ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Moral Neoliberals? Social Entrepreneurship in Indian Education Development


Thornton Rich - University of Sussex, Anthropology, Brighton, United Kingdom


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


 The Indian Education Reform Movement (Ball 2016) is a multi-sited network of non-government organisations (NGOs) aiming to ensure the provision of ‘quality’ schooling across India. At the forefront of the Movement are university-educated middle-class individuals who launch ‘start-up’ social enterprises to partner with the government and counter specific ‘problems’ with universal education provision. Here, social entrepreneurship is valorised by the Movement as the most ‘impactful’ ways to change education outcomes. The ultimate professional destination of these educational ‘leaders’ is the UN or the World Bank: where they gain access as much for their moral credentials (their ‘work on the ground’) as for their ‘innovations’ as displayed through their social enterprises.

Reading the event sociologically, I argue that this very middle-class ‘Movement’ is a way to provide socially conscious upper-middle class graduates with an ethical path to prosperity. By employing the frameworks of the ‘moral neoliberal’ (Muehlebach 2012) and ‘entrepreneurial citizenship’ (Irani 2019), I show how the Indian middle-class use the state’s failure to create a new socio-professional home that meets the next generation’s desire for self-actualisation beyond financial stability. The role of ‘social entrepreneur’ becomes a site from which to practise both Gandhian sewa and the glamour of Silicon Valley autonomy – with little actual improvement to the provision of quality schooling in India.