‘Somehow I Will Learn To Do All This Work’: A Relational View of Women’s Everyday Negotiations of Agency in Surguja, India

  • Shreya Jha

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis draws on in-depth narratives of adivasi women’s lives in Surguja, India, to understand their everyday negotiations of agency. I trace women’s responses during key events in their lives, what shaped their responses, and the resultant changes in their lives to analyse whether these actions constitute agency.I pose four questions to conceptualise women’s agency. First, how can we retain the link between structure and agency in individual accounts of agency? Second, in what actions is women’s agency identified? Third, does understanding women’s agency differently alter our understanding of men’s agency? Lastly, how does a relational perspective add to conceptualisations of agency?I argue, first, that agency emerges from context, which is a complex of individuals’ immediate circumstances, their relative positions in multiple structures or fields, and the importance of various fields relative to each other. Secondly, these constantly shifting contexts imply that agency increases and decreases across time. Thirdly, agency takes a range of forms including silence, internal reflection, speech, and overt actions. Fourth, it emerges in patterns of behaviour over time rather than isolated actions. Fifth, actions change meaning over time, especially when they have positive outcomes, thereby producing potentially agentic narrative identities for individuals. Lastly, I argue that women’s structural positions draw attention to their relationships- including their affective aspect, and the inherent sociality of individuals. Relationships mediate and motivate actions; they are the sites where agency emerges. The evolving nature of relationships over time implies that agency is a process rather than a static quality.This relational, contextual understanding of agency challenges policy prescriptions aiming to increase women’s agency in instrumental ways that often reinscribe patriarchal scripts. Instead, in being sensitive to the almost tenuous manner in which agency emerges in women’s accounts of their lives there is a greater possibility of creating environments that better enable the women’s agency.
Date of Award19 Jul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSarah White (Supervisor) & James Copestake (Supervisor)


  • Agency
  • Women
  • India
  • narrative identity

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