Globalizing Cities, Localizing Cultures and Gendering Spaces

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1 Globalizing Cities, Localizing Cultures and Gendering Spaces Lakshmi Lingam, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Brief Note prepared for the Workshop on Urban Aspiration in Global Cities Max Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity, 9 12 August2009 Globalization as a process has been linked to geographical realignment of production, consumption and sites of power. It proceeds selectively, including and excluding economies, societies and class groups of people in and out of networks of information, wealth and power. Large cities in several parts of the world are undergoing major economic restructuring and spatial transformations as they seek to align more to the global rather than the local. Inside these globalizing cities a new geography of centers and margins is getting played out vis-à-vis opportunities, access to resources, voice and representation. Globalizing cities are reconfiguring the representation of bodies as signifiers of class and consumption status. Sexuality has become the single most debated issue in contemporary India. Notions of private/public, gender norms and expressions of sexuality are undergoing changes to fit labor and consumer markets. There is an upsurge of right wing nationalism with definitions of sovereignty and nation using the idiom of culture. Women as bearers of culture are made responsible for representing the 'national' or religious identity and therefore expected to abide by cultural codes and styles of dress, thus unleashing fresh controls. Women as active agents negotiate their specific identities at the threshold of the interactions of globalization and traditional forms of gender Lakshmi Lingam August 2009

2 identities. Violence against women and girls and discourses on safety and risk snowball into greater policing and surveillance of the bodies of women and the homeless. Urban spaces are marked with different sexual meanings. From the perspective of the state, maintaining law and order, controlling criminality also translates into regulating bodies and public expression of sexuality. Right wing activists and state machinery play the cultural police. The media deploys double speak, one yardstick for the elite (referred to as Page 3 types) and another for the commoners. Issues of sexuality evoke pleasure, desire and adventure for the affluent; and on the contrary danger and disease for the poor. The HIV/AIDS as well as the population control policy discourses effectively inhabit the realm of controlling poor people s sexual lives and family choices. India and China the two countries with world s largest populations attempt to control population (control women s bodies) through the two-child and one-child norm, respectively. The forces of economic integration and neo-liberal deregulation along with international lending organizations have undermined the significance of the state, its welfare role and eroded democratic governance. However, one witnesses a new constitutionalism with language deployed at the policy level internationally and nationally that resonates with phrases like good governance, devolution of power through decentralization and making cities inclusive, by recognizing diversity and also eliminating poverty. The poor and marginalized groups are merely targets/objects of state policy, both positive and negative, for purportedly not embodying a citizen-like agency. Often the rights of the poor, especially migrants from rural areas, as citizens (especially in Mumbai) are disputed if they do not possess a ration card or photo pass or an electoral identity. Women are even worse off then men, because they are not viewed 2

3 as citizens or having an agency. This scenario is closer to the situation in China where several rights and entitlements are linked to household registration system (hukou). Poverty, inequality, migration and exclusion are interlinked processes, closely linked to economic globalization. Globalization is gendered and produces class-based impacts. In India, pre-existing inequalities based on class, caste, gender and region (urban and rural) have grown starkly in the past decades. While official statistics claim declines in poverty figures, relative poverty, disparities and inequalities between classes have sharpened during the period of economic restructuring or reforms. Growing agrarian distress is leading to farmer s suicides in India and an overall increase in migration to urban areas. Selective urban affluence and wide-ranging rural stagnation is the dominant pattern. Educated middle classes are experiencing a spurt in job opportunities as opposed to working classes. There is rapid decline in the manufacturing sector and growth in the service sector, high technology and knowledge based industries. Increase in women s employment is observed among the middle classes and the poor, for different but interlinked reasons. There is a recomposition of labor force, restratification of occupational groups and reconfiguring of urban spaces and consumption patterns. The co-existence of affluent and poor communities is giving way to walled and gated communities of the better off sections and ghettoization of the poor with the threat of eviction and relocation looming large. Women carry the major responsibility of servicing poor neighborhoods. These processes of marginalization are paving the way for the exclusion of the poor from the common conscience of the other strata and more specifically that of planners. 3

