The Politics of Quality and Standards: A cultural economy of Indian solar products in East Africa

Bi-lateral and multi-lateral organisation have put a lot of trust in the power of markets and private capital to upscale humanitarian and development interventions and deliver many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There has been a shift from financial flows being in the form of overseas development assistance to support for markets and private interventions. People are understood as customers of goods and services that are critical for life – education, health, and livelihoods. The SDGs market, in turn, is considered as a significant opportunity for private companies.

The project examines how ideas of quality and quality-standards help and hinder products to circulate and establish in the off grid solar market. It aims to excavate the discourses and knowledges Indian, Chinese, Western, and African firms employ in East Africa when marketing their products in competition with each other. Overall, this project is driven by three key discourses that are apparent in reference to off-grid solar marketization: first, on the importance of high-quality, accredited solar products for marketization and quality standards that promote their circulation; second, around cheap and poor quality products damaging trust in solar technology and undermining the sustainability of marketization; third, on India having been the laboratory for product development, but Africa being the new market. On the basis of these, this project addresses the following questions, with an empirical focus in East Africa:

1. What are the different ideas of quality associated with and employed by Indian, Chinese, Western, and African solar products in comparison to each other in East Africa?

2. What work do different quality-standards do for the everyday life of different off-grid solar products?

3. How do findings from Q1 and Q2 help us rethink the role of quality-standards in market-based development interventions?

For updates on this project and more, follow Dr Ankit Kumar's blog: 

Name of researchers:
Dr Ankit Kumar, University of Sheffield 

Dr Jonathan Balls, University of Cambridge 


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