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Debates Around Development Alternatives 2020: Governance Initiatives

Conference on Development
Azim Premji University, Bangalore

Dates: 2nd, 3rd and 4th Sept, 2020
Venue: Azim Premji University, Bangalore

The institutions by which we govern ourselves find themselves in a curiously embattled position. With the worldwide rise of authoritarian populism, deepening inequality and increasing economic precarity it is becoming increasingly evident that these institutions are inadequate to the task of governing the emergent context shaped as it is by new forms of economic, ecological and demographic challenges. Scholars and practitioners of democratic development find themselves at a critical conjuncture – invested as they are in illuminating the exclusions that shore up modern governance initiatives while simultaneously sceptical and anxious about emerging practices of ‘inclusion’ that pay short shrift to issues of privacy and freedom and make way for new and dangerous forms of surveillance. This conference seeks to build a conversation on alternate governance arrangements that illuminates emergent ways of conceptualizing and enacting the possibilities and practices of democratic development.

This year the focus of the Debates Around Development Alternatives conference is on Governance Initiatives in development, explored in three dimensions: development actions, development research and development education. These governance initiatives include both State actions as well as those that emerge out of collective actions of/with disenfranchised populations. In the context of development action, the conference seeks to collectively engage the range of state-market alternatives that are being experimented with, the current non-state non-market options, and understand the nature of autonomy, accountability and inclusion central to these endeavours. In terms of development research, the focus will be on theorizing the binding principles driving governance initiatives, issues of technology choice, and querying the location of power and knowledge. Finally, our interest in development education prompts us to deepen both our understanding of the pedagogic underpinnings of alternative governance initiatives as well as consider how development curricula can be better equipped to creatively address the problems that bedevil development today.

The conference invites innovative papers from multiple disciplines and from people working in academia as well as practitioners. The conference is built around six-interrelated themes and the papers submitted are expected to be related to one or more themes.

  1. Commons

    The importance and criticality of commons has received fresh appreciation in recent times, both conceptually and empirically, flying in the face of much of the last century’s development thought and action which have been anchored in the assumed superiority of private ownership. First, socio-ecological systems thinking has shown that commons are complex socio-ecological production systems where systems efficiency needs to be optimised and not maximised for sustained use. Second, it is increasingly seen that poverty, vulnerability, and commons are closely connected: poverty and vulnerability tend to increase with decline and degradation of commons. Further, shared norms to maintain commons at their optimum levels enhance social and cultural regimes of care. Over the years, research and action on commons have flourished, and it has even entered the urban imaginations where the ideas and practice around commons are gaining popularity and legitimacy.

    We invite papers examining new and refurbished governance initiatives concerning practices of commoning that have emerged to tackle problems of inequality and sustainability.

  2. Sustainable agriculture

    Given the context of persistent nutritional vulnerability in India, and its implications for social justice, the linkages between food production, consumption and distribution systems needs to be carefully considered. The data show a significant shift in patterns of consumption in both urban and rural areas, and among all population groups. Such shifts are occurring in a landscape where food production is predominated by small and marginal holdings. This primary food production system is intricately linked to local ecology (including biodiversity, water, livestock, commons) as well as social practices (including caste, tenurial arrangements, labour practices, and the power dynamics of entrenched semi-feudal relations). Important policy developments such as the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, as well as the growing influence of farmer-led movements such as la via Campesina, are creating new governance models that attempt to balance concerns around sustainable agriculture, livelihoods and food sovereignty. This theme encourages discussions on whether such emerging governance structures support them in building resilience in the face of increasing dependence on non-local markets.

  3. Migrant labour

    The economic reforms carried out in the past two and a half decades have not only changed the political economy of the country, they have also hastened the pace of internal migration. With the notion of work itself undergoing change in the neo-liberal era, reflected in (for example) the growing informalisation and feminization of the work force, the concept of permanent employment is becoming obsolete. In recent years, new forms of labour organisations have emerged that have forged their own mechanisms and modalities to address the rights of the vulnerable workforce. This new form has the potential to include other workers who were traditionally ignored by mainstream conventional labour organisations. The state too is trying to address the situation through universalization of welfare rights to its citizens rather than workers’ rights. It is in this context that this theme invites a discussion on the new institutions emerging (both from civil society and state) to meet the social security needs of its citizens.

