Khadi and the politics of viability and care : an exploration of handloom institutions in Karnataka

Schnell, Mackenzie
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Cotton and fabrics made of cotton yarn are political. These commoditized goods have been constructed as political tools for enslavement, oppression, liberation and self-expression. The multifaceted politics of cotton fabrics are woven into India’s complicated histories. Khadi, handspun and handwoven yarn, is one particularly poignant tool mobilized by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Khadi was developed as a political tool which promised welfare for poor people and independence from the British colonial government through British-made cloth boycotts. Today, Khadi has been reappropriated as a political tool to fight corporate colonization and a way to extend care to people, mostly women, in relatively poor, rural communities. This thesis investigates the ways in which Khadi is used as a political tool today and the complicated notion of care across caste and gender in a neoliberal environment. Studying the politics and care of Khadi illuminates the constraints and opportunities for social justice within a market-based institution shaped by complex manager-employee relationships. I conducted semi-structured interviews (N = 27) with managers and craftspersons from three handloom institutions in Karnataka, a southern state of India, over the course of three weeks from December 2021 through January 2022. I engage in an interpretative analysis of the interviews and detail my experience as a researcher visiting each institution. Findings illuminate the complicated relationship between the handloom industry’s viability and the ability for managers and craftspersons to create caring handloom institutions. The ways in which viability and care contradict and cooperate are teased out. Ultimately, findings point to the boundedness of care in individual institutions to address systemic issues