Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Sarah J. Mahler

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Vrushali Patil

Third Advisor's Name

Patricia Price

Fourth Advisor's Name

Ferial Maya Boutaghou

Fifth Advisor's Name

Nathan Katz


Gender, Transnational Migration, South Asia

Date of Defense



Hindu Indian Bengalis as an ethno-linguistic and transnational group have negotiated their social locations historically, contemporaneously, and transnationally. In this dissertation, I examine and argue how transnational migration is the most recent in a long line of Bengali strategies to negotiate their social location vis-à-vis other populations in India. Since the early years of the nineteenth century, in Bengal specifically, a series of socio-political dynamics have reshaped and reconstituted Bengali social status. These dynamics can be observed across various geographic scales - national, regional, and local -- and have continued to inform their contemporary gender relations. En route to this examination, the dissertation exposes assumptions about who constitutes families, problematizes "family" centrally en route to examining spousal relations among Indian-Bengalis. I have examined the lived realities and experiences of migrant spouses in the U.S. and their family living in India amidst differing—and often conflicting-- imaginaries and practices of families. Through my work, I thus illustrate that family and marriage relations can be, and often are, strategic and fluid even as many people view them as structural and enduring. Over time, representations of the idealized Bengali family, of manhood and of womanhood have all shifted, reflecting sociopolitical and economic changes. A constant, however, has been the central role of gender in all these imaginaries and realized configurations.

In this dissertation, I employ a "gendered optic," a heightened sensibility to what they communicate about gender. As I examine in my work, gendered boundaries amid the Bengali population can be found in a deeply rooted history, a colonial legacy, and one, although repackaged, that continues to be seen contemporaneously. Bengalis' transnational negotiations in family and marriage expand our understanding of transnational gender relations across broad social and historical scales, particularly the transnational. In this vein, the dissertation contributes significantly to the field of gender studies, specifically the field of feminist theorizing and intersectionality studies, postcolonial and South Asian studies, and to the scholarship on migration and transnational migration studies.





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