Skip to main content

Professor pens new book examining neoliberalism, feminism and women's education in India

Shubhra Sharma, the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, has authored the newest book in Palgrave Macmillan's Comparative Feminist Studies series. "'Neoliberalization' as Betrayal: State, Feminism and a Women's Education Program in India," available now, examines the relationship between neoliberalism, women's education and spatialization of the state through a critical examination of the implementation and outcomes of Mahila Samakhya, a government-sponsored education program for women's empowerment in India.

Sharma uses ethnography to examine how a program designed to empower women in rural India in the 1990s eventually disenfranchises them through the creation of a "new" education that is institutionalized over time. "I follow one particular case to really look at how international ideas about development and women's education in the 1990s were implemented on a local level and how, if these programs empowered women, they also disempowered them," she said. Through interviews with the state and non-state actors who created, implemented and experienced the Mahila Samakhya program, Sharma challenges traditional feminist practices and draws attention to the connection between projects for women's education and spatialization of the state, especially under conditions of economic liberalization in the 1990s post-cold war.

"Sharma has written a fascinating book about women's education and 'empowerment' in India," Monica J. Casper, professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, wrote in a review. "Grounded in a decade of reflexive, robust ethnography, her provocative work challenges taken-for-granted ways of doing and writing 'third world' feminism. In Sharma's account, empowerment is less about progressive practices for change and much more about the production of subjects within governance structures. She skillfully weaves women's own stories and experiences into an engaging and informative account of state authority, feminist expertise and betrayal under neoliberalism.

This is anthropology for the twenty-first century." The book, Sharma's first, is the latest in a series of feminist studies edited by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, a well-known transnational feminist theorist who serves as chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University. Sharma joined the Connecticut College faculty in 2010 and teaches a variety of gender and women's studies, anthropology and international relations courses, including "'Chutney-Popcorn:' Bollywood, Globalization and Identity" and "Feminist Social Science Research Methods: Ethnography." She is currently conducting research on transnational imaginings of self and nation amongst diaspora Indian communities in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Toronto, Canada. - By Amy Martin

June 13, 2011