Traditional textile production in India has been a constant struggle for craftspeople. Throughout history, those in seats of power: politicians, thinkers, designers, and policy makers - have limited or denied craftspeople agency. Agency, here, is defined as "the capacity of persons (and things) to act in such a way as to cause or direct the course of events in a social milieu." Today, in response to those limitations, and in recognition that India is a country whose second largest employing industry is handicrafts, there are a variety of cross-cultural initiatives by Indian NGOs, international brands and foreign designers that are engaging with craftspeople in the interest of creating change for and with them. In this context, it becomes critical to ask whether the agency of craftspeople is, in fact, being enhanced through these efforts. Agency fuels individual and collective freedom by enabling the capacities of those marginalized to evaluate and engage with their realities, so as to be powerful agents of social change.
Economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen approaches human development from the capabilities framework, and argues that capability, rather than commodity, is a useful measure of the well-being of a person. Using Sen's capabilities approach as a framework through which to assess agency, this paper will explore the practices of companies such as the Madrid based IOU Project, Fabindia in New Delhi, and the Upasana Design Studio in Auroville, in south India. This thesis asks if agency is accorded to the craftsperson within the current paradigm of textile craft practice in India using three themes: cultural agency in a globalized context, national agency in an Indian context, and regional agency in a cosmopolitan context.