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The Practically Minded: Strategizing for Upward Mobility Among the Punjabi Middle Class of Delhi, India


In this dissertation I reconsider the temporality of modernity by problematizing the idea of progress through an ethnographic illustration of how competitive pressures between middle class families in Delhi, India, striving for transnational social mobility, serve to redouble caste and patriarchal forms of domination and subordination within the family economy. My research intersects mobility and kinship studies with its theoretical focus on the ways that middle class identity is mobilized strategically in a new economic context of neoliberal development, where gains and losses are a constant destabilizing force. I argue that India has become more specialized in its economic contributions to world capitalism, by playing on cultivated strengths, such as informal labor and the extended family. Taking kinship as a focus of my ethnographic study, the following chapters reach from observations of childhood favoritism, to the power struggles of married couples, to the 'uncles' that smooth over conflicts arising from the state’s economic monitoring, to grandparents’ transgenerational narratives of the Partition that tore apart the Punjab in 1947-8. The depth of my ethnographic data frees my analysis from the usually obligatory choice between the language of culture and the language of economy, and ties the intimate family lives of the multifarious Delhi middle class to their roles in the world market.

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