Grandmother, Mother and Daughter: Changing agency of Indian, middle-class women, 1908-2008


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Modern Asian Studies;46 (3)


Cambridge University Press

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Covering one hundred years, this paper recounts the life stories of three generations of middle-class women of the New Delhi-based Kapoor family. By taking the methodological view that individuals born approximately at the same time, within the same class segment, and at the same cultural place will be shaped by the same historical structures so that their lives to some extent are synchronized into a gendered, generational experience, these three life stories are viewed as voices that reflect their respective generational class segments. In view of this, the paper uses the three life stories to discuss changes in women’s agency within the urban, educated, uppermiddle-class. Agency is here understood as control over resources, and it is argued that in order to understand changes in women’s agency, one should take into account the impact of both social, economic structures and cultural ideologies. When analysing the three life stories, the overall finding is that the granddaughter has had more control over her own life than her mother and grandmother. However, by acknowledging that cultural ideologies and social economic structures are not always synchronized, a nuanced and many-dimensional picture of twists and turns in these middle-class women’s degree and type of agency over time emerges.



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