Anja Wagner, University of Heidelberg
Women, Men, Couples: Towards a unified Ethnography of Gender
The ethnography of gender in South Asia has moved from the study of women and their normative and symbolic roles and subsequent studies of alternative voices of women, to studies looking at age differences, and more recently queer studies, and finally turned to heterosexual masculinities. What is largely still left out is the ethnography of gender relations in its fullest sense: That is the study of pairs – of women and men as couples. While religious history and classical indology has long described the emphasis on marriage and of the couple, for example, in Hindu rituals, anthropology has given less attention to husband and wife as a unit. But rather treated them as pairs of opposites.
That couples have rarely received attention as an ethnographic topic should, however, surprise, since the importance of the married couple in South Asian society has been quite obvious to fieldworkers on the ground. This is to say not only on special occasions do husband and wife act as a unit, e.g. when being literally bound together by their clothing for the performance of rituals. In spite of the attention given to the tension arising between young wife and mother-in-law over the husband's/son's attention – in academic texts as well as in daily soaps –, husband and wife do act and understand themselves as a unit in everyday life. More attention should be given to the everyday interaction between spouses and their variations according to age, class, region, in order to more fully appreciate current developments concerning gender roles in South Asia. Following Caroline and Filippo Osella's lead to study the production of conventional heterosexual pair as created in South Asian marriages, this paper argues for a unified ethnography of gender. In outlining the need for a study of couples, the author draws on examples from her fieldwork in North India.