December 22, 2009

Uma Narayan and colonial concepts of tradition.

Chapter 2
Narayan uses an analysis of Mary Daly's critic of the practice of sati to show that Western feminism often is influenced by colonial views of the third world. These views include the tendency for foreign onlookers to assume that cultures within a country, even one as big and as religiously and culturally diverse as India, can be applied to all its inhabitants. This is obviously not so as shown by the practice of Sati and its relationship to the Hindu religion which excludes non-Hindu Indians and also the fact that even within the Hindu community, the practice was generally only common amongst certain castes and in certain parts of the country. Another colonialist assumption that Daly takes up is the belief that Third World nations are culturally stagnant unlike the progressive West which leads her to ignore the history of cultural practices in India. Narayan shows how the popularity of Sati has been at differing levels at different points in history and how the acknowledgement of its practice as 'Indian tradition' may have predominantly arisen from the British colonialist attempt to understand the practice in the 17th century. Also she points to the fact that many new cases of sati in recent times and the phenomenon of 'dowry deaths' are actually indicators of the modernization of India and the effects of India's increased dependence on money as it relates to the new bride and her dowry receiving in-laws. Daly's inability to take issues other than feminism and the global existence of a patriarchy into account leads to her over simplification of the experiences of women who have a history, culture and nationality that is different from hers. Finally, Narayan analyses the views of Indian feminists on the practice of sati and their criticism of the assumption that the practice is historically sanctioned by religion and show that the support for the practice may actually be more economic and political. They also question the idea that women who observed sati do it out of devotion for their husbands, which gives the practice its sacred air, based on the fact that many Indian women have little independence and rights to make decision for themselves. The more complex analysis of Indian feminists over Western feminists shows that increased proximity to a culture often provides more knowledge and therefore facilitates more effective criticism.

My question about the chapter mostly centers on the government's treatment of the issues of sati and dowry death because though they are technically regarded as illegal, I wonder if the fact that most of the perpetrators get away with their crimes is based on a hesitance on the government's part to get involved in tradition and incur the people's wrath or if the constraints on the abilities of the police and legal system based on financial concerns etc. is the main reason for the low rates of conviction.

October 18, 2008

Chapter 2

In Chapter 2 of Uma Narayan's Dislocating cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism, the author investigates Daly's piece on Sati. Her writing emphasizes the weight of Daly's rhetoric and the strategies that her language uses to identify events on the other side of humanity. Narayan denounces the condescending criticism of First Third World Feminism judgement and identifies the italicized words that take away women's agency in Restoring History and Politics to Third World Traditions. She also investigates the complex decisions that ignore motives and the cultural meaning of the sati ritual. Daly's displaced criticism does not contain empathy for the culture because she practices the common, ethnocentric, universal oppression of a western viewpoint's evaluation of Hindu cultural practices. Daly's writing denounces the society without the understanding of empathy and her viewpoint reflects that of a condescending outsider looking in on diversity. The universalization of women's experience in a patriarchal homogenized society does not look at individual differences and assumes that the privileged have the right to speak for the entire group in totalizing theory.
In her writing, Narayan identifies her own experience of foreclosure in communication from several aspects of her life (ie politics, family, and education). This diverse point of view raises questions of communication foreclosure within our own communities and forces the reader to evaluate their own actions in light of marginalization.

Chapter Three- "Death by Culture"

I really enjoyed reading Narayan's chapter on "Cross-Cultural Connections, Border Crossings and 'Death by Culture.'" In this chaper, Narayan focuses on the topic of dowry-murder and how it is confused with sati and misunderstood by many Western people. Narayan discusses the different reasons for this misunderstanding that include the loss of cultural understanding as the topic moves from India to the West. In India, Indians understand that dowry murder is not related to culture or religion and is a fairly new practice. It is neither Hindu nor a tradition, as one author, Bumiller, claimed it to be. When the news of dowry murder comes to the West, it is taken out of context and recontextualized incorrectly. Many Westerners do not know that dowry itself is not something practiced by all Hindu communities or only Hindu communities. Many other cultures have dowries and dowry-related problems. The dowry has recently, in the last 30-40 years, become a problem due to monetary gains desired by grooms and the grooms' families. There now exists something like a "dowry on the installment plan," where money and material things are collected from the wife throughout the first year.

