Solo-cities – Abstracts

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Solo-cities:  Representations of the ‘Single’ in Urban Spaces – 
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Lucie Bernroider
Going it alone? Young women’s spatial autonomy and the intricacies of neighbourhood place-making in Delhi

In a (heterosexual) marriage centred society that does not easily accommodate single women living independently from their families, a separate dwelling place in the city offers some respite from entrenched moral controls of the parental household, such as curfews and limitations on mobility. However, young women living away from their families in Delhi often find that social pressures and the monitoring of women’s sexualities are perpetuated within urban space, as patriarchy and male bias become manifested in neighbourhood politics and the moral policing of women living alone. This paper looks at how young urban women in their mid-twenties to early thirties living away from their families in the city’s more affluent area of South Delhi employ numerous emplacement practices within their neighbourhoods and the wider scale of the city. Though they navigate spaces of a city that often prove hazardous, the way single women pursue independent inner-city living requires versatility across multiple registers. A balancing act of both complying to and transgressing circumscribed boundaries dispels simple representations of women as ‘victims of the city’, women formulate alternative narratives of the city and its spaces in the face of marginalisation manifested in urban structures and practices. With special attention given to South Delhi’s urban villages, the paper will explore different morphologies of urban space that may impact on women’s access and their ability to find comfort and familiarity in new environments. Asking how neighbourhood public spaces figure as places of encounter, interwoven with both the banalities of everyday life and the occasional jolts of pleasures and excitement as well as threat and indignation, I will explore single women’s experience and impact on such neighbourhood spatialities, which are in turn implicated in the social landscape of a rapidly changing metropolis marked by multiple dynamics of inclusion and exclusion.

Brinda Bose
Singles and Doubles at Sixes and Sevens

The earliest citation of the English idiom, ‘at sixes and sevens’, is traced to Chaucer’s Troilus and Crisyede (1374), where it denoted the careless risking of one’s entire fortune at a game of dice. The phrase has since evolved to signify a state of confusion, disorder, even disagreement between parties. I would like to invoke the doubling up, or the layering if you will, of both these meanings in a rumination here on sex, risk, singleness and coupledom in the contemporary Indian city.
This paper will locate itself in a liminal space between the (obvious) dangers of being ‘single’ (and female) in the city and the moral panics now exhibited by all authority figures at any kind of coupling that is ‘illicit’ (i.e., outside of the narrow ambit of heterosexual marriage) in the city. In this age of increasing CCTV surveillance of, and alarming police raids on, shared private lives, have we arrived where it becomes, curiously enough, equally dangerous to be spending private/intimate time as couples in what we think are safe, bustling, anonymous, modern city spaces as it is to be occupying them singly? We know that women trying to strike out solo in various ways in cities expose themselves to many risks, as the parameters of this conference mark out. (This would be true of single men as well in certain circumstances.) But while there can hardly be a quarrel with this formulation, now there is this: that the increased moral policing of sexed intimacies between unmarried couples of all and any hue, by the state as well as by social communities emboldened by the state, extends the risk of being single in the city to being coupled in the city as well. One may need to redefine the very concept of ‘singleness’ then as that which is singular, that which transgresses the legal and the normative and pushes the boundaries in unique, distinct ways contra to the morally acceptable. We may thus have to re-do the numbers in a newer understanding of urban risk, in which sexuality is a threat to the state’s moral stability, and single is no longer a digit but a singular state of combat.

Paromita Chakravarti
Of Hostels, Shelters and Streets: Habitations and single women in Kolkata

The proposed paper examines selected working women’s hostels in Kolkata to demonstrate how a particular ideology of urban women’s singleness is constructed through the spatial organization, administrative norms, everyday regulations and interpersonal relationships of the inmates (with varying backgrounds, class, age and employment status) as well as the specific histories and objectives of these institutions. From the 1940’s as the participation of women in the workforce increased, these hostels came up in Kolkata, providing a supportive environment for women to work and live independently in the city. For many women from the districts, these spaces enabled an expansion of social and intellectual horizons, the possibility of continuing higher education and opportunities of participation in nationalist and Left political movements.  However, these hostels also bear the legacy of earlier organizations of single women like “ashrams” for widows and shelters for destitute women or prostitutes which were established by nationalist reformers with a view to regulating the sexualities of unattached women and making then socially productive by teaching them vocational skills. Through a study of three working women’s hostels supported variously by a NGO, a nationalist association for the “upliftment” of women and a Left organization, the paper will show how these spaces understand single women’s lives, needs and problems very differently. While providing a means to live outside the regimes of the heteropatriarchal family and home, they create their own regimes of “acceptable” female singleness in the ways in which they normativise notions of women’s work, leisure, sexuality and safety.
As a counterpoint to the hostels, the paper will also examine how the streets of Kolkata construct homeless women’s singleness as a stigmatised identity, associated with the dubious label of being a sexually available “street woman”. However, for some women who have left the oppressive homes and violent marriages, the streets also represent an ambiguous freedom.

