New Login   

Cutting Across Norms

Tiplut Nongbri

Edited by Margrit Pernau , Imtiaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld 
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 380, price not stated.


This book is yet another addition to the growing body of literature on the family and gender. An outcome of a seminar organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation it comprises thirteen excellent essays written by scholars from different academic disciplines and political views from Germany and India. The papers are arranged under four themes: social history of the family, images and practices, relations with the state and fault lines.   Initiating the discourse, the Introduction emphasizes the need to look at family relations across time and space. To render the data meaningful Margrit Pernau advocates the de-contextualization of the relations from their specific socio-cultural moorings and then re-contextualize them within a comparative framework. Comparison, she argues, would not only help to evolve a ‘universal model’ on the way gender and family interrelate, it would also deepen our knowledge by looking at the same phenomenon in different contexts. To this end, the choice of Germany and India – two countries with distinctly different socio-political history and culture – is a welcome step indeed.   However, except for a couple of papers, none of the others look at their material in a comparative perspective. What the book actually does is bring the essays together and invite the readers to see for themselves the points of similarities and contrasts of the phenomenon in the different settings. While each paper stands on its own, read together they provide an integrated view of the phenomenon of gender as it intersects with the family, the community and the state.   The first section explodes the myth that the family is an undifferentiated unit. Focussed on the Indian family, Ahmad states, “within the joint family, structural hierarchy is primarily governed by the position and relationship of the individual in the kinship structure and gender” (p.39). He, however, cautions against summarily dismissing the joint family as a prison house for women. Pointing to the urban middle class family he asserts the modernization of women in terms of education and career orientation would not have been possible without familial support. This picture perfect image of the family is, however, marred by the spiraling rise in violence against women, a fact that is strongly reflected in Vindhya’s paper on domestic violence.   In the European context, Gunilla-Budde shows the different strategies the family deployed to retain its control over women. If in ‘peasant households’ this was achieved through the mechanism of matchmaking, in the ‘post- ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.