South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - The Micro Economic Roots of Social Movements: Examining Rural and Urban Dalit Movements in Nepal

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

This paper examines the economic roots of social movements in the context of micro-level case studies in Nepal. How do changes in the relative economic fortunes of groups impact social movements? Are there identifiable causal mechanisms linking economic change ‘at the base’ with collective action? Many theories address this question at the macro level, by pointing to large-scale economic change and its impact on political representation over the long term, such as the industrial revolution or changes in comparative advantage between land and labor. Other historical work has looked at economic changes lying behind such movements as civil rights in the USA, but few studies address the micro level origins of contemporary social movement mobilization. This paper attempts to address the micro level by looking at case studies in Nepal. Rural and urban case studies in this paper address the ways in which the marketization of traditional occupations has catalyzed movements of lower caste persons. In some villages rising economic fortunes for some occupational castes (blacksmiths) fueled social movements demanding an end to discrimination and better political representation. These movements were often able to incorporate other, less economically favored lower caste groups. The paper puts these cases into the context of the decay of patronage-based economic systems and the need for new forms of social protection to replace patronage.

Richard Bownas

University of Northern Colorado, United States

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