ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Engendering Geographic Research in India

Doing Gender, Doing Geography: Emerging Research in India edited by Saraswati Raju and Kuntala Lahiri Dutt (New Delhi: Routledge); 2010, pp 318, Rs 795.

BOOK REVIEW

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Engendering Geographic Research in India Anant Maringanti hospitable environment in which women geographers in India practise their craft. The title Doing Gender, Doing Geography refers then to the practise of geographic research in India informed by gender sensibilities and aiming to undermine unequal power relations. In this way, the title

“We end up doing the empirics,

they get to do the theory”, is

an oft-heard complaint from researchers in India working in collaboration with researchers from the north. It is not that Indian researchers have nothing to say about theory. They just do not get to say it. Doing Gender, Doing Geography is a commendable volume that does not just speak theory but also asks who gets to do theory, and where and why they get to do it.

Apart from two excellent overviews by Raju and Dutt, this volume is divided into three major sections. Four chapters are contained in a section titled “World of Work”, and two each in sections titled “Reproduction, Survival and Care”, and “Domestic and Public Spaces”.

In their introduction and two independent chapters, Raju and Dutt trace the two historical trajectories of feminism and geographic research in the Anglophone world, and feminism and geographic research in India. The editorcontributors ask and propose some convincing answers to why it is that the two never meet, interspersing a dense

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
september 3, 2011

Doing Gender, Doing Geography: Emerging Research in India edited by Saraswati Raju and Kuntala Lahiri Dutt (New Delhi: Routledge); 2010, pp 318, Rs 795.

narrative of both well-traversed intellectual pathways and uncharted territory with personal anecdote. They argue that what inhibits feminist geographic research in India is first, geography’s own disciplinary predilections as a social science discipline that strives to distinguish itself from other social sciences, and second, women researchers’ inhibitions in claiming to be feminist, a description that still comes with negative associations. Raju describes a student who shied away from a research problem because senior colleagues in her own discipline would dismiss it as aping sociology, and Dutt describes her horror on seeing a six-page article (presumably from a researcher in a comparable situation to Indian researchers) published in an international refereed journal accompanied by elaborate and patronising commentary by three (presumably white) scholars. These narratives sum up the hostile and far from

vol xlvi no 36

maintains a connection, albeit a thin one, to the sense in which the expression “doing gender” is used in much of Anglophone feminist geography. Among feminist geographers in the United States (US), Europe and Australia, “doing gender” is a trope that refers to a particular moment in the 1980s when feminist resear chers in sociology and geography began to insist on the fact that methodological choices are ultimately political choices as well. This insistence that method is political grew from struggles to get away from understandings of gender as biologically determined. In other words, it is not differences in the anatomy of reproductive organs that make a woman a woman and a man a man. It is norms of behaviour internalised, enacted and reproduced across time and space that produce gendered identities. It follows then that “doing gender” implies producing qualitatively different, if not insurgent, knowledge within and across disciplines that are dominated by rigid norms of masculinity. It also implies that doing gender implies asking questions about women’s presence in the corridors of power of higher education.

BOOK REVIEW

This volume will be useful not just for of Regional Development at some point geographers but for all social science dis-or the other; there is hardly any represen

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ciplines as it showcases a range of quantitative and qualitative work carried out in what remains a hostile territory both to feminism and to geography. The introduction and the first two chapters are a mustread not just for budding geographers in India but for informed readers across all social science disciplines both in India and overseas. To Indian readers, these chapters explain both how conversation with geography can enrich their own work, and how dominant possibilities of knowledge production are constrained by gender relations within a discipline. Overseas readers can benefit from listening to some talkback from Indian colleagues and gain an understanding of how one’s location in geopolitical power relations (say an Indian university versus a British university) determines whether one gets to merely do empirical research or enunciate theory. The remaining chapters in the book showcase research that demonstrates how by taking on-board questions of gender, young geographers in India are able to produce insights into how gender norms are inscribed in spaces/places, and how places/spaces in turn reinforce or alter the enactment of gender norms. The sites of these studies are diverse – homes, workplaces and streets. The skill demonstrated in working with the available toolkit of Indian geographic schools – statistics, maps, surveys, interviews and visuals – is impressive.

The volume is evidently put together in the face of severe odds, not the least of which is the sparseness of high-quality publishable research emanating from Indian geography departments, and resear chers’ preference for publishing first in international refereed journals. Yet it is valuable to take note of two shortcomings of the volume, more in the spirit of flagging concerns that need to be taken on-board in future work. The book remains, nevertheless, a useful addition to the sparse shelves of geography textbooks in India at the graduate and undergraduate level.

The first of these shortcomings is the skewed geography of the contributing authors’ affiliations. Five of the six contributors and one of the editors has been affiliated with the Centre for the Study tation of geographic research from south of the Vindhyas. The second issue has to do with the perplexing silence on caste in the volume. This silence is conspicuous because in recent years, particularly since anti-caste activists participated in the Durban Conference on Racism, a new crop of young scholars has begun to raise new challenges to the women’s movement in India. These challenges are marked by a political acuity and intellectual sophistication. Insofar as gender is a social construct, as the authors insist, and gender sensibilities are about equality and justice, geographic research on gender in India simply cannot turn away from caste. Surely, a geographic imagination that begins with a dialectical understanding of space and society can do better than to merely acknowledge caste and class as important factors alongside gender as the authors do. The social construction of caste and gender can no more be contained in two separate analytical boxes.

Finally, and following upon the two shortcomings noted above, the volume leaves the reader wondering why at least a tentative agenda for engendering and fostering new geographic research in India could not have been included in the volume. It is a strange irony that in any international geography quiz, Indian students can outshine American students and yet when it comes to sophistication in theory and empirical research, it is universities in the Anglophone world outside India that dominate. Addressing this disjuncture needs concerted action at multiple levels. This volume comes at a time when geographic research is on the threshold of a new era, where opportunities for intervention are proliferating for researchers with geographic sensibilities and training in the necessary tools of the trade. Therefore, such an agenda, however tentative, could have made the difference between an agreeable nod and enthusiastic support from the intended readers of the volume.

Anant Maringanti (amaringanti@gmail.com) is an independent scholar specialising in human geography, based in Hyderabad.

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september 3, 2011 vol xlvi no 36

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