Macquarie University
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Paying guests: between kinship and capital : an ethnography of boarding house residents in urban South India

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posted on 2022-03-28, 14:31 authored by Gillian V. L. Bowan
Single women are migrating to Indian cities in increasing numbers, seeking employment and higher education. This thesis investigates the lives of these migrants through an ethnographic study of Bangalore's paying guest hostels. The boarding house, or PG, is a key site from which to interpret the shifting positions that women occupy as they move between natal families, workplaces, public transport and spaces for recreation and consumption. It also afforded the ethnographer uniquely close access to a group of young women from different regions of India, diverse language groups and religious identities, all living away from the care and custodianship of their families. The thesis foregrounds an analytic focus on class, but it is not a political economy of work. Drawing on the Sanskrit concept of seva or selfless service, the thesis explores the spatial-temporal orientations of migrant working-women's existence, whose labour in Bangalore is rewarded with an enhanced status in their natal homes and in familial support to secure advantageous, if delayed, marriages. A unique feature of this thesis is the connection it establishes between upward social mobility, and longer collective caste histories of social reform involving missionaries, caste associations and the state. In order to highlight the nature of the temporal orientations which form the implicit background to the labour of working daughters, this thesis also highlights examples of what happens when these projects collapse or are suspended. The thesis concludes with an account of the aestheticising practices of city elites who treat the urban environment as a space to be preserved from the environmental impact of large-scale migration.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. Working for the family -- Chapter Two. Working in the broader context of region and reform -- Chapter Three. Women and the temporality of waiting -- Chapter Four. Becoming paying guests -- Chapter Five. Renewing the metropolis : a privileged form of belonging -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 248-259

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kalpana Ram

Additional Supervisor 1

Daniel Fisher


Copyright Gillian V.L. Bowan 2015. Copyright disclaimer:






1 online resource (xi, 261 pages) black & white illustrations

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