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Becoming and Staying Middle Class in Contemporary India: The Role of Sex Selection and Other Family Strategies

CASI Spring 2018 Visiting Scholar

Ravinder Kaur
Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
Friday, April 27, 2018 - 12:00
Center for the Advanced Study of India 3600 Market Street, Suite 560 (5th floor) University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 19104

About the Speaker:
Ravinder Kaur is a Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. She served as Chair of the Department from July 2015 to February 2018. She has previously taught at the University of Delhi and New York University. Most recently, she offered a course on Gender, Technology, and Society at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. Her current research interests are in the areas of the sociology of gender, family, marriage, kinship, middle class, and technology. She is also interested in issues of migration, class, rural-urban geographies, and more broadly, in processes of social change. She has worked extensively on the issue of skewed sex ratios and has published widely on the subject. Her work in this area spans gender-biased sex selection and its relationship with fertility, class mobility, work, and education. Her ethnographic work on bride shortages and marriage change in Haryana has been seminal to research in this area.

She has co-authored the book, Planning Families, Planning Gender, as well as edited two books: Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalized World (with Rajni Palriwala) and Too Many Men, Too Few Women: Social Consequences of the Gender Imbalance in India and China. She is currently working on a monograph entitled “Strangers as Spouses: Skewed Sex Ratios and Marriage Migration in India.”  

She has worked closely with the UNFPA on research and advocacy on gender-biased sex selection and has served on the Government of India’s Central Supervisory Board of the PC-PNDT (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. She was also one of the five members of the Justice Srikrishna Committee on Andhra Pradesh that decided on the bifurcation of AP into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. She is currently on the editorial board of the journal, Social Forces.

At IIT Delhi, she has coordinated and conducted a study on student underperformance among B.Tech. students (2017)  and also leads their programs and activities on gender sensitization. She is also a recipient of a Teaching Excellence award at IIT Delhi.

About the Lecture:
The last three to four decades have seen significant growth in the size of a heterogeneous middle class in India. Studies show that the number of people identifying themselves as middle class has gone up considerably in the post-liberalization period. Many argue that consumption is central to the performative aspect of being middle class and is the site of reproduction of power relations in modern societies. Rather than focus on consumption, Prof. Kaur examines key mobility strategies employed by the "emerging middle class" in the domains of "family shaping" (size and sex composition), education, and marriage; domains wherein aspiration, consumption, and social and power relations might be seen to come together. She argues that these family strategies have a gendered nature and produce gendered effects. Using ethnographic and quantitative data, she shows that members of this class actively pursue sex selection in their desire to achieve middle class status, thereby contributing significantly to the deterioration of sex ratios. The poor in comparison have better sex ratios as do those who have been able to consolidate their middle class status.