Social Uplift and Cultural Preservation: Crafting the Future in the Informal Economy

Sandria B Freitag

North Carolina State University, United States

Civil-society and State collaborations, focused on a substantive reworking of the role of crafts, joined with Market contributions (especially after Economic Liberalization in the 1990s), to shape India’s unique global position in the Global South.  NGOs have played a crucial change-agent role since Independence in these partnerships, enabling the handicraft sector to not only survive but become a central signifier of India internationally.  Changes over the last several years, however, suggest a much tenser relationship between state and NGOs, while a much broader taxonomy is needed to locate change-agents operating within civil-society.  These developments require us to reconceptualize the dynamic animating efforts to preserve crafts and ensure sustainable livelihoods.  Current interactions of the diverse actors at the centre, in the constituent states, in civil society – NGOs as well as social movements – may make India unique among Asian countries, or mark a larger pattern for the future.  Focusing on craft to understand change over time thus suggests that the increasingly complex elaboration of civil society may well provide pointers to a future differing from the shift that marked the socio-economic changes from a colonial to independent India.


SANDRIA B. FREITAG has long explored a range of source materials answering new questions about ordinary people (from criminality to public-space activities). Publications include two monographs (one now in press) and three collections of essays. She has a PhD from UC -Berkeley and a BA from Mills College.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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