| HBS Working Paper Series
Mobilizing Culture for Public Action: Community Participation and Child Rights in Rural Uttar Pradesh
Community-based initiatives that work to empower the poor and promote their participation have gained strong support among scholars and practitioners of development. Yet the questionable assumptions about culture and development that inform these initiatives render it unclear as to whether and how community participation can be promoted in practice, especially in settings that depart from the ideal conceptions of community. Through a detailed case study of the UNICEF-IKEA Bal Adhikar Pariyojana (BAP), a grassroots initiative that seeks to advance child rights in India, this paper examines how traditionally disempowered community members learn to mobilize collectively around child education and health in the least likely setting of rural Uttar Pradesh. Building on the recent literature on culture and public action, and relying on extensive field research, village-level comparisons, and interviews with key stakeholders, this paper traces the process by which BAP fieldworkers and community members make strategic use of the cultural understandings, norms, and identities that govern family, gender, and caste relations to build new community-based networks that promote the rights of children. Yet there are serious drawbacks to these cultural strategies when attempting to scale up participation directed at an unresponsive state. To maintain ties with different caste groups, BAP takes an apolitical posture and does not actively build the capacity of communities to mobilize politically and make demands on state agencies. The findings suggest that cultural strategies for promoting community participation in rural India need to be understood within a broader political context of poor local governance and caste politics.