4 Civil society discourses are often exclusionary. Several civil society initiatives, with few exceptions, rarely display sensitivity to the social, cultural and economic diversity that exists in the city. The individuals from the better off sections of the city are positioned as 'tax-paying citizens' and the poor are positioned as the 'other' that places undue claims on the city without actually contributing to it. For example: Issues of pavement dwellers, hawkers on the streets, women working in dance bars, are projected as problems that need to be dealt with as a law and order problem. The poor and women as diverse groups engage in what can be referred to as globalization from below, to resist, contest and claim rights, albeit in limited ways. New Issues and New Debates: Recent debates over dance bars in Mumbai have marked out a contested terrain over women s choices in sexual, economic, religious and cultural terms. Women who work in dance bars confound these discourses even further. The controversy in about prohibiting women from working in dance bars in the state of Maharashtra not only magnified the double standards of society but also introduced a confluence of discourses on livelihoods and sexuality the material and the cultural. The 1990s was also the period when the state and families facilitated the movement of young women into work in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector (that is, call centres). Markets and families continuously strive to characterise the call centre girls as respectable women participating in globalising India, in clear contrast to the call girls or bar girls, who are characterised as threatening the moral fabric of society even though all these women inhabit the same night. Safe transportation for women who work in call centres is mandated by the government, but no such requirement exists for women who work in various other sectors at night, whether in hospitals or in bars. Government officials within the executive cadres and in the police service, along with many members of the women s movement, share a common value framework in their diagnoses of the issue and in deploying possible solutions. 4

5 These debates on banning women dancing in bars because it leads to moral decay of men and societies as opposed to protecting women s right to work and need to make it safe had lead to the polarization of the women s activists in the city. This debate provides an opportunity to consider afresh the concept of agency as some kind of freedom to act and its role in contemporary feminist thinking. If all choices are always situated, how do we acknowledge the significance of struggles to earn, to desire or to support, without denying that some choices are more possible and privileged than others? Along with agency, the ways in which we construct sexuality, desire and pleasure also need to be problematised. The women s movement has been divided, at the level of both conceptualisation and strategy, in its response to beauty pageants, media commodification of women s bodies, sex work, pornography and moral policing. The relationship to the state and the stance on censorship has been vexed and much debated. There is a need to complicate and think across the oppositions between coercion and freedom; choice and commodification; culture and economy that have polarised our analytical frameworks and limited our ability to find new critical approaches. Women s movements, lesbian and gay activists and anti-globalisation campaigners of all kinds have also struggled collectively to carve out alternative spaces and modes of regulation. How do we harness that ability to shift the terrain without under-estimating the impact of institutional systems on people s lives? Thinking about these individual and collective efforts is also related to the general political and intellectual crisis over the impossibility of affecting current global economic, cultural and militarised trends. There is a need to critically reflect on how our own situated normative frameworks begin to shape the ways in which we engage with these issues. This exploration seeks to provide a space for investigating how culture, religion, media, kinship, economies, legalities and polities frustrate, mediate or enable the possibility of acting as sexual subjects at this moment in global history. Questions that arise are: 5

6 In what ways are women or gendered persons - bar girls, lap dancers, veil wearers etc. - currently being constructed and constructing themselves as bearers of culture? Do new credit or consumer practices provide an opportunity to harness collective financial agency on sexual and gendered terrain? How are kinship norms and/or reproductive practices being reconstituted through globalising processes? and having an impact on sexual relationships? In what ways are morals, markets and conflicts currently setting agendas for public expression and censoring practices? and influencing the relationship between religion, culture, economics and sexuality as possible constituents of agency? How is access to urban spaces gendered and sexualised? and how is such access affected by changes in migration and mobility patterns? What kinds of sexual and reproductive choices (e.g. partner and child-bearing choices) are becoming more or less publicly acceptable and what does this say about changes in public/private relations? How are globalising processes influencing women s participation in the labour market and how are they impacting on gendered work practices? What do practices of resistance and utopia have to offer our thinking about agency? How do we engage with the state and civil society and their tendency to delegitimise and disenfranchise those with differing normative frameworks? 6

