Jayati Lal

jlal [at] berkeley [dot] edu
Visiting Fellow
Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
Appointment Dates:
(Aug 22, 2013 – May 16, 2014)
Research Project:
Making ‘Factory Women’: The Labor of Gender in Late Twentieth Century Indian Capitalism
My project entails a social history of gender and labor in late twentieth century urban India that is based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and interviews conducted with workers, owners, and managers in garment and television manufacturing firms in and around Delhi which span the broad spectrum of workplaces—from large-scale organized factories, fly-by-night workshops and tiny ancillary informal firms to which work is subcontracted, to industrial outwork in workers’ homes. It examines the contours and meanings of gendered work in each of these sites, and traces the emergent subject ‘factory woman’ in India from the late 1980s, during a period of early neoliberal industrial reforms, through the liberalization of the 1990s, to the early 2000s. My book manuscript addresses this from several different angles: it looks at processes of class formation to show the routes by which women come to be factory workers; it examines the language of class and gender in women’s narratives about work that highlights their ambivalent identification towards the factory and hinders their identities as workers; and it explores labor processes on the shop floor that re-inscribe gendered and sexualized corporeal embodiments for women workers. Methodologically heterodox, the project draws on archival materials, ethnographic case studies of factories, and the life histories and narratives of workers to trace new formations of working class femininity of factory women, and to understand how their class and gender identities inform their politics during this period.

Jayati Lal received her PhD in Sociology from Cornell University. She has held teaching positions at several private and public institutions in the U.S., including Boston College, New York University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Most recently, she was a research scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Advanced Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi (2010-2011) and Associate Professor of Sociology at Ambedkar University, Delhi (2011-2013). Her research interests focus on postcolonial articulations of class and gender in the context of global capitalism with particular reference to labor, space, embodiment, consumerism, and subject formation. She is completing a book on women factory workers in Delhi that is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork. The manuscript traces the production of women worker subjects through the materiality of spatial practices and forms of embodiment in shop-floor labor processes, the sociality of workplace friendships, the spatial imaginary and experiences of everyday life in workers’ neighborhoods and public narratives, and their counter-normative articulations of family, kinship relations, and domestic arrangements.


A second area of inquiry has been on global and transnational feminisms, which entailed a comparative historical study of women’s movements, feminisms, and women’s studies in postcolonial, capitalist, socialist, and post-socialist societies. As co-PI on a three-year project entitled “Global Feminisms: Comparative Case Studies of Women’s Activism and Scholarship’ (2002 -2005), she worked with women’s organizations in India, China, Poland, and colleagues at the University of Michigan to produce a public archive of forty-two videotaped oral histories of feminists, women’s studies scholars, and activists from the women’s movements in each of these countries. (See http://www.umich.edu/~glblfem/en/about.html.)

A third and current project is on the transformation of middle class identities and new technologies of the gendered self in contemporary urban North India. Through ethnographic investigations in various new sites of consumer culture, such as direct sales, supermarkets, shopping malls, and advertisements, this research aims to trace the emergence of the neoliberal self and consumer citizen. It explores market based techniques of self-making, the contours of new models of selfhood that are in evidence in public culture, and their links to transformations in middle class domesticity, notions of the ideal family, and narrative constructions of women as rational consumers. Another component of this project examines the growing popularization of psychotherapy among the middle class in Delhi as a means to ascertain the psychological dimensions of middle class gender identities and selfhood. She has been the recipient of several awards and fellowships, and her publications have appeared in anthologies, encyclopedias, and in various international journals including, Critical Sociology,Sociological ReviewSigns, and Feminist Studies.