Spectacles of Development: The Materiality of Success at the Barefoot College, Rajasthan
Through an ethnographic study of the 'Barefoot College', an internationally renowned non¬ governmental development organisation (NGO) situated in Rajasthan, India, this thesis investigates the methods and practices by which a development organisation materialises and manages a construction of success. In this conceptualisation, success is not an output of good development practice, but is rather a socially and materially generated construction sustained via robust interpretations, mobilised meanings, and strong networks of support. This thesis pays particular attention to the material processes by which success is achieved and the different meanings and discourses that they act to perform. Attending to the different ways in which success is produced in development, from locally produced assemblages, to regional and global deployments of application, reminds us that knowledge forms are never fixed, but are rather contingent upon the materials, locations, and persons that conceive and comprise them. How the Barefoot College achieves its success over time and circumstance is the subject of this thesis. Drawing upon Debord's (1967) notion of'spectacle', I argue that the College, as a prolific producer of various forms of development media, achieves its success firstly through materially mediated heterotopic spectacles-, enacted and imperfect Utopias that constitute the desires, imaginings and Otherness of its society; and secondly through the ignorance that these spectacles generate: constructed spaces of silence and invisibility that serve to reify this theatre of dreams. With a particular focus on its community-managed, solar photovoltaic development programme, one that trains illiterate women from countries across Africa and beyond as 'Barefoot Solar Engineers' (BSEs), this thesis analyses firstly how heterotopic spectacles are produced, the machinations, strategies, persons and materialities involved in development work (e.g. material props, stage sets,' rehearsals, and embodied training); and secondly, what makes it successful, what kinds of ideas, visions, and discourses do these persons and materialities draw upon (and help augment) to account for its growth from small-scale, rural experiment in skills-training to celebrated, globalised development model. The chapters that follow consider different scenarios through which success was realised at the College. They embrace diverse yet interconnected themes relating to the temporality of development success over decades of societal change; constructions, concealments, and silences of knowledge claims as they are enacted through an architectural awards controversy; the performance of notions of development, enlightenment and the formation of the state via technology and energy; a discussion of how donors and supporters are enrolled in a development programme through material acts of 'witnessing'; an exploration and critique of technologically mediated 'empowerment'-related agendas; and finally, an examination of how success was generated via processes of'replication .