Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India

Abstract

This article explores the politics and practices of a state-initiated, feminist-conceived empowerment program for rural women in India through the lens of neoliberal governmentality. Structured as a government-organized nongovernmental organization (GONGO), the Mahila Samakhya (MS) program seeks to empower and mobilize marginalized women for self-development and social change. The program's GONGO form and empowerment goals articulate with neoliberal logics of self-care and destatized rule to reshape the postcolonial liberalizing state and governance in India. Neoliberalism and the everyday practices of the MS program construct the Indian state as a distinct and vertically encompassing, if ambiguously gendered, entity. The organization's hybrid form and its employment arrangements and work practices end up reinforcing some of the very social inequalities and welfare-based ideologies that its empowerment focus seeks to challenge. Nonetheless, collaborative governmental projects for subaltern women's empowerment, which involve feminist, activist, and state actors, offer spaces of political possibility as well as risks in a neoliberal context.

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