November 1, 2019 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm
Speaker: Shobita Parthasarathy, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan
Abstract: The international development landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, with growing excitement about the power of innovation to improve the lives of the poor. Both traditional development agencies and new social venture funds, social entrepreneurs and incubators, and philanthrocapitalist initiatives emphasize the transformative potential of new and evidence-based technologies, processes, and ideas that are scalable, often commodifiable, and can be implemented quickly. Innovation, these proponents argue, is an antidote to the problems of past development interventions, by using both scientific knowledge and market insights to be both nimble and democratic. But what are the political implications of bringing Western innovation ideology to international development? And what does democracy mean in these contexts? Focusing on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in India, in this talk I argue that innovative interventions for development are establishing and reinforcing the legitimacy of science and market institutions for eliciting and interpreting the voices of the marginalized in Southern countries. And yet at the same time, like previous methods for hearing the subaltern, these institutions are constructing citizens and their voices in particular ways. In the case of MHM, girls and women are seen asproto-citizens who are ignorant and primitive, reliant on both MHM interventions in order to empower themselves and realize their full economic and political potential. In the process, traditional and indigenous knowledge and innovation go unvalued and even denigrated.