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At Home with Servants: Modernity, Domesticity and the Indian Middle Class

Lecture by Raka Ray, UC-Berkeley

Monday, June 04, 2007
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Classes come into being not just through practices of consumption or production outside the home but also through labor and intimate practices within the home.   This paper argues specifically that 1) the Indian middle class constitutes itself through certain domestic practices within the home; 2) that the institution of domestic servitude is intimately tied to the self-conscious evolution of a modern Indian middle class and elite, and that changes in the middle class are reflected in changes in servant management techniques; 3) The process of class production and reproduction through the maintaining of domestic servants creates a culture of servitude in which relationships of domination, dependency and inequality are naturalized. In managing households with servants, the Indian middle classes reproduce as normal an unequal society in which groups "naturally" divide along class lines and in which lower classes naturally serve the higher classes. Domestic service then must be seen as an institution that not only produces cleanliness, food and childcare but also produces class.

Raka Ray is Associate Professor of Sociology and South and Southeast Asia Studies, and Chair of the Center for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her areas of specialization are gender and feminist theory, domination and inequality, cultures of servitude and social movements. Publications on social movements include Fields of Protest: Women’s Movements in India (University of Minnesota, 1999; and in India, Kali for Women, 2000), “Women’s Movements in the Third World: Identity, Mobilization and Autonomy” with Anna Korteweg (Annual Review of Sociology, 1999) and Social Movements in India: Poverty, Power, and Politics, co-edited with Mary Katzenstein (Rowman and Littlefeld, 2005).

She is at present writing a book titled Cultures of Servitude: The Making of a Middle Class in Calcutta and New York with co-author Seemin Qayum. Questions of elite and subaltern agency, subjectivity, and memory inform the book’s methodological and interpretive approach. Articles from that project include “Masculinity, Femininity And Servitude: Domestic Workers in Calcutta in the Late Twentieth Century” (Feminist Studies 2000), and (with Seemin Qayum) “Grappling with Modernity: Calcutta’s Respectable Classes and the Culture of Domestic Servitude” (Ethnography 2003).

Image: Servant Quarters of Calcutta Big House, 2004.

Jyoti Gulati310-206-2654

Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia

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