South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: Leela Fernandes, Rutgers University
Discussant: Purnima Mankekar, Stanford University
This panel focuses on the ways in which narratives of gender and sexuality demarcate and produce the boundaries of the cultural politics of globalization in postcolonial India. Drawing on research on various cultural sites, the papers demonstrate that processes of globalization are articulated in complex ways with meanings of gender, class and nation. By unraveling these interrelationships, the panels seek to demonstrate the central role of discourses of gender and sexuality in mediating the social, cultural and economic disjunctures of globalization. In the process, the panel also demonstrates that the formation of identity (for instance of class and gender) is also shaped by tensions and conjunctures between the nationalist imagination and the global cultural economy.
The three papers bring these broad themes together through distinctive analyses of popular culture in urban India. In particular, the papers demonstrate that consumption (of commodities, womens bodies, visual cultural texts) constitutes an important site for an analysis of the effects of economic liberalization in India. Grewals paper uses an analysis of the emergence of a Barbie doll in a sari to explore the ways in which consumers serve as active participants in the construction of national, gendered and classed subjectivities through their consumption practices. Fernandes paper argues that the political disorder associated with economic change is managed through new technologies of power which reassert social order by policing the boundaries of womens lives, bodies and sexualities in various sites of cultural representation. Oza uses a critical analysis of discourses on and resistances to the 1996 Miss World contest to explore the links between nationalism, sexuality and commodification in India. The papers shift away from the teleological assumption that transnational capitalism simply produces westernized cultural homogeneity. They seek to interrogate categories such as resistance, agency and nation and explore the contradictory effects of the shifting relationship between nation, culture and economy in the context of the historically specific processes of economic liberalization in contemporary India.
Inderpal Grewal, San Francisco State University
This paper explores the corporate and cultural practices under economic liberalization in India in order to understand the emergence of Barbie in a sari created by Leo Mattel, Mattel Corporations affiliate in India. The history of Barbie criticism in the U.S. is a large field, mostly written from the feminist viewpoint, a field which continues to grow in the direction of U.S. based race and queer studies. However, very little in this area of U.S. feminist and cultural studies concerns the matter of Barbie in the world. The material and cultural practices of the marketing of Barbie in India reveal a great deal about transnational formations and the cultural contexts in which liberalization occurs in India. By focusing on consumers as active participants in the construction of national, gendered, and classed subjectivities through consumption, I analyze the new subjects of consumption that have emerged as a result of transnational formations such as economic liberalization and the impact of the Indian diaspora.
These subjects, however, cannot be seen as wholly resistant to the spread of economic liberalization, but may certainly subvert the project either by not being hailed by it or because they reject it being differently constituted as subjects. The failure of new products on the market certainly suggests such possibilities; people do not buy indiscriminately, and why certain products sell and others dont suggests important issues of culture, identity and subjectivity. Resistance to multinationals in India comes from many locations and is being mounted but also recuperated by the multinational companies. Yet such resistances are recuperated by transnational interests since they are another form of consumer culture that objectifies more "authentic" versions of Indianness as nativism. For instance, Barbies mixed success in the Indian market and its marketing campaigns suggest the project of the production and self-construction of new consumer subject in India that has occurred in this decade.
Leela Fernandes, Rutgers University
The paper analyzes the ways in which the cultural and economic tensions and disjunctures associated with the new economic reform policies being implemented in India in the 1900s occurs through a set of gendered political processes. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Bombay, I argue that the political disorder associated with economic change is managed through new technologies of power which reassert social order by policing the boundaries of womens lives, bodies and sexualities. New policies which have opened the Indian economy to foreign commodities have resulted in a contest between both Indian companies and multinational brands, one which has played out through a competition to associate their products with symbols of Indian nationhood. Such images of consumption serve to produce the boundaries of the urban public cultural sphere and begin to define the aesthetic and cultural standards of what counts as ideal individual, family and community cultural and social practices. A central category of images, for instance, attempts to associate domestic commodities with particular forms of class and gender identity. Such images are rife with scenes of idealized heterosexual domesticity which reproduce a sense of order that may quell the anxieties of forms of cultural, social and economic disorder associated with economic liberalization.
The cultural disjunctures associated with economic liberalization are often contradictory, particularly in relation to the production of a new middle class identity. Thus, images of domesticity and the social order of nuclear family coincide with images of professionalized, westernized urban women. Indeed, to a large extent, the paper demonstrates that such contradictory effects for the urban middle classes are being addressed and managed through new forms of public discursive engagementfor instance through new cultural forms including television talk shows which have transformed public discussions and interrogations of gender roles and of womens sexuality. On one level, these new cultural forms provide spaces for conceptualizing womens agency and resistance within the context of nationalism and transnational capitalism. However, on a second level, the paper argues that such forums also serve as a means for managing the changing roles of middle class women as rising inflation and unemployment have forced middle class women into the workplace. Hence, such cultural spaces attempt to contain and reinscribe these changing roles within the ordered social unit of the heterosexual family.
Rupal Oza, Rutgers University
In September 1996, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) announced that hosting the Miss World Pageant provided the perfect opportunity to "showcase" India to the world. In reaction to the announcement, however, members of political parties, national and local womens organizations, farmers groups, students and trade unions organized large demonstrations, wrote petitions, filed Public Interest Litigations in court, and threatened to damage the venue of the Pageant. The publicity and strong vocal reaction brought to the fore several conjunctures of debate. Nationalism, Culture, Indian Womanhood, Globalization, Sexuality, Sexism and Gender were claimed to be under threat, re-invented, or ignored. The question this paper will address is, how does the anxiety that the Pageant generated inform issues such as sexuality, sexism, commodity and nation in "open-market" India?