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Spaces of Gendered Belonging: Modernity, Generational Change, and Professional Women’s Friendships in Bangalore, India

The Southern Indian city of Bangalore is a rapidly urbanizing hub of high-tech outsourcing and a key site of social change in India. As more women in Bangalore enter professions in information technology and other high-skill sectors, their spaces of socializing and social networks are shifting from previous generations to include after-work pubs and clubs, and friend groups that are increasingly diverse in terms of gender, community background, and social ties. These new social options and intimate relationships shed light on negotiations over gender equality, familial relations, and what constitutes a modern Indian woman. While scholarship on women, work, and modernity in South Asia and elsewhere has focused on women working in factories and call centers, in this project I draw on recently completed fieldwork with female professionals in Bangalore to propose that the way they themselves understand and navigate the unique pressures they feel fall upon them, within their families and in Indian society, is through friendship. Even as Bangalore urbanizes and experiences a panic over gendered spaces of belonging, seen in anxiety over harassment and "moral policing" of women in public spaces, women and their friends are claiming new spaces and roles in the modern city. Based on participant-observation and interviews with professional women and members of their friend groups and families, conducted over nine months in Bangalore in 2011-12, this project uses the relatively unconventional lens of friendship to analyze how these women are establishing new forms of identity, spaces of belonging, and ideas about gendered modernity. Through examining women's friendships over multiple generations, I speak to debates about the role of middle-class women in the "new" India, and propose friendship as a rich, yet understudied arena for understanding shifts in women's lives and gender relations in times of social transition and uncertainty.