Another interesting thing that Narayan discussed in this chapter was the comparison of dowry murders in India and domestic violence related murders in the U.S. With difficulty and manipulation of lots of data and statistics, Narayan was able to calculate an approximate number of deaths by domestic violence per year in the U.S. It was roughly 1,400, but only included murders in which the murderer had been convicted. This number was almost impossible to find anywhere, but after calculating it herself, Narayan found other variating numbers of domestic violence deaths. In India, the yearly rate of dowry murders was around 5,000 women, but this included anything that might have been a dowry murder. Some of the incidents may have been accidents or suicides as reported. The number of dowry related deaths was much easier for Narayan to find; she read it in most articles and texts she found on the subject. Narayan compares the numbers of dowry murders to domestic violence murders as being very similar. The population in India is four times that of the U.S., which evens out the numbers further.

Throughout the chapter, I came to the understanding that the Western women are trying to come and save the day in the Third-World countries again, while ignoring the less visible problems that are happening in their own country. If we want to address the problem of dowry murders, we should address our problems of domestic violence murders in the U.S. Both forms of murder are forms of domestic violence. I think that this is one of Narayan's main points. We need to realize similar acts of violence are happening in the U.S., but they are not as publicized and we focus on helping battered women for a short time. Due to different economies and cultures, the same efforts would not be as feasible or successful in India. It is also interesting the comments that Narayan makes about the Americans refusing the idea of death by culture within our culture, but we are quick to put the label on other cultures, like Indian culture. I feel like the analogies and comparisons that Narayan used were helpful in understanding her points. I feel that I have a good understanding of what she was trying to say about Westerners misunderstanding of other cultures' practices and problems. Many Westerners are just caught up in the "Otherness" of other cultures and wanting to understand the unknown. One term that I had difficulty understanding was the "metonymic blurring." As of right now, I cannot think of any other puzzling questions on the chapter.

Continue reading "Chapter Three- "Death by Culture"" »

chapter 2

Uma Narayan in chapter takes a look at Daly’s piece on Sati. Her point of the chapter is to show how western views of ‘thrid world traditions’ creates a colonialist stance. One of her major points is that in Daly’s critique she does look at the time and space of sati. She takes what she needs to prove her point. Never once does Daly put sati into a historical time frame or regional space. She uses totalization of Indian culture to further her point of patriarchic dominance on women of India. The problem with this view of ‘third world women’s plights’ become obvious because one can see that Daly discusses only what she needs to, to prove her point. She totally disregards the history of sati, the frequency of sati and Indian feminist’s thoughts on the issue. It parallels the colonial discourse of: look how uncivilized and primitive their traditions and ways are—so much so that we need to step in and help. Narayan mentions that what might need to take place between the western and ‘third world woman’ is more of a compliment model of activism than one of authority and privilege. I would have liked for Narayan to tackle the issue of moral ethics and the reality that plays in the western world and the view on others. I also would have liked for a clearer connection between colonialist stance and Daly’s look at sati. I find some of Narayan’s writing to murky and challenging. Almost as though she repeats a lot but never in a way that makes me understand.

Chapter Three

In Chapter Three of Uma Narayan’s Dislocating Cultures, titled “Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings and ‘Death by Culture,’? Narayan offers a look at the complicating and intriguing issues that surround the topic of “speaking for others.? She does so by presenting the complex subjects that relate to the Western and Indian views of violence against women. I thought it was interesting when Narayan said that Third-World women were send as “victims of their culture in ways that are interestingly different from the way in which victimization of mainstream Western women is understood.? This is highlighted by the dowry-murders of Indian women and the noted “extreme cases? of death by domestic violence of American women. The Western women are unconnected with Indian women; it is as though Westerners never see horrific death of women like the Indian culture does. To start, cross-cultural connections is not made between Westerners and Indians relating to this violence against women. Indian women are known to be killed by horrible acts, but who ever hears of the deaths of Western women through domestic violence? Secondly, border-crossings refers to the trying to relate an issue throughout two different cultures, but it is distorted throughout that process of relation. Lastly, Narayan highlights “death by culture,? which interestingly says it is too confusing to make any relation between two cultures or “speak for others.? Ultimately, your culture will rid you of any chance to speak, and in this case, the Indian women cannot point out the Western faulty of death from domestic violence. In all, I found that the differences in cultures (which I believe reiterate the “power wheel,? as some cultures are more strong than others) make it almost impossible to explain to others one culture or speak for another culture. My question is when is okay to find faults in other cultures when one may already having one in their own, if one may not be able to even speak of the others anyways?

Chapter 2

Chapter two is about the colonialist representation of third world traditions. In this essay, Narayan uses Daly's essay on sati to exemplify the problematic representations of "colonialist stances" of third world cultures. She has several points that she tries to make about colonialist representations of third world cultures and she starts by highlighting the fact that Daly excludes the historical aspects of sati. By erasing the history and the historical changes of sati, the third world cultures seem to be trapped in time and space as if nothing ever changes. