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Selfing the City

Selfing the City
Single Women Migrants and Their Lives in Kolkata

First Edition
  • Ipshita Chanda - Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

June 2017 | 340 pages | SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd

Exploring the quest for ‘self’ in the city through migrant women’s narratives

This ethnographical study explores the process of migration and its economic, social and psychological dimensions, throwing light on the connection between middle-class women migrants and city spaces. The study is based on a survey, discussions and interviews, and highlights the emergence of a gendered citizen in an unknown and then gradually made-known or ‘selfed’ city.

Through their narratives, these women share their experiences of the emergence of the embodied ‘self’ while negotiating a modern urban space. This includes challenging existing notions of empowerment, intimacy and security, suggesting how what women need brings forth changes in themselves and in the process shapes the future of cities. 




Entering the Space: Diversity through a Gender Lens
The City: Relations in Urban Space
Inhabiting the City: The Challenges
A Room in the City: Constructing a Private Space
Finding the ‘Self’
Friendships: Creating a Community
The 'Safe' City and Outsider Women
The 'Self' and the City: New Roles
The Outsider and Equitable Social Space
Appendix 1 The Survey
Appendix 2 History of the City
Appendix 3 Post-partition Refugee Settlement in South Calcutta

All in all this is a fascinating book. When worldly occurrences in everyday life are underpinned with relevant theoretical aspects, we enter a myriad world of profound learning. I salute the author for bringing a rare subject to life in all its glory. It is a difficult book to read but the rewards are genuine and lasting.


Free Press Journal, 23 July 2017

Author introduce the concept of ‘selfing’ to look at how women negotiate with the unknown space of the city, arguing that one’s experience with both the material and the affective dimensions of the space one inhabits. The book focuses on women experience of finding accommodation, negotiating with landlords, interacting with roommates and colleages, dealing with the feeling of security and safety, and building friendship and families, all within the cities where they are outsiders.

Book engages with literature on female migration, Chandra states that, other than sections where information on employment and movement Is provided, she does not use the term ‘migrant’ to refer to the women in her study. Author refers to the women in her study through the more evocative phases “women who comes from outside.” Drawing from her respondent’s question of whether “a primary dislocation form home apparently leads to lifelong perception of a self-constructed a being ‘outside’ established circuits and circles.

Chandra’s attempt to challenge the “degendered” subject of ethnography is most visible in her formulations of power and emancipation. She writes that in looking at women experience as outsiders in the city, her attempt is to understand the extent to which women have been able to achieve emancipation.

Chandra states that the feminist struggle for equal employment opportunities cannot remain limited to employment alone, and must take into account the social changes caused by women’s entry into the workforce.

Economic & Political Weekly, 12 May 2018

“The book shows powerfully how the shadow of patriarchy is constantly lurking behind the luminous narratives of empowerment, progress and independence of women who arrive in cities to work… The strength of the book is that the city is not looked at as a mere container or the stage in which the drama of the life of these single working women is enacted.”

Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 27 (2), 2020

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