'Failed Development’ and Rural Revolution in Nepal: Rethinking Subaltern Consciousness and Women’s Empowerment


Leve, Lauren. 2007. “‘Failed Development’ and Rural Revolution in Nepal: Rethinking Subaltern Consciousness and Women’s Empowerment.” Anthropological Quarterly 80 (1): 127-72.

Author: Lauren Leve


Rural women's active support for the decade-long Maoist insurrection in Nepal has captured the attention of academics, military strategists, and the development industry. This essay considers two theories that have been proposed to account for this phenomenon. The "failed development" hypothesis suggests that popular discontent with the government is the result of uneven, incomplete, or poorly executed development efforts and recommends more and better aid as the route to peace. In contrast, the "conscientization" model proposes that, at least in some cases, women's politicization may be the unexpected result of successful development programs that aimed to "empower" women by raising their consciousness of gender and class-based oppression. Drawing on the testimonies of women who participated in such programs in Gorkha districta Maoist stronghold where women are reported to have been especially active, I argue that both of these explanations reflect assumptions about social subjectivity that are critically out of synch with the realities of rural Nepal. Gorkhali women's support for the rebels embodies a powerful critique of neoliberal democracy and the Nepal state, but one that is based on morally-grounded ideas about social personhood in which self-realization is bound up in mutual obligation and entails personal sacrifice, not the culturally-disembedded valorizations of autonomy, agency, and choice that most models presume. Theorists of subaltern political consciousness and of the relations between development and violence must engage with the gendered moral economies of the people they aim to empower if they ultimately hope to promote sustainable peace.

Topics: Development, Economies, Gender, Women, Governance, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Political Participation, Violence Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Nepal

Year: 2007

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