Prof. Coralynn Davis (Bucknell University)

Paper Title:

Collaborative Scholarship and the Politics of Participation in a Project Linking Expressive Arts and Social Change in Mithila

Paper Abstract:

This presentation explores how power has been navigated in a multi-modal, collaborative, participatory research project in Mithila. This project explores the interfaces among women’s evolving expressive arts, shifting gender norms, and cultural preservation in Mithila. It aims to create greater public access to and interest in Mithila art, story, and culture while contributing to local knowledge and capacity-building, strengthening intergenerational exchanges and continuities among women, and engaging local people in the expression of, reflection upon, and potential transformation of social and cultural values and practices. Ultimately, the project entails the creation of three distinct but integrated digital resources, namely 1) a public digital archive of women’s folklore, 2) a participatory documentary film, and 3) a web-based educational resource that draws on the prior two and is designed for use in classrooms and community educational settings for the exploration of the emancipatory potential in critical study of narrative traditions. 

I examine the conception of the project, as well as aspects of its execution on the ground and in the aftermath, reflecting on the development of collaborative and participatory relationships, with a focus on how these relationships have both challenged and reinforced power relations on a range of scales. Here adapt a typology of participation developed by Indian economist Bina Agarwal (2001) to examine the quality of relationships among three “core” team members, as well as the larger set of community folk who have participated in the workshopping, enactment and filming of a key women’s festival tale, in addition to interview and storytelling sessions, the creation of painterly depictions, and coordinating and logistical roles in support of the project. I argue that while some reinforcement of existing power dynamics is inevitable, options exist to mitigate and even enact small victories of reversal in those dynamics that may eventuate in longer-term effects.

Participant Bio:

Coralynn V. Davis is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Anthropology, and currently serves as Chair of the Faculty at Bucknell University. An award-winner teacher, Dr. Davis holds a PhD (1999) in Anthropology at the University of Michigan, where she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies (1994). She has held Research Associateships at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center (2005-2006) and at the Harvard Divinity School Women’s Studies in Religion Program (2008-2009). Her ethnographic research with communities in Nepal and India has been supported by three Fulbright Grants (1994-1995; 2003-2004; 2016-2017).  In addition to having published peer-reviewed articles in journals centered in several disciplines, her book Maithil Women’s Tales: Storytelling on the Nepal-India Border was published by University of Illinois Press in 2014.