Kalpana is Senior LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and include the relationships between neoliberalism, gender and concepts of agency, the experiences of women in rural labour movements in South Asia, and the ways in which race is inscribed within discourses and practices of development.
Experience keywords: racism and development; gender and neoliberalism; representations in development; agency; Indian politics; transnational feminist solidarity.
Dr Kalpana Wilson's recent monograph Race, Racism and Development - Interrogating History Discourse and Practice (2012) places racism and constructions of race at the centre of an exploration of the dominant discourses, structures and practices of development. Combining insights from postcolonial, feminist, and race critical theory with a political economy framework, it analyses the relationships between development, race, capital, embodiment and resistance in historical and contemporary contexts. Exposing how race is central to development policies and practices relating to population control, HIV/AIDS, human rights, security, good governance, NGOs, visual representations and the role of diasporas in development, it raises questions about contemporary imperialism and the possibilities for transnational political solidarity.
She is also engaged in ongoing research focusing on the processes through which concepts associated with feminism have been appropriated and transformed by neoliberalism. This explores in particular how gendered and racialised constructions of women's 'agency' have been elaborated within the framework of a neoliberal model of development, and contrasts these with notions of collective agency which emerge from experiences within movements which challenge this model.
Tracing the concept of agency historically through a series of transformations, she argues that within contemporary dominant development discourses the exercise of agency is sought in women's strategies for survival rather than struggles for transformation, and at the level of the individual rather than the collective. Paradoxically, post-modern emphasis on the subject has been incorporated alongside liberal definitions of the 'rational individual exercising free will' in Gender and Development discourses to pursue and legitimise neoliberal economic policies involving intensified exploitation of poor women's labour. This work draws on experiences, approaches and perceptions of women involved in rural labour movements in Bihar in eastern India, collective and explicitly political struggles which have been rendered invisible within the dominant discourses of Gender and Development.
Another strand of this research explores contemporary visual representations in development. This looks at the ways in which the emphasis on neoliberal understandings of agency and empowerment has shaped a turn to 'positive, active' representations of women by development institutions, and examines the specific ways in which these more recent visual productions are both gendered and racialised.