Institutt for sosialantropologi

The Social Enterprise. Fusing Discourses of Business and Development in Delhi, India


Master's thesis submitted at Department of Social Anthropology, autumn 2016.

By: Karoline Øisteinsdatter Opåsen
Supervisor: Associate Professor

The aim of this thesis is to problematize the undisputed moral good and simplified solutions within development discourse. Throughout the thesis, I am focusing on domains where ideas and ideals of development are being configured, negotiated, appropriated and lived.

The axis of my fieldwork was a small-scale organization in Delhi, India, which I call Change by Hand, that worked with women of a complex, marginalized low-caste community. Change by Hand was neither a charity nor a business, but something of a hybrid: a so-called social enterprise. Change by Hand urged the women they worked with to produce commodities that would be sold in an ethical trade environment. I show that Change by Hand is a part of a moral capitalism in that they produce commodities inscribed with high moral and ethical value. Further, I problematize some paradoxical aspects of moral capitalism, like how a hegemonic work ethic is celebrated as the one and only path to emancipation and empowerment.

Through applying anthropological theories of aesthetics and materiality, I show how social distances are being re-materialized through design- and production processes of development commodities. I further explore the high-end markets in which the commodities were commonly sold, and ask how it has come to make sense to “shop to empower women”. Change by Hand aimed to change the sociocultural ways of the marginalized women they worked with. Finally, through theories of hope and potentiality, I attempt to come closer to an understanding of why the women seemed to be so positive to an initiative that sought to change their ways.