Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cecilia Van Hollen


Caste, Masculinity, South Asia, Urban space

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In my dissertation, I illustrate the way in which processes in contemporary urban India structure the making/ unmaking of gendered identities for young men in a working class, scheduled caste neighborhood in the western Indian city of Pune. Present day Pune, an aspiring metropolis, presents a complex socio-spatial intersection of neoliberal processes and peculiar historical trajectories of caste exclusion; this dissertation seeks to highlight how socio-spatial dynamics of the city produce and sustain gendered identities and inequalities in Pune, a city hitherto neglected in academic research. Also, my focus on young men’s gendered identities speaks to a growing recognition that men need to be studied in gendered terms, as ‘men,’ in order to understand fully the dimensions of gendered inequalities and violence prevalent in South Asian cities today. I follow the lives of young men between 16 and 30 in a neighborhood in the eastern part of Pune, who belong to a scheduled caste called Matang. The historical incorporation of this caste group as municipal sweepers in the city’s labour regime has had adverse implications for the young men, in terms of low levels of education and precarious chances of employment in an increasingly skill-based and informalized labor market. I explore ethnographically the deep sense of gendered inadequacy that this lack generates in the young men, articulated in explicitly spatialised terms: through the continuous dismissal by the young men of their neighborhood as ‘backward’ as opposed to the middle class ‘standard’ areas in the city; and through their aspirational struggles to master the new spaces of consumption in the city.

Relevant to my dissertation are the practices of local, exclusively male voluntary associations and of local electoral politics, which I argue constitute distinct subcultures shaped by and embedded in the historical, socio-political and spatial organisation of the city. I demonstrate in ethnographic terms how the membership of the neighborhood voluntary association and its activities enables the enactment of a ‘moral masculinity’ for the young men in the neighborhood, while simultaneously equipping them with the tools to acquire specialised knowledge about the informal, criminal city, itself a highly gendered terrain. The young men’s participation in local political brokering is an expression of the peculiar culture of urban local politics that incorporated poor neighborhoods as vital nodes of populist political bargaining in post-colonial urban India. I show how the spatialized nature of these processes allow the young men temporary feelings of power and self-worth during these negotiations, thus constituting a sense of self which tightly binds location/ place with caste, class and a gendered identity. I also illustrate the role that women’s evaluations and expectations play in shaping the gendered identities of men in the galli.

I conclude that the construction and enactment of gendered identities of young men in the neighborhood is intimately moulded by their multiple marginalisations from the city’s economic, social and democratic political processes, a historical trajectory intensified in the city’s current neoliberal ethos. At the same time, the possibilities of recuperating this gendered sense of inadequacy in the spaces of the neighborhood also ensures their being trapped in these very spaces, further entrenching them firmly in the geography of the city’s caste and class based exclusion.


Open Access