Brown Bag Lecture Series: Karishma Desai

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 11:45am - 1:00pm

GSE Lecture Hall (room 124)

Brown Bag Lecture Series

Learning empowerment: Skilling girls, affective labor, and promised futures

Karishma Desai, Rutgers University

Future-oriented logics and progress narratives shape constructions of childhood and international development, where children are figured as not-yet adults and the global South as not-yet developed. These promised futures are constructed through dichotomies of risk and potential, as the “poor global child” can be reformed by Northern development interventions. Over the last two decades, girls from the global South have been figured as ideal bodies for investment. Moreover, the assumption that life skills is a crucial aspect of empowering young people has gained traction in this larger effort. Drawing on a multi-sited ethnographic research that attends to the translation of these globalized psychosocial theories from official program curriculum into congested classrooms in New Delhi, I attend to how transnational discourses of entrepreneurialism unfold in empowerment lessons taught to Dalit and Muslim girls. I argue that girls are taught to embody what I call “affective dispositions of gendered entrepreneurialism” which provide particular lessons in aspiration and restraint. Moreover, these affective dispositions re-work participants’ orientation to the future as they move them towards new aspirational regimes. Girls’ future aspirations are fraught with hope for new possibilities, recognition of gendered constraints, and a sense of confidence about navigating future uncertainties. These lessons work to shape new kinds of entrepreneurial Indian femininities and structure young women’s aspirations along regulated lines of caste and class.


Karishma Desai is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Organization. Her research inquiries draw on feminist and anthropological lenses and attend to the intersections of gender, globalization, and education.

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Who to contact:

Colleen McDermott