Video abstract – Matt Baillie Smith and Katy Jenkins talk about 'Existing at the Interface: Indian NGO Activists as Strategic Cosmopolitans'

“[Academics]…have a culture of making it look easy, and of concealing as much as possible ‘the raw material of poetry in all its rawness’” – Natalia Cecire, Arcade

This will ring all too true for many. The papers one sees in the pages of peer-reviewed journals seldom show signs of the struggles through which they developed; the myriad mistakes made and dead ends encountered are erased from the finished article. It’s as if errors are things which Other People do, and uncertainties aren’t for People Like Us…

An exaggeration, perhaps. Still, Matt Baillie Smith and Katy Jenkins’ candid discussion of the history and present condition of the project from which their paper, ‘Existing at the Interface: Indian NGO Activists as Strategic Cosmopolitans‘, developed is remarkably refreshing.

The paper, as they explain, uses life history narratives to explore the multiple and overlapping scales and sites through which the cosmopolitan subjectivities of activists in Indian NGOs are constituted. Neither elite nor subaltern, how the positioning of these ‘intermediate’ activists shapes their subjectivities in diverse ways over time and place is explored, drawing on the idea of a ‘strategic cosmopolitanism’ to consider their negotiations of development and global civil society.

In their discussion below, Matt and Katy sketch out the paper’s content before anatomising their fieldwork practice, the problems they encountered, and – most importantly – how working through these led to new questions and research openings.