Enlightening lives? The production of silence and ‘success’ in a solar development programme
In this paper, I introduce the solar energy programme of the Barefoot College, a community-based, non-governmental organisation in Rajasthan, India, that hosts up to thirty five women at any one time from the “Least Developed Countries” index to train them in the maintenance and repair of solar photovoltaic technologies. With a particular focus on the workshop training that aims to turn subaltern women into ‘Barefoot Solar Engineers’ (BSEs), I aim to challenge the prevalent discourse of the “developed woman” as a self-maximising subject able to channel voice and power through newly developing knowledge spaces. I argue that the College sought not only to manufacture particular kinds of material assemblages in the workshop for export, but also, to manufacture a particular kind of modern, knowing subject. I suggest however that far from producing a subject with voice and power and expertise, the College instead speaks on her behalf, literally putting words in her mouth, and promoting the rote-learning and passive memorization of impenetrable tracts of modernist knowledge without due thought to understanding. Such teaching and learning methods serve to silence the woman and gain her acquiescence for the continued spectacle of the transformation of subaltern subject to modern, calculative, globalized subject. I explore how such concealments are practiced and played out in a particular institutional development setting and to analyse the material dynamics that make it possible. I suggest that the women’s training and development is marked less by the roar of empowerment, and more by a muzzle of silence
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