Sheba Chhachhi
Public Intimacies

How do we think about public art, art activism or even the public sphere itself within instrumentalised image regimes? How do new forms of representation and visual mobility, assertions and interventions from within political movements, as well as insertions by artists/art institutions in the public sphere of the city speak to changing articulations of feminism, and the women’s movement? This presentation examines these questions, amongst others, through the prism of my own work in the city of Delhi, as an activist and chronicler of the women’s movement, from the 1980’s and as an artist making public art interventions from the 2000’s. Located in a wide range of urban spaces – community halls, shanty towns, cultural centres, petrol pumps, libraries, shopping malls and museums, these experiments could yield insights into the modes of address and vocabularies of public art which ask for critical reimagining.

Maddalena Chiellini
The Drive to Drive: mobility and aspiration amongst young women in Delhi

The paper explores different types of physical mobility and driving practices young women enact in Delhi, and how they influence and condition daily life and personal aspirations on career opportunities, family relations and friendship. By focussing on preliminary research conducted with students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), young professionals from South Delhi, female taxi drivers and women bikers, it looks at how different driving practices play a role in constructing representations, ideas and geographies of the city of Delhi but also womanhood and singlehood. The latter is intended as being unmarried and unaccompanied in public space, but also alone in one’s aspirations and choices vis-a-vis an ethnically differentiated, highly constructed, socially diverse, and politically charged environment. Whilst Delhi is often portrayed in the media and in popular culture as deeply unsafe for women, the paper aims at unveiling the daily dynamics that construct an imagination of the city in women’s minds and how these are the negotiation of relationalities that in turn produce subjectivities and perceptions of the self. The focus on four different groups allows to analyse how these themes unravel differently according to age, social class, profession, family and ethnic background, but also how mobility for women is far from a homogeneous experience and how it is connected with social mobility through discourses on empowerment, gender equality and the changing role of women in Indian society.

 IP Tsz Ting (Penn)
An Affective Home: Rural-Urban Migrant Women in Shanghai

Shanghai’s population comprises more than four million rural-urban migrant women. They are part of the “floating population” – rural migrants without hukou (household registration) in their urban destinations. This rural-urban workforce is extremely gendered and segmented according to strong Confucian patriarchal underpinnings. Migrant men are commonly hired as construction workers, craftsmen, and manual workers, while women work as garment workers, domestic workers, service workers, etc. (Fan 2003). In Shanghai, the low-skilled labour market is also segregated by age, as is shown explicitly in the restaurants’ job advertisements: for servers, only young, single women are wanted.
In a culturally specific situation where singlehood is encouraged and rewarded, young rural women join the food and beverage service industry as temporary workers. They accept low wages and long working hours in exchange for job opportunities. Significantly, this industry demands affective labour, emphasising a good work attitude (Hardt and Negri 2004). In close encounters with local people and foreigners, rural women’s bodies are exposed to the globalised city space where cultural flows are complex and hierarchal. The workplace’s exploitative practices, the city’s social hierarchy, and the state’s discriminatory policies offer limited private space for these women.
Given these systematic exclusions, this paper positions their lives as in an emergent state of precarity. How is it possible for these women to feel a sense of “home” in Shanghai, a city that controls their physical presence and provides limited private space? Based on my fieldwork among rural migrant women in Shanghai, I analyse how young, single migrant women negotiate the city, in particular, by forging attachments to “home” in the city, the workplace, and the living place. I explore what “home” means to these women after migration. By tracing their attachments to “home”, I interrogate the ways in which they affectively create a private space for themselves.

Shelly Pandey
Re/Shaping Private Spaces: Single Women and Gendered Practices in Middle Class Homes

