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Swati Venkat

MA work

Reinventing the Wheel: Technologies in Gandhi's Khadi Movement 1917-1935

The twentieth century bore witness to the birth of a radical social experiment in colonial India. Amidst political upheaval and intense nationalist activity, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi directed the energies of the nation into a programme of economic reconstruction that hinged on the spinning-wheel and the coarse homespun 'khadi' fabric produced through it. The aim was not merely that of independence from imperial rule through challenging the hegemony of Manchester and Lancashire textiles but that of ‘swaraj’ or true liberation born out of self-reliance in all aspects of individual and collective life.

Persistent focus on the political dimension of Gandhi’s career has resulted in khadi being viewed as a form of resistance designed to expedite nationalist goals. This has ended up obscuring narratives of the reform and innovation that propelled this movement. By viewing the khadi movement as an instance of design, this study attempts to unfold a picture of the novel and visionary deployment of technologies in pursuit of an alternative modernity grounded in the core precepts of non-violence and self-sufficiency. Challenges and failures faced in the translation of khadi ideology into living practice offer insights into the minds of khadi’s protagonists and practitioners, revealing multiple, varied and sometimes conflicting conceptions of ‘ideal’ technologies. Drawing upon new directions in research on Gandhian science, it is argued that khadi may be seen not as retrogression but as a parallel course to the hegemonic conception of progress, and as a revolutionary paradigm that sought to re-insert compassion and ethics into economics and technology.


  • Portrait
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • Degrees

  • Graduate Diploma in Textile Design, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 2011
  • Experience

  • Associate designer (research), National Institute of Design (on behalf of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi), 2012; Volunteer, Clothworkers' Centre Project, the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013
  • Awards

  • Gillian Naylor Essay Prize in Memory of Tom Naylor, 2013; Anthony Gardner Travel Award for the Asian Specialism, 2013