Conceptualising Gender and Mobile Subjectivities: The Case of Women’s Driving Practices in Contemporary Delhi

  • Abstract:

    The paper concentrates on the processes shaping women’s subjectivities in today’s Delhi, in particular on the role of mobility. The result of 11 months of fieldwork on women’s driving practices in India’s capital city, the research addresses questions concerned with the relationship between, on the one hand, women’s subjectivities – their inner life processes and affective states (Biehl, Good and Kleinman 2007) – and, on the other, power, highlighting in particular the significance of patriarchal and class modes of relation in the so called neoliberal city. Concentrating on the experiences of four groups of women from different social and ethnic backgrounds (taxi drivers, members of a ladies-only motorbike club, university students and upper class professionals), the paper builds theoretically on Kathy Ferguson’s (1993) feminist conceptualisation of mobile subjectivities. Ferguson calls for an understanding of women’s subjectivities that stresses ambiguity, messiness, multiplicity, temporality and irony. In the context of my own research, choosing to speak of mobile subjectivities implies two paths: one, to conceive of them, in line with Ferguson, as contextual, relational, and open-ended vis-a-vis power. Two, to build on Ferguson to highlight the potential of actual physical mobility as a lens to investigate gender and to capture ethnographically self-contradictory processes of self-positioning and identity re-evaluation. The paper argues that driving practices and the construction of women’s subjectivities are intertwined in mutually transformative processes that can provide insights on women’s intimate negotiations with power and its declinations around modernity/tradition, contesting models of womanhood, class inequality, and ethno-religious affiliations.