Bobby Luthra Sinha: A Comparative Interpretation of Peoples’ Movements: Actors, Evolving Consciousness and Democratic Imagination in India and South Africa.

PhD-Project, Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Basel

The aim of this doctoral thesis is to comparatively analyze and juxtapose the narratives and practices engaged by the resource based social movements of India and South Africa into their respective democracies. Through observation, open ended interaction and consultative participation in the internal world of movement actors, the study looks at the state through the eyes of the grassroots. By collating the different modes and means that peoples movements use on the ground to address the law and authorities, the research aims to provide clarity on the actual dynamics between social movements and policy in democratic contexts.


New social movements in India and South Africa, have in recent times raised the rhetoric against the gap between the discourses and the practices of their democratic states. Of specific interest to this study is the politics of ecology and resource based movements whose actors use various kinds of sites, symbols and frames to challenge the hegemonic state in innovative ways. They also demonstrate alternative ways of making their narratives felt and strive for a role in policy implementation. How are the notions of democracy expanding or deepening (or otherwise) in this background? How do people cope up with the lack of or depletion of their rightful livelihood resources? What modes of action do they undertake and whom do they address? What common subjectivities do they share or what unique propositions do they forward?

Main Research Objective

The study seeks to interpret how peoples consciousness changes and evolves in the context of their lived experiences. And how do they further introduce this imagination in the concrete time and space of their movements and narratives for empowerment and socio-political transformation. We propose to understand closely the Bishnoi eco-social movements for the protection of their habitat (trees and animals) in Rajasthan and the shack dwellers' movements in Durban demanding dignified home-spaces.


The circular, actor-oriented and multi-method Emic Evaluation Approach (EEA) will be used to collect and analyze data from the field. For observing and understanding social movements inter-disciplinary perspectives from Political Science, Social Anthropology and Sociology will be employed.

First Field Results: July 2012, Rajasthan

Bishnois in India talk of their “ecological consciousness,” and “duty to protect living beings” which transforms, as they would describe, into an “eco-fetish” in practice. They associate it to their collective as well as individual memory, history and written as well as oral religious discourses. Given in to vegetarianism and conservation of “desert-ecology” of the arid and semi-arid zones where they live, their movements demand the revision as well as a just and fair implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927. They target poachers and corrupt government officials through their protest actions.


Supervisor: Prof Dr Till Förster

Collaboration: Professor Dr Madhulika Banerjee, Department of Political Science, Delhi University

Duration: September 2011-September 2014

Download Poster: A Comparative Interpretation of Peoples’ Movements (2012)

Keywords: social movements in Rajasthan and Durban, actors, consciousness, imagination, law and notions on common property resources (habitat: trees, animals), law and the notions on homes and housing