Synopses & Reviews
In Cultivating Community, anthropologist Michael Youngblood explores the creation of political meaning and the construction of collective identity in an agrarian social movement in western India. The book's core questions are fundamental to understanding mass movements anywhere: Where do movement ideologies come from and what makes them compelling? What motivates diverse groups of ordinary people to rise together in common cause? How can we make sense of individual participants in a movement when their participation sometimes appears irrational and against their own interests? Cultivating Community explores these questions through an examination of the Shetkari Sanghatana, a massive anti-statist movement in India's Maharashtra state. The movement, which mobilizes participants from a broad cross-section of rural castes and classes, calls for the end of government intervention in agriculture and the restoration of a golden age of rural rule under a mythological demon king named Bali. In this rich ethnographic examination, Youngblood argues for a participant-centric view of the Shetkari Sanghatana, digging beneath the movement's loudest voices and it's most visible exploits to see how the movement is experienced and constructed by individual participants on the ground. Through vivid descriptions of the movement in settings that include activist training camps, strategy meetings, massive protest rallies, religious festivals, and day-to-day village life, the author shows how participants and leaders together deploy a pool of shared but highly ambiguous spiritual and political symbols in an ongoing competition to define what the movement stands for, whose interests it represents, and what the future should look like. This award-winning book is based on extensive observations and interviews during two and a half years of field research with the Shetkari Sanghatana in 1996-1999. Its ambitious inquiry delves into the fields of history, political science, economics, organizational studies, cultural geography, folklore, and religion, as well as cultural anthropology. Cultivating Community will not only enrich insight into rural life in India during a period of profound economic, political and cultural change, it will also give readers new ways to think about social mobilizations and protest movements around the world.