Miriam S. Thangaraj

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Educational Policy StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin / Madison

Award Information

2012 IDRF Program

Educational Policy StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin / Madison

The Fabric of Childhood: Silk, Schools, Special Economic Zones

As global rights-based policy regimes are reconfiguring the meanings of childhood across societies, global economic processes are restructuring the very materials – the social and generational contracts, obligations and relations – that make up the experience of childhood. My study is an ethnographic account of the (re)construction of childhoods in the long-standing weaving communities of Kanchipuram, in southern India. On the one hand, the enforcement of global conceptions of childhood – embodied by “no work, more school” policies – displaces child apprentices out of the thick social fabric of weaving-based networks; on the other, the state’s broadly neoliberal economic regime has led to the creation of a series of unregulated, loosely-coupled spaces – from industrial ‘special economic zones’ to brick kilns or the growing cash-based, fringe economy of consumption goods – that increasingly draws a workforce of children. My project seeks to map and thickly describe the unfamiliar spaces that children traverse in their movement from loom to school, in order to understand how children participate in and make sense of these spaces, and to explicate the social/relational protections for children embedded in each of these spaces. In so doing, my project critically engages with global conceptions of childhood, as well as the construction of schooling as the primary means of protection for working children, from a perspective that is anchored in their daily lives. Moreover, given the closely-knit social fabric of weaving communities, my project contributes to thinking about children and their rights and protections in ways that are relationally grounded rather than reflecting a western liberal tradition that foregrounds autonomy, rationality and self-interest as the basis of rights. In studying up from children’s lives, my study offers a creative window into the complex and multivalent processes of globalization that (re)produce ways for people to be.