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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Becoming and Staying Middle Class in Contemporary India: The role of sex selection and other family strategies’,11th March, 2015.


‘Becoming and Staying Middle Class in
Contemporary India:
The role of sex selection and other family strategies’


Prof. Ravinder Kaur,
Indian Institute of Technology,


The last three decades have seen significant growth in the size of the Indian middle class. This middle class, however, is extremely heterogeneous, forcing us to think about middle classes rather than 'a' middle class. Recent sociological literature has emphasized the importance of taking seriously people's "self-identification" of themselves as middle class as it reflects their imaginaries of who they are and where they want to be; studies show that the number of people identifying themselves as middle class has gone up considerably in the post-liberalization period. Studying the practices of individuals, families and groups who are aspiring to be middle class or wish to further consolidate their middle class status, allows us to understand the dynamics of social mobility. Many argue that consumption is central to the performative aspect of being middle class and is the site of reproduction of power relations in modern societies. Rather than focus on consumption, the speaker turns the lens on to key mobility strategies employed by the "emerging middle class", in the domains of "family shaping" (size and sex composition), education, and marriage, domains wherein aspiration, consumption, social and power relations may be seen to come together. The talk argues that these strategies have a gendered nature and produce gendered effects. Using ethnographic and quantitative data, the speaker shows that members of this class actively pursue sex selection in their desire to achieve or stay middle class, thereby contributing significantly to the deterioration of sex ratios. The poor in comparison have better sex ratios as do those who have been able to consolidate their middle class status.


Prof. Ravinder Kaur teaches sociology in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Her recent research has centred on the political economy of the sex ratio imbalance in India. She has published extensively on the impact of skewed sex ratios on various social institutions, especially marriage. She is co-editor with Rajni Palriwala of a recent book Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalising World (2014).

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