7 Globlising Cities, Localising Cultures and Gendering Spaces Lakshmi Lingam, TISS, Mumbai 10 August 2009 (Gottingen)

8 Mumbai: Its changing contours Developed as a port city during colonial times Developed as a manufacturing hub in the late 19 th century and early 20 th century with a particular focus on textiles End of 20 th century the focus shifted city is now positioned as a financial capital and oriented to service sector struggle to achieve an imagined global city status Lakshmi

9 Shifts evidently in: Labour utilisation patterns Sectoral shifts in occupations with clear class and gender differences Declines in Male employment, especially in the organised sector Increase in Female employment in the service sector at the bottom of the heap Rise in young women s employment in the BPO and hospitality sectors Lakshmi

10 Land Use Patterns Intricately linked to: Population growth Industrial & production requirements Housing Policy Land values & real estate Construction - Real estate Political nexus a re-composition of labor force, re-stratification of occupational groups and reconfiguring of urban spaces and consumption patterns Contemporary landscape is an epitome of contradictions of an urban city with a colonial past and a global future Lakshmi

11 Mumbai: Whose city is it? A new geography of centers and margins is getting played out vis-à-vis opportunities, access to resources, voice and representation Issues of governance, accountability, transparency and civil society responses come up on an everyday basis Poor are denied a citizen-like agency, they are positioned as the 'other' that place undue claims on the city without actually contributing to it Debates on insider and outsider often bring secular groups (wanting a clean Mumbai) and rightist groups (making claims for the sons of the soil ) converge their perspectives on outsiders as disrupting the attempts to achieve a global city Lakshmi

12 Public discourses - Real & material Employment/Livelihoods Housing Access to Public services & amenities (Water, sanitation, health, waste disposal, sewerage, etc.) Claims over spaces or marking out of spaces (festivals & celebrations; access to malls; security and surveillance and gated communities vs. ghettoisation) Lakshmi

13 Public Discourses Cultural & imagined Notions of a true Mumbaikar represented by Lata Mangeskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Ambanis and occasionally the Bacchans Notion of the spirit of Mumbai its grit, determination and resilience Icons of uniqueness with indigenous spirit for example the dabbawalas and economy of Dharavi Lakshmi

14 Cities & Bodies Reconfiguration of bodies as signifiers of culture and consumption of class, caste and religion Notions of public/private, gender norms and sexuality are undergoing change to fit labour and consumer industrial requirements Women as bearers of culture expected to represent national and religious identities dress codes, moral policing, vigilantism are on the raise Lakshmi

15 Urban Aspirations Global city as an expression of Excitement and Desire City that never sleeps the race to be designated as a Pub capital or be able to shop all night shop till you drop whose excitement and desire is seen as legitimate? (pubs and Page 3 life for the wealthy and bars and bar dancing as vice leading to moral decay of the poor and men) Night as a place of work for women and excitement for men (bar dancing) Legitimate and illegitimate night work (call centres and call girls) Lakshmi

16 Urban Aspirations Expression of love and intimacy in public by young people is an urban aspiration (Valentine s Day and expression of intimacy in public spaces dealt with under public nuisance) Sexual minorities attempt to claim spaces in public discourses often face opposition with the convergence of several political configurations across various religious affiliations Need to conceptualize the discourses/debates, particularly with reference to young people, sexual minorities, migrants, single migrant women, religious and ethnic minorities in order to be able to understand and amplify what we understand as urban aspirations that would complicate the understanding of diversity and difference beyond categories of static identities Lakshmi

17 Thanks! Lakshmi

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