Economics and Patriliny: Consumption and Authority within the Household
The family as an oppressive institution has been highlighted, elaborated and critiqued by feminists in India and elsewhere, as part of almost every discussion on gender. The fact that there is no one 'family* has become a truism in anthropology and gender studies. Two vexing issues emerge, central to any understanding of gender relations and of feminist strategy. The first, concerned with the linking of domains, has been the impact of economic and political changes on 'traditional* structures of kinship and gender.
The second, more fundamental issue, is the question as to why women seem so concerned with maintaining their 'family', with fostering kinship ties and values, when these evidently are the immediate structures constraining them. Constraints on women's mobility and interactions, such that all their most intense and closest relationships are with persons defined as 'kin', as also socialisation may be part of the answer, but definitely not a sufficient explanation. This is especially so when apparently, new opportunities and arenas are making available new values, interactions and relationships. Is there something in the very processes and directions of change which define women within kinship and foster women's 'family conservatism'?
Yanagisako and Collier's (1987) proposed strategy for a unified analysis of gender and kinship is ^ good starting point (though one may not agree entirely with the path they take to arrive at it). They argue for the analysis of social wholes, through the explication of cultural meanings (common sense), of the dialectics between practices and ideas constituting social inequalities and the historical analysis of continuities and change.
In this paper I make some tentative attempts at tackling the second issue while concentrating on the first. I examine the economic processes in the Shekhawati region, more specifically the effects of the growth of a money economy and a shift away from the household as the unit of production and/or management on the social and economic strategy of
Department of Sociology, Delhi University, Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 9^11, September-November 1993