Contentious Ethics Creativity and Persuasion among Environmental Organizers in South India

Show simple item record Mathias, John 2017-10-05T20:30:14Z 2018-11-01T16:42:01Z en 2017 2017
dc.description.abstract What makes a person take up a cause? This ethnographic study of environmental and social activists in Kerala, India examines how they commit themselves to normative visions for social transformation and how they attempt to persuade others to take up these causes as well. Through thick description of the causal forces at play in these processes, I attempt to push beyond the binary between freedom and determinism in ethical life. This study is based on thirty-two months of fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2014 with activists in Kerala’s “people's struggles,” a mode of grassroots community organizing primarily concerned with the impacts of industrial pollution, land rights, and other environmental conflicts. Fieldwork focused on two groups of activists as they collaborated on a campaign to stop pollution from a suburban gelatin factory. The first group was a local action council formed by nearby residents to protest the health effects of the factory’s emissions. The second group was a network of environmentalists who supported such campaigns as part of a broader effort at radically transforming environmental values. Making use of archival data, recordings of face-to-face interaction, participant observation, and interviews, the study follows activists as they transformed their own ethical lives—learning protest songs, going to marches instead of going to work, or giving up tea and Western medicine—and also as they attempted to persuade others with magazine articles, roadside speeches, and guided tours of pollution. This dissertation challenges dominant accounts of purpose and agency in literatures on social movements, community organizing, and the anthropology of ethics. Drawing on moral philosophy and the linguistic anthropology of stance, I trace relations of influence from evaluating subject to evaluated object, object to subject, and between subjects. I show that the causes of people’s struggle activists are best understood not as functions of predetermined interests, nor as the creations of radically free subjects, but as products of activists’ interactions with social others and a value-laden world. Describing the entanglements of changing oneself and changing others in people’s struggle activism, I argue for the importance of various “unfreedoms” in even the most strategic, norm-contesting ethical projects.
dc.language.iso en_US
dc.subject community organizing, India, environmental justice, ethics, activism, social movements
dc.subject morality, values, stance, politics, freedom
dc.title Contentious Ethics Creativity and Persuasion among Environmental Organizers in South India
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreename PHD
dc.description.thesisdegreediscipline Social Work & Anthropology
dc.description.thesisdegreegrantor University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
dc.contributor.committeemember Keane, Webb
dc.contributor.committeemember Tucker, David John
dc.contributor.committeemember Gutierrez, Lorraine M
dc.contributor.committeemember Hull, Matthew
dc.contributor.committeemember Kirsch, Stuart
dc.contributor.committeemember Staller, Karen M
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel Anthropology and Archaeology
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel Social Work
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel South Asian Languages and Cultures
dc.subject.hlbtoplevel Social Sciences
dc.identifier.orcid 0000-0001-8372-0078 Mathias, John; 0000-0001-8372-0078 en_US
dc.owningcollname Dissertations and Theses (Ph.D. and Master's)
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