Wolfgang Sutzl interviews Lata Mani
Duration: 00:17:07; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 268.419; Saturation: 0.072; Lightness: 0.433; Volume: 0.146; Cuts per Minute: 0.175; Words per Minute: 156.444
Summary: Wolfgang Sutzl interviews Lata Mani.
I'm talking to you because I was intrigued by some of the things you proposed yesterday during your speech, and.. but before I go into these things, could I just ask you what your professional background is, because I don't have any information about that..
Wolfgang Sutzl asks Mani about her professional background.
World Information City
Mani talks about her background, and return to Bangalore and seeing the commodification of the masculine body.
No problem. Well, this, my professional background is I did a Ph.D. in a program called history of consciousness, which is basically a cultural studies feminist studies program at the University of California in Santa Cruz, and then I taught at the University of California, Davis for a while in history and women studies and my dissertation work was in Colonial Indian history, and I looked at the debate on Sati (widow burning) in the late 18th and early 19th century.
And since that time I have moved on to working outside the university as an independent researcher and writer. I've always been interested in questions of culture and power, and moved back to.. started coming back to Bangalore in 1999 after a gap of about five years, and was very amazed at the impact of liberalisation, post 1993 on the Indian economy, but also on Indian culture. Reorganisation of work, even such things as gesture, body language, sexualisation of the masculine body in a way, and the commodification of the masculine body in a way which we had not seen before.
So these issues started to interest me, and I started writing about them.
Maybe we could.. maybe we could start right here. You're talking about the impact of.. of liberalisation on the body, on the representation of the body, on sexualisation of the body, sexualisation of the male body, is that what you were saying..
Asks a question about the sexualisation of the male body after liberalisation.
In particular the male body.
I mean, we have in our culture, and in this society, like in many societies of the world, a history where the feminine has been sexualised, and commodified, but what I found quite striking from the mid-'90s onwards was the commodification, objectification and sexualisation of the masculine body.
In what forms is that expressed?
In the.. well, in the way in which the man.. the male body is represented in commercial advertising for example. And the.. of course, it was part of the strategy to expand the entire market of cosmetics and toiletries for men in a way that had not been there before.
The number of products, what was considered a necessary, not just desirable but necessary, for masculine hygiene and so on. So there was a whole range of not just products, but also a whole range of ways in which, actually it wasn't a range of ways it became.. there was an increasingly narrow way in which the male body was represented. You could see that in the advertisements for underwear for example. Which.. which was very interesting to me, the shift was very striking. Not just the explosion of the number of products, but also the explosion of new needs. The creation really, not the explosion.. the creation of a whole new range of new needs that had not existed before.
Q: How would you account for that?
I think it's simp.. very simple. It's no longer just enough to have hair-oil and a comb. And you know, maybe a razor-blade to shave. There was much more that needed to be done, and then there was the concept of the metrosexual male, one who was much more interested in how he looked, what he wore, earrings.. you have a market for male jewellery. Male jewellery might have been associated with perhaps the underworld don in the 1970s Hindi movie, but now became actually fashionable for men to wear male jewellery.
So, I think it's just the exploration and expansion of markets.
In which way.. in which way do you think that the neo-liberalisation, the rise of the.. in its particular manifestation here in Bangalore, the rise of the outsourcing, the BPO enterprises and IT enterprises.. which way does that impact on the social space of women, and the culture, the fe.. the cultural representation of femininity?
Question on impact on cultural representation of femininity by the manifestation of neo-liberalisation in Bangalore.
Revealing the feminine body is increasingly seen to be culturally appropriate, even if sitting uneasily with other forms of femininity. The labour needs of the outsourcing industry fit with the needs of social convention, allowing for more women to stay out late etc., as the families believe them to be safe.
That's a very beautiful question.
I will first say that as.. *excuse me* I will first say that as an academic, I should clarify that you will now receive my impressions as a citizen who walks through the streets, and as someone who reads the paper with an interest in these matters.