  4. Healthcare in urbanizing India

    Health outcomes in urban areas are significantly better than in rural India, leading to the erroneous conclusion that urban health systems are fairly robust. The challenge of ensuring healthcare in urban India has therefore largely been identified with providing greater access to affordable health services for the urban poor. While this is without doubt of paramount importance, there are other issues that are critical to all urban populations, such as the alarming increase in vector-borne diseases, water-borne diseases, road traffic accidents and air pollution. This calls for a multi-sectoral response, involving a complex web of stakeholders, including central and state governments, local urban bodies, as well as a range of public and private service providers. Layered onto this are the vulnerabilities associated with the social determinants of health, including the health effects of poverty, gender, migration, urbanization and globalization. This theme explores the diversity of health challenges experienced in the urban context, and their implications for public health governance, accountability and future planning of urban public goods that are integral to preserving public health such as fresh air, clean water and solid waste management.

  5. Climate change

    While scientists have played an essential role in understanding and modelling the trends and effects of climate change, initiatives to address climate change have lagged dangerously behind. Governance debates typically trip themselves up on debates on the percentage rise of temperature around which to govern and lose focus of the fact that whether the goal is mitigation or adaptation, business and governance as usual is not an option. This panel seeks to seed conversations on and showcase examples of advocacy and action that are challenging our system of consumption and production, and crafting new and necessary ways of provisioning ourselves and pursuing well-being in the context of climate change. On the implementation front one key challenge is that strategies are required to work at a large scale while simultaneously having to be highly context specific and localized. Consequently we are interested in ways that showcase innovative ways of thinking and enacting decentralized governance, devolution of power and devolution of finances

  6. Disaster Management

    Disasters, it is widely acknowledged, reveal in their wake the fault-lines of our society. Mobilisations of disaster-affected communities have shown that, devastating as they are, disasters also offer the opportunity to "build back better." Examples whereby governance initiatives have been able to create not only a sound socio-economic and ecological foundation but also a political foundation to rebuild their lives and improve resilience have lessons for constituencies that extend far beyond the disaster zone. In our discussion on governance initiatives we are interested in examining and building on initiatives where communities have been able to effect changes that disrupt the reproduction of inequality that have contributed to their vulnerability to disaster.

Guidelines for Submission and Selection

Important Dates

Abstract Submission – 15th March, 2020

Abstract acceptance notification – 15th April, 2020

Full paper Submission – 1st July, 2020

Abstract and Final Paper Submission:

The abstract of the paper has to be submitted by 15th March 2020. The abstract should be at least 500 words long and should include the following:

- Problems/issues explored in the paper
- Approach of the paper
- Paper’s contributions to one or several of the conference themes

All submissions should be mailed to

Selected papers will be notified by 15th April, 2020

The selected authors have to send their final papers by 1st July, 2020

Logistical Details

There is no registration fee for the conference. Participants are expected to cover their own travel to and from Bangalore. The University will take care of boarding and lodging as well as conveyance to and from the airport to the campus for invited participants.

About the Conference on Development

Following the mission of Azim Premji University, the larger vision of the Conference on Development is to nurture a sustained conversation among key stakeholders on some of the central issues of social change, and build a body of broad based, widely shared knowledge that would be empowering to social change actors. The thematic conceptualisation and institutional organisation of the conference are meant to be inclusive, non-hierarchical, and purposeful. While the overarching theme of the conference for the next few years will be Debates Around Development Alternatives, each conference will attempt to organize the conversations around (i) development action, (ii) development research and (iii) development education. These are understood to be porous categories and not in any way enforced in a crudely mechanical way. The attempt will be to create spaces where the inter-relationships and dependencies of all three aspects of the development project can be explored creatively.

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