The obligation to act: Gender and reciprocity in political mobilization

Francis Cody


This article draws on ethnography of a South Indian mass-literacy movement to develop an argument about the role of obligation in the political mobilization of marginalized subjects. It seeks in particular to understand the use of language in a literacy movement that ended up being more important for being a women’s movement than for the literacy it tried to impart. The article begins by examining two different modes of address in the activism I studied, one premised on modernist self-assertion in the name of society and the other by appeals to culture as a propelling resource. It then turns to a third type, based on reciprocity, which is underdeveloped in much thought on agency in contemporary politics, and the analysis of which might help us escape some of the logics of late liberal governmentality in our ethnography.


activism, gender, reciprocity, mobilization, India

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.015