In the Indian state of Orissa, several thousand villages protect state-owned forests through self-initiated community based collective action. Through multi-sited ethnographic inquiry, I explore the emergence of these community forestry initiatives and their role in democratizing forest governance. The three papers in this dissertation explore issues relating to environmental subjectivity, democratic inclusion, and reflexivity, respectively. The first paper, "Environmental Subjectivity in the Forested Landscapes of Orissa," explores how rural people in Orissa recreate themselves as environmental subjects or agents who consider themselves as conservationists. A critical challenge for contemporary societies in view of large-scale environmental crisis relates to transformation in human subjectivity vis-à-vis the environment, to foster love, care, and conservation of 'nature'. Recent scholars have turned to Foucault's notions of governmentality to understand how regimes of power and knowledge shape environmental subjectivities. This work tends to privilege the role of these regimes in subject formation and does not pay adequate attention to technologies of the self or to the role of affect in shaping subjectivities. Based on ethnographic inquiry in Orissa, this paper explores how technologies of the self act in conjunction with technologies of power to shape environmental subjectivity. It illustrates the role of local agency, material practices, and affect in transformation of environmental subjectivity.
The second paper, “Democratic Spaces across Scales: Women's Action and Inclusion in Forest Governance in Orissa, India,” addresses the challenges of social equity and inclusion within community forestry. Through a case study of a local federation, the paper illustrates how constraints to, and possibilities for, women's involvement are different across scales. Further, spaces for participation and democratic action across scales are intermeshed and in dynamic interaction. In the Orissa case, marginalized women gained voice and visibility by organizing at a regional scale, and used democratic spaces at higher spatial scales to overcome constraints to their participation at the community level. The case demonstrates how closer attention to issues of scale and cross-scale linkages can help in deepening democracy and addressing issues of social justice.
The third paper, "Blurred Boundaries: Research, Researcher, and the Researched," discusses my positionality and explores how complex identities are performed and negotiated in a research setting. In this paper, I use ethnographic vignettes and poems to explore the blurred boundaries and 'in-between' spaces between researcher and researched, insider and outsider, and action and research. The three papers are tied together with common themes about power, agency and subjectivity.