Radhakrishnan, Smitha. Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Lassiter, Unna
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Radhakrishnan, Smitha
Accession Number: 294895900
Full Text: Radhakrishnan, Smitha. Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. xi + 239 pages. Paper, $22.95.

Appropriately Indian is a richly detailed ethnography of India's transnational class. From the starting point of her dissertation research in 2004, sociologist Smitha Radhakrishnan began to ask whether and how Indianness was being remade, given India's hailed role in the new global economy on the one hand, and the glaring contradictions this creates between traditions and modernity, caste/gender relations and equality, Hinduism and secularism, and the state and its citizens on the other hand. Radhakrishnan is not the first to remind us that India's transnational class is neither a large (2 million in a country of 1.2 billion) nor a random group (mostly urban and upper caste) (p. 8). But within this group, she insightfully identifies information technology workers (who cross national borders to achieve their status, in contrast to call center workers) as the subgroup of global workers that can best clarify the path of Indians to global elite status, and their objectives once they achieve this.

Radhakrishnan is an insider of this community and is clearly attuned to the markers of difference that Indian global workers imagine for and between themselves. She makes a sensitive and critical call on which group of Indians to consider, namely, not only Indians in India and Silicon Valley but also those in South Africa. Indeed, the timing of South Africa's post-apartheid state and the rise of India as a dominant economic player provides South African Indians with the highly desirable yet unexpected opportunity to be considered as part of India's transnational class. The personal narratives the author creates out of her interviews with them are particularly illuminating in unpacking current constructions of Indian identity at a time when this group can claim global elite status as they find themselves more alienated by the state of South Africa. Radhakrishnan's careful selection of the subgroups to interview is the most important contribution of the research presented in this book.

The focus of the book is largely on the interplay of gender (mostly female) and the forging of the new Indianness in both the public realm and domestic sphere. Women's critical roles at the intersection of traditions and modernity have been explained in other contexts and Radhakrishnan's analysis certainly adds to this, by showing how Indian identity is renegotiated through Orientalist discourses that place morality in the realm of women and then oppose Indian women's morality to their perceptions of the same in the West. The author's more original contribution lies in establishing how a highly select group of workers repositions itself as a symbol of a new forward-looking, merit-oriented, and dynamic transnational class that defies the state, which it considers inept and sluggish. However, Radhakrishnan shows the limits of this defiance: because this group lacks insight into its own initial privilege and does not credit India's government for making the new economy possible (through institutions of higher education, trade policies, and extensive state intervention), they reconstitute old social conventions, are politically apathetic, and support movements that are neither progressive nor socially transformative. This may not hold true for Hinduism around which the symbolic re-identification of what it means to be Indian is loosely centered. Their effect has been to finance a revival, or, more accurately, to support and enhance more diverse manifestations of Hinduism, from more orthodox to more 'lite' versions of Hinduism. This is discussed in the book but deserves further attention.

Appropriately Indian is a highly readable, richly detailed, and insightful contribution to the literature on transnationalism and contributes to the social sciences in moving the referent from the state to everyday strategies of identity.

Unna Lassiter, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Geography

California State University-Long Beach

Long Beach, California
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