I have been in Sociology for over four decades as student, teacher and researcher. I have also engaged in outreach, advocacy and policy aspects of the discipline. I regard Sociology as a vital knowledge framework for illuminating the dynamics of culture and workings of contemporary society. In a sense, I am also in continuous thrall of its potential for shaping our responses to the world around us, whether or not we are professional sociologists.
I came to Sociology with a bachelor’s degree in natural science (Chemistry, Physics, Botany). In the early 1970s, I was greatly influenced by the emerging feminist movement. My science training did not enable engagement with these personal concerns. I also felt that rather than confine myself to campaigns and protests, I needed to acquire a deeper understanding of the basis of the gendered division of society . Sociology seemed like a way forward. In my sociological trajectory, concern with gender issues has occupied an important place. The intersections of sociology and feminism have given rich theoretical, epistemological and methodological opportunities to address these issues.
Areas of Teaching and Research: Sociology of Indian Society, Cultural anthropology.
Specific research interests: Gender, caste and kinship; Feminist methodology; Archiving Women’s history; Culture and Identity, Indian Diaspora Studies.
My education has been entirely within the Indian system. My teaching too has been largely within India, except for brief stints as visiting faculty in Europe and Canada. My research though has been located both in India and outside, as have been my collaborative, outreach and advocacy activities.
A substantial part of my professional career has been as faculty in the Deparment of Sociology, Bombay, now Mumbai University. Its historical status as the oldest Department of Sociology in the country and its location in India’s commercial capital have shaped my sociological sensibilities. Now in its centenary year, the Department was helmed for many years by Prof. G.S.Ghurye, one of the founders of the discipline in India. Ghurye’s emphasis on empirical fieldwork, and his approach of treating sociology and social/cultural anthropology as a single field have influenced the course of Sociology in India. This is my inheritance too from the Department.
By the time I entered the Department, Sociology itself was questioning the inherited approaches of value-neutral research. In the social sciences and humanities, the objectivity - subjectivity debate was gathering strength. After the romance with independence and nationhood in the 1950s and 60s, the deteriorating socio economic conditions and the disenchantment with the prevalent development model led to the growth of social activism in several sectors. In the academic social sciences, it led to a more direct engagement with issues of equality and social justice and an empirical emphasis on marginalized sections including women and dalits . On the other hand, Bombay city with its commercial ethos and its traditionally tepid response to academic sociology, also, in recent decades, catalyzed an approach of taking job relevance for students seriously. All these influences have been part of my own maturing as a professional.
In the last two and a half decades, Department concerns and dynamics have been changing. More courses were floated that were applied, socially relevant or theoretically innovative. Fieldwork at MA became a compulsory part of the curriculum, with grades. The composition and texture of students - a greater proportion than before from rural, vernacular and socially underprivileged backgrounds, all students – regardless of background - with greater confidence and focus, with clear job orientation, engaging with fresh openings for sociologists in media, civil services, corporate management, NGO sector .
Though predominantly a teacher and researcher, I have considered outreach and advocacy as part of my professional brief, with particular focus on culture and gender.