Becoming cosmopolitan: Constructing gender and power in post-liberalization Bombay

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan S. Wadley


Gender, Power, Bombay, India, Postliberalization, Class

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


The central question this dissertation seeks to address is this: how did economic liberalization in 1991 affect the construction of gender, class and identity among high income groups in media-related professions? I contend that economic liberalization has resulted in South Bombay becoming a veritable stage on which multiple selves are toyed with by those who have the symbolic and economic capital with which to do so, all within the sphere of the media, which has become increasingly attuned to popular culture following the advent of liberalization.

The globalization of the economy has exacerbated a pre-existing veneration of celebrity by taking on local idioms, most notably Bollywood and the Miss India pageant, and re-presenting them in a format which superficially resembles European and American popular culture(s) while at the same time reinforcing pre-existing social inequalities, such as extreme sexism and class stratification. Research for this dissertation consisted of a unique methodological framework, which included participant observation at a Hindi film production company, the Miss India pageant, Femina and Gurlz magazines and Moksh, a gym and spa in Bombay.

There are three central organizing principles which serve to illustrate how what I term the culture of celebrity and becoming cosmopolitan function: (1) the power of the gaze, (2) gender and (3) the molding of identity. While the culture of celebrity positions certain individuals as worthy of inordinate amounts of media attention, the idea of becoming cosmopolitan functions to create the illusion that the sort of capital (both symbolic and economic) which celebrities are accorded is attainable by ordinary people, albeit in terms of degree.

These three key framing mechanisms are linked in multiple ways, the most profound of which is the concept that the gaze, whether in the form of the culture of celebrity, referencing, or the use of signifiers, is a uniquely gendered process. This process is intimately connected to the construction of identity, both at the individual and group levels. By allowing for a framework which examines who is looking at whom in the process of constructing selfhood and identity in a newly liberalized nation, this threefold framing mechanism allows for a clearer picture of how India is positioned in the world by individuals as well as the social groups to which they belong.


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