But not as someone who has done research. And I also have one disadvantage: I don't watch television. And a lot of this reworking is perhaps most easily observed in the televisual media. But even if one were to go on the basis of billboards and newspaper advertisements, what one notices is, again, a particular.. new forms of sexualising the feminine body, a greater degree of... I', trying to think what would be the right way to put it.. the emergence of certain areas, certain forms of revealing the body which would not have been appropriate, seen to be culturally appropriate, are now increasingly seen to be culturally appropriate, even though they sit rather uneasily with other forms of femininity which much more.. cut across cra.. class and culture.
Now as far as the organisation of work and femininity, there is a way in which.. even though outsourcing means that women.. that they.. the difference between night and day has been obliterated, and/or reorganised, because employees are picked up from home and dropped back at home, it is more possible for more conventional families to imagine that their women are safe, 'cause they're being picked up from home and dropped back at home. So there's a way in which the labour needs of the outsourcing industry are fit neatly with the needs of social convention of the city.
Q: How does that, I mean the.. the.. the classical argument, the one that has often been forwarded is, as soon as.. as.. as women get out of their home and have their own way of being employed, that would actually promote the status of women in society.
Now that.. what you're suggesting seems to run against that. Even within that employment sector that is.. that is.. establishing itself here, the previous model seems to be perpetuated there.
Question about perpetuation of old model within the new one regarding status of women in society.
Well, it's a little.. it's more complicated. The problem with any one example is there could be very many counterexamples. It's a.. Like any socia.. society under rapid transformation, and this rapid transformation, to just set it in context, only applies to something like 4.1% of the population of Bangalore. Even though it is known as the IT city, less than 250,000 people or approximately 250,000 people are employed in the industry, and in a population of seven million, it's a very, very small proportion. But, symbolically, and in terms of representation, it occupies far more space in the public realm than it.. than the numbers justify.
Having said that, I think what we will find is that the impact of these new forms of work and new possibilities of work, high wage work for women, for young people with a modicum of higher education, not very much required, the effects have been contradictory.
For many many young women it has been, it has offered them the possibility of defying parental social control, familial control because they are wage earners. They often earn more than fathers who have worked thirty years in a government context.. government service, which means that they cannot be coerced in ways that they might have been before.
Many people.. I know many people have been able to leave home and pursue life parts that contest the hopes and dreams for them of their parents. There's been the possibility, for example, for gay and lesbian.. young men and women leaving home and being able to set up their own homes as a result of these high wage jobs which was not available to anyone.. anyone before.
So, certain forms of freedom have been made possible, new forms of subjection have also entered the picture. And i think what we're watching now is the battle on the minds, bodies and hearts of the contest between forms of freedom and forms of subjection. And I think that this next generation that is most affected by it will have to then see how and whether they're able to resolve these unresolvable and ultimately social contradictions.
So, there seems to be a great conflict potential there, conflicting forces that operate within the biographies of individual people who have to strike a balance between.. between traditional forms and this kind of neo-liberal ways of life, with biographies that seem to be merging and offering themselves as the only alternative. Are there.. what if somebody wants to look for a third way, between the glittering world of the neo-liberal IT sector and the.. and the old traditional forms? What would they do? Do they.. how would they position themselves?
Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam, in their book titled "Power and Contestation:India since 1989", point to what they term as "New Economies of Desire" that emerge after the dismantling of the state led import-substituting industrialisation model in India. They point to a few examples- the explosion of mobile technology (At the moment a staggering 500 million persons own mobile phones in India); the cassette revolution (introduction of the VCR/DVD technology) and the resulting circulation of this material in new publics, the explosion of the vernacular print media, the explosion of satellite television, all of which contributed to the massive circulation of images and material around sex and sexuality. They point to the fact that these phenomena were not restricted to big cities and spread to a much wider public including small town India. Sex surveys in magazines, dating advertisements in newspapers and online sexual minority communities were part of this larger trend. These changes led to sharper differences within the feminist movement where traditional notions of how the portrayal of female sexuality was always sexist was beginning to be challenged by a anti-censorship feminists. This period also began to see challenges to these developments from conservative elements, right wing forces and cultural vigilante groups--whether it was educational institutions imposing dress codes, or Valentine's day celebrations being attacked by right wing groups, or moral crusaders challenging 'obscene' material on television, this period sees increasing tensions arising from these changes. Menon and Nigam state, "Increasingly it is being argued that the only defensible feminist position is to ensure the proliferation of feminist discourses of sexual pleasure and desire, while recognising that both what is 'feminist' will itself be a subject of internal contestation, and there will always be other discourses of sexuality that will not be feminist in any sense."
One thing I should clarify is that, for example.. it would be wrong to say that the.. since I raised the issue of gay lesbian movements, let me just take that.. continue to take that as an example. It would be wrong to assume that the gay lesbian movement has only been made possible by neo.. by the opening up of the economy. What has been made possible is a proliferation of identities. New identities. And the possibility of a kind of economic wage that supports certain small fraction of the upper class in living out these new identities. So, it's a very very small number of people that we're speaking of, small does not mean insignificant, but just more to just place it in context.
So of course there are traditional means of resisting social control, parental authority, authoritarian labour practices and they co-exist, they are contemporaneous with new forms of possibility and new forms of constraint brought about by these new industries. Which themselves are rapidly undergoing change.
As we've been hearing at this conference, the high paying jobs of the call-centres are slowly becoming down.. down-waged, if there is such a word. So people who are earning higher salaries are now increasingly being offered lower salaries, still higher than what they might have hoped to earn, but not as high as they used to be as capital's greed for higher profit margins and more pliant labour continues to fuel the desire to increase the profit margin. We're bound to see these kind of changes.
And because we're talking about a fairly short period of time historically, I think that the kinds of questions that you are pointing to, in terms of what is it that this generation is going to produce as a forms of resisting this way of controlling their destiny, which is different from the forms of control that they might have been raised to expect, I think that remains to be seen, because we're still talking of people who've only been in the industry for about.. mostly for about five, six, seven years.
So the ground is now the cost of this high wage, I think is only now beginning to be felt in terms of health problems, psychological problems and so forth and so on. And also clearly quality of life issues. People are moving away from the sort of 18-22 age bracket into setting up homes, wanting families, at that point of time, the shrinking of social leisure time and the.. at the.. and your ever-availability to your employer becomes even more of an issue, in a way that may not have been before. Not to mention, sheer exhaustion and burnout.
Change in the lifestyle of the inhabitants who are part of the call-centre industry.
Yesterday, you were talking about the IT industry, and as being built on shifting sand. You were.. you were.. you were referring I think to the informal economic sector surrounding this formal, globalised economic actor, what is it that the shifting sands refer to? The inherent instability of that structure?
The shifting sands refer to the fact that, from the point of view of the total economy, this sector only represents a very small portion of it. And much as the media machine and government propaganda would like us to believe that these forms of outsourcing can catapult us into economic sovereignty, it is not possible. It is ultimately only manufacturing and agriculture that can actually lift a.. a.. a country economically out of poverty, deprivation and so forth.
So that.. the shifting sands was one, a reference to the relative smallness of this industry. The relatively few people who are employed in this industry versus the.. the.. the sheer size of the population of India, and of the labouring population of India, one. Two, the kind of lifestyles into which people are attempted to be seduced, high spending, some notion of mobility (?) which is very unclear to me, it's a pastiche of the tradition and the modern and the so called post-modern, but it seems to me, quite often global seems to me, is a codeword for 24/7 forms of stress etcetera.
I think that these modes of social existence that are being promoted are only amenable and available to very very few people, and are in contradiction with the social, cultural and economic reality of most of India. So that's the quicksand.
And finally perhaps, what has been your impression of the whole World Information City project so far? You've attended a conference, if you've perhaps seen exhibitions or something..
Yes, I've been to the exhibitions, and I've been here at the conference, and I think it's very very exciting.
I think the range of conversations, the range of people, the.. the very way in which spatially the entire event has been dispersed across the city. I think it's very exciting.
I think we need more conversations like this, 'cause I think one of the things that we are in the gravest danger of, is believing the propaganda machine, which makes it seem as though the desire of power is being constantly.. is succeeding. Power may desire to succeed, but it is most often unable to do so.
And I think it is interesting when we meet like this, and we can learn from a variety of research vantage points, how the very structures of domination contain within them the seeds of their own destruction, and I think that's a very hopeful message.
Wolfgang: And with that we shall conclude, thank you v..