Introduction to feminist theory and practice

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSGA1EL1074

Semester and Year Offered: Winter 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Sunalini Kumar

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: Registered as full time BA student at AUD.

Aim: This course is intended as a 101 introduction to feminist theory and practice, in India and globally. The aim of the course is to explain contemporary debates on feminism and the history of feminist struggles. It outlines the basic theoretical and conceptual tools students will need in order to view social structures and relations as producers and repositories of gender inequality. The course begins with a discussion on construction of gender and an understanding of complexity of patriarchy and goes on to analyze theoretical debates within feminism. Part II of the course will pay attention to the ongoing struggles of feminism to define both the field of study, and to intervene in actual political processes. It covers the history of feminism across the world and the surprising globality of these struggles, from imperial and anti-colonial to post-colonial and globalising contexts.

Course Outcomes:

  • On successful completion of the course students will be able to:
  • Identify key concepts and movements in feminist theory and practice – patriarchy, gender, sex-gender binary, global women’s movements.
  • Interrogate the ordinary and everyday in the context of gender; to see gender as a lens for understanding the world.
  • Critically engage with ongoing feminist debates and struggles across the world in their complexity and diversity.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Unit 1 Foundations: Patriarchy, Sex-Gender Debates. This unit will introduce students to the feminist understanding of patriarchy, and feminist theorising of the sex/gender distinction. The main debates covered include whether patriarchy is local or global; how to understand the various dimensions and complexities of patriarchy, the sex-gender debate and recent feminist research on biology and social factors.
  2. Unit 2 Primary Units: Marriage, Family, Property, Caste: This unit will explore the role of gender in the genealogy and maintenance of primary units of social life in India and globally – Marriage, Family, and Caste – and the complex interactions between these. The primary focus here will be on critically understanding gender relations in the family; intra household divisions, notions of differential entitlements patterned by gender norms and roles (especially in property rights); and in the case of India, the gendered quality of caste.
  3. Unit 3 Social Engines: Work and Care - The question of work and gender has been comprehensively explored by feminist theorising and research in recent decades. Within India, the thrust of feminist analysis has been on the sexual division of labour within the market; the distinct contributions and challenges of productive and reproductive labour for women; and the problem of visible and invisible work. Elsewhere, feminists have explored unpaid (reproductive and care) work as forms of gendered labour; as well as the continuing patterns of underpaid work that women engage in. This unit will cover all these debates, and students will learn to understand the myriad forms of women’s work in urban and rural contexts.
  4. Unit 4 Gendered violence; the violence of gender - While on the one hand, normative gender binaries themselves have been seen by feminists as a form of symbolic violence, women (and non-cis men, and transgendered people) also suffer overt and egregious forms of violence as is well known. Violence tends to produce a silence or a counter-violence in terms of strategies of coping (eg: the demand for ‘chemical castration’ after the Delhi gang rape of 2012). Students will be encouraged to go beyond these narratives, and understand the structural nature of gendered violence in areas like domestic life, communal carnages, and caste hierarchies. The recent debates on sexual aggression and harassment at the workplace will also be briefly touched upon.
  5. Counter Currents – Local, Global and Transnational Feminisms – The modern women’s movement has always been far more transnational and ‘global’ than is commonly assumed. Hence, instead of following the usual Indian gender studies courses’ trajectory of going from the West to the Rest, students will be encouraged to think of women’s critique as a fluid but powerful modular form that appears and is reconfigured in all modern societies.

Assessment Details with weights:

The course will have three types of assessment situations.

  • Continuous assessment mode on the basis of their participation in class and their engagement with the material. This involves primarily short pieces and assessment of class responses (combined: 35%)
  • The second assessment will involve an individual project/long essay on the investigation of a chosen theme (25%).
  • The third assessment will be final examination (40%).

Reading List:

  1. Kumar, S. “Introduction: Patriarchy and Lines of F(l)ight” in Kumar, S. (forthcoming) A Sense of Self: Women, Power and Politics in Contemporary India Delhi, Orient Blackswan.
  2. N. Menon, (2008) ‘Power’, in R. Bhargava and A. Acharya (eds), Political Theory: An Introduction, Delhi: Pearson, pp.148-157
  3. V Geetha, (2002) Gender, Kolkata, Stree, pp. 1- 20
  4. Menon, N. (2012) Seeing like a Feminist Delhi, Zubaan.
  5. Bama, Karukku (translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom), 2011. New Delhi, Oxford University Press.
  6. Narayan, D. (2018) “Pleasing: Just Slide, Squeeze, Shrink, Adjust Kar Lo” from Chup Delhi, Juggernaut.
  7. M. Kosambi, (2007) Crossing the Threshold, New Delhi, Permanent Black, pp. 3-10; 40- 46.
  8. Barrett, M. and Mary McIntosh (1991) “The Anti-Social Family” from The Anti-Social Family London, Verso, pp. 43-80.
  9. Chakravarti, U. (2003) Gendering Caste through a Feminist Lens, Kolkata, Stree, pp. 139- 159.
  10. Agarwal, B. (1994) “Why do women need independent rights in land?” From A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 27-45.
  11. de Beauvoir, S. (1997) “The Married Woman” from The Second Sex, London: Vintage, pp. 415-466.
  12. Swaminathan, P. (2012) ‘Introduction’, in Women and Work, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, pp.1-17.
  13. Nandy, A. (forthcoming) “Gendered Care” in Kumar, S. (edited) A Sense of Self: Women, Power and Politics in Contemporary India New Delhi, Orient Blackswan.
  14. Tronto, J. (1996) ‘Care as a Political Concept’, in N. Hirschmann and C. Stephano, Revisioning the Political, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 139-156.
  15. Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Kolkata (2011) ‘Why the so-called Immoral Traffic (Preventive) Act of India should be repealed’, in P. Kotiswaran, Sex Work New Delhi, Women Unlimited, pp. 259-262.
  16. Butalia, U. (2017) The Other Side of Silence: Voices from India’s Partition New Delhi, Penguin Random House.
  17. K. Lalita and Deepa Dhanraj (2016) Rupture, Loss and Living: Minority Women Speak about post-Conflict Life New Delhi, Orient Blackswan.


  • Films and multimedia on gender and feminism; field trip if possible.