The Pedagogy and Practice of En-Gendering Civic Engagement: Reflections on Serial-Viewing Among Middle-class Women in Urban India

  • Mahalakshmi Mahadevan
Part of the Citizenship, Gender and Diversity book series (FEMCIT)


This chapter examines a new conjunctural moment in the representation of Indian womanhood as a vantage point from which to make visible, theoretically and ethnographically, the gendered permeability between familial and civic spaces through the mediatory effects of popular representations of gender and family. Extant scholarship on gender and citizenship, particularly those that utilize feminist political theory, lends considerable theoretical weight to the “inter connectedness, fluidity and permeability” between the spheres of family and civil society—largely within the public–private debate. However, the ways in which the affective dimensions of specific patriarchal configurations of the family are implicated in the everyday, iterative processes that engender citizenship have been of little scholarly interest. This can be attributed in part to the naturalization of the news genre and the new media, rather than fictional genres such as the television soap opera, as principal arenas for exploring the notion of the “civic” and practices of democratic civic engagement.

Drawing on ethnographic evidence of soap opera audiences from the Indian subcontinent, I locate and explore the representational hegemony of specific patriarchal configurations of gender within the everyday discursive and embodied practices of citizenship among urban, middle-class women and their families. The manner in which subcontinental discourses on womanhood have evolved through popular modes of representation since the colonial period to the present time reveal areas of significant continuities and disjunctures. Contemporary televisual representations of Indian womanhood draw on various facets of nationalistic and patriarchal ideals of womanhood and posit for the viewing citizen a return to “the family”.

Examining the everyday media practices and discourses of middle-class Indian women across socio-economically divergent urban locales, the chapter argues that specific patriarchal representations of gender and family can reinforce the discursive permeabilities between familial and civic spaces and facilitate women’s disavowal of full-fledged citizenship. They marginalize gender representations and gendered performances of citizenship that emphasize women’s full access to and engagement with the spaces and practices of citizenship, including oppositional or disruptive forms of civic engagement.


Civil Society Sexual Violence Civic Engagement Indian Womanhood Indian Family 
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© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mahalakshmi Mahadevan
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent ResearcherWashington, DCUSA

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