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Fields of Protest

Women’s Movements in India

1998
Author:

Raka Ray

Fields of Protest

A comparative analysis of women’s struggle for change in India.

The women’s movement in India has a long and rich history in which millions of women live, work, and struggle to survive in order to remake their family, home, and social lives. Using an innovative and comparative perspective, Ray offers a unique look at Indian activist women and adds a new dimension to the study of women’s movements on a global level.

Raka Ray provides a rich and riveting account of how women's organizations and feminist identities are actively formed in specific local struggles. Her approach offers a model for comparative political analysis that can readily be extended to other countries and different social movements. Ray relates protest politics and conventional political activities in a way that is both novel and convincing.

Myra Marx Ferree, University of Connecticut

The women’s movement in India has a long and rich history in which millions of women live, work, and struggle to survive in order to remake their family, home, and social lives. Whether fighting for safe contraception, literacy, water, and electricity or resisting sexual harassment, they are participating in vibrant and active women’s movements that are thriving in many parts of India today.

Fields of Protest explores the political and cultural circumstances under which groups of women organize to fight for their rights and self-worth. Starting with Bombay and Calcutta, Raka Ray discusses the creation of “political fields”-structured, unequal, and socially constructed political environments within which organizations exist, flourish, or fail. Women’s organizations are not autonomous or free agents; rather, they inherit a “field” and its accompanying social relations, and when they act, they act in response to it and within it. Drawing on the literature of both social movements and feminism, Ray analyzes the striking differences between the movements in these two cities.

Using an innovative and comparative perspective, Ray offers a unique look at Indian activist women and adds a new dimension to the study of women’s movements on a global level.

Fields of Protest

Raka Ray is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fields of Protest

Raka Ray provides a rich and riveting account of how women's organizations and feminist identities are actively formed in specific local struggles. Her approach offers a model for comparative political analysis that can readily be extended to other countries and different social movements. Ray relates protest politics and conventional political activities in a way that is both novel and convincing.

Myra Marx Ferree, University of Connecticut

This is one of the most important books about women’s movements written in the past decade. Fields of Protest is a rich and compelling account of the vitality and complexity of the contemporary Indian women’s movement. Eminently readable.

American Journal of Sociology

Raka Ray’s very important and vividly-textured study of women’s radical political activism in Bombay and Calcutta between the seventies and the nineties, breaks two of the strongest walls of silence: about Left-radical politics, and about women’s self-organization and modes of struggle within as well as against the grain of Left discourses. Written with sparkle, lucidity and affection.

Economic and Political Weekly

Drawing on the literature describing social movements and feminism in India, Ray analyzes the differences between the causes that define women’s struggles in Bombay and Calcutta and the differences in their style and strategy. She also traces the history of women’s movements in India and provides a list of political parties and women’s organizations in India.

India Abroad

This is one of the most important books about women’s movements written in the past decade. An eminently readable book. A rich and compelling account of the vitality and complexity of the contemporary Indian women’s movement.

American Journal of Sociology

Raka Ray’s very important, scholarly and vividly-textured study of women’s radical political activism in Bombay and Calcutta breaks two of the strongest walls of silence. Ray has a good eye for detail, a sensitive feel for a complex dialectic between the personal and political. She uses extremely imaginative fieldwork methods, and her considerable narrative skills add to as well as bear out her analytical points through life sketches and descriptions of encounter between investigator and women activists. The study ranges over a formidably vast and complex field and it is a welcome bonus that it is written with such sparkle, lucidity and affection.

Economic and Political Weekly

This is a innovative comparative political analysis. Ray’s use of personal life stories of activist women helps to create an interesting and lively discussion of local women’s movements in a global context.

Journal of Women’s History

Raka Ray’s book is an end-of the-millennium gem in the treasure chest of literature on women’s movement in India. Ray gives us an important book. Her historical details regarding the political realities in Bombay and Calcutta are as impressive as the exhaustiveness of her interview-based research. Ray’s book offers stylistic and methodological insights that can attract the attention of an India novice as well as prove useful to a seasoned India researcher, interested in local-level politics and local women’s movements.

Gender and Society

Fields of Protest is an important demonstration of how collective interests and identities are shaped within varying locations.

Feminist Collections

Raka Ray’s skillful analysis. Provides an understanding of the regional variations in the issues and agendas of the women’s movement through a comparison of women’s organizations in two metropolitan cities.

Feminist Studies

Fields of Protest is a graceful, smart, careful study. Its central argument is clearly developed and well substantiated through reference to excellent interviews with activists in the two cities. Ray deftly moves back and forth between the local, regional, and national level, the stories of activists and debates among sociologists and women's studies scholars. What Ray does very successfully is to fulfill her promise of moving beyond the simple dichotomy between heroism and victimization to explore the nuanced, complicated ways in which women live, work, and struggle.

Journal of Asian Studies

An informative and exciting read for those interested in rethinking feminist activism in India and other countries in relation to its contexts of Left and political activity, and for those interested in re-siting the articulation of political struggle in urban, rather than simply regional and national spaces.

Chicago South Asia Newsletter

A significant contribution to the comparative study of social movements. Raka Ray paints a vivid picture of the contrasting modes of women’s activism in Calcutta and Bombay.

Mobilization

Uses the notion of political ‘fields’ (from Bourdieu) to intervene in what has often been a highly theoretical debate about the relative importance of gender and class in feminism. It is rich and highly nuanced. This approach allows those interested in comparative feminist movements and other social movements to investigate how environments structure the issues which are aired and those which remain submerged. It allows us to ask how political cultures matter, and how they shape political protest.

Women and Politics

Fields of Protest

Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Political Parties and Women's Organizations in India

1. Women's Movements and Political Fields
2. From Lived Experiences to Political Action
3. Calcutta: A Hegemonic Political Field
4. Negotiating a Homogeneous Political Culture
5. Domination and Subordination in Calcutta
6. Bombay: A Fragmented Political Field
7. Coexistence in a Heterogeneous Political Culture
8. Domination and Subordination in Bombay
9. Identity, Autonomy, the State, and Women's Movements

Methodological Appendixes
Notes
Bibliography
Index