The Gift of Solidarity: Women Navigating Jewellery Work and Patriarchal Norms in Rural West Bengal, India
School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development
© 2020 SAGE Publications. In the context of declining women’s participation in the formal economy in India, this article looks at how women’s work in the informal sector of jewellery-making emerges as a gift. Gendered discourses on work turn men, who worked as labourers, into supervisors who monitor and control work situations and sort and grade final products in jewellery workshops. Following Anna Tsing, I argue that jewellery products start their lives as gifts but as they move from women (who are seen as housewives and family members) to men (who are seen as professionals/experts within the workshop) and beyond, they become commodities. This journey from gift to commodity within the workshop is made possible by a gendered discourse on work and by the dynamics within small landholding middle-caste households. Further, I underscore that women’s informal networks often help them cope with the emotional and affective tensions of work and the demands imposed on them by the men and their own households. Women facilitate the transition from gift to commodity by colluding amongst themselves to work in these informal spaces to maintain household status within peri-urban villages of West Bengal.
Journal of South Asian Development
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