The data from census 2011 reveals that there has been a growing population of migrant women in urban areas and the migration rates are higher among more educated and higher income women compared to their less privileged counterparts, as these educated women are migrating to big cities to work in white collar jobs (Times of India, 2011).  The growing number of educated middle class women in big cities brings about the need to locate the singleness in cities. These single women signify the cultural changes at family and work, new demands to access new spaces, new desires to shape institutions like family and marriage and new notions of self and embodiment.
When we draw attention towards the single educated women in the cities, the prime concerns that seem important to analyse, are their struggle and negotiations along with their aspirations to shape public and private in a new way, where they expect better gender relations. However, it remains important to locate the changes in their present family (parent’s family), where this whole idea of being single is desired by women and supported by parents.
The present paper discusses about the changing space of home of those women who left their parent’s home to work in the white collar jobs in globalized work world of BPO sector in Delhi NCR. The paper would focus on certain areas like when women step out to be single working women in cities, how the cultural practices inside home change. The paper would also focus on risk taken by the families to allow their daughters to be single in globalizing India to avail the employment opportunities. The paper also analyses “another home” for the educated single migrant women. This “another home” is the space where they stay as migrants in Delhi NCR and how the security and respectability is negotiated in this home. The study of home for single migrant women also indicates towards the expansion of the domestic servitude where the migrant women are served by the other migrant women of the lower class. In this way, though, another home, does not reproduce gender inequality but it certainly reproduces the class inequality by having domestic servitude.
Largely the literature on single women focus on their struggles in big cities but it remains important to revisit that how the tradition- modernity, global-Indian is constructed by these women while negotiating their ways in a big city as single women; the present paper is an attempt in the same direction.

Chenying Pi
Producing the Desiring Self in Love Club

In recent years a new niche market “love training” has emerged out of the lucrative love and marriage market in China. This new business does not directly engage in matchmaking but offers consulting and training services to single people or married couples to improve their handling of intimate relationships. Various courses, workshops, salons with love, relationship, emotion or hooking up in their titles, start to pop up in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and online. Established in 2011, Shanghai-based Love Club boasts itself as a pioneer of this new sector. Over the years, it has evolved from a two-day workshop to a three-month course with a comprehensive curriculum, targeting single people, but not setting the goal of its service as ending customers’—mostly young single professional women’—singleness. Rather, here the young customers are assisted to “diagnose” their difficulties in intimate relationships and pushed to undergo self-transformations to become a better person.
Drawing on participant observation and interviews with Love Club’s founders and female students, this paper will center on the narratives/becoming of the self and disentangle how the “old self” is constructed as a patient figure suffering from low emotional intelligence while the “new self” is imagined as a modern desiring self. This paper will further investigate how this new subjectivity, marked by winning independence from parents, becoming active and proactive in relationships, becoming open-minded towards sex, and ultimately being an assertive autonomous individual, is achieved through various technologies and labour but at the same time also negotiated and contested by those single women despite of their negation of the “old self. ”

Sreejata Roy
Experiencing gaze via art in the public sphere

Public space in all Indian cities continues to be threatening for women in multiple ways, with the truth of potential and actual danger inculcating abstaining behaviour on their part. While Delhi continues to engulf the peri-urban with large influx of  migrants population from all over the world, the young girls from orthodox families of those areas often appear to be more restricted in their use of urban public spaces and subject to family-imposed prohibitions with regard to being in public. Unlike other working class colonies/urban villages, the young women in Khirkee & HauzRani are the most ‘invisible’ or less visible communities. They are largely missing in alleys, lanes, streets of the urban village.
A series of wall painting is being taken as primary initiative to engage with the “other” and the space. The idea was to paint a series of ordinary women doing daily activities and engaging in work that is customarily done by men in the locality, evolved through discussion sessions with local young women participants from the urban village. The intent was to experiment how the idea ‘gaze’ builds up complex context to draw men on the street into a dialogue about the gender equality in terms of the acceptance of women in male-associated professions, as well as dialogue about the presence of women in public spaces. A series of wall painting is being taken as primary initiative to engage with the “other” and the space.

Paromita Vohra
Sexy and the City or there’s a little bit of Sandra in all of us
Why did I make a film on Sandra from Bandra? Because the notion of the Christina girl from Bombay, a figure on the edge of the Hindi film narrative provided a joyful notion of love, romance and urban-ness. The aspects of personal pleasure – in dress, in dance and song, in body – are signified by the presence of these in earlier films. As the idea becomes more widespread, we see that the figure itself is invalidated (as old-fashioned) or undercut (through a moral gaze). The film will look at these ideas and I will talk a little about how this suggests an optional idea of single women which isn’t so bent on wholesome mobilities.

Syeda Jenifa Zahan
Being Single: Experiences of young single women from North-East India living in Delhi

The present paper focuses on the experiences of migration of single young women from North East India to Delhi, which is a fast growing socio-cultural group in the city. They hold a peculiar position in the city in terms of the discrimination and violence that they face because of their physical appearances (mongoloid features), cultural differences, and their affinity towards western culture promulgated by western missionaries well before the British rule. The paper discusses the issues of migration, finding a home and some related issues of access to the city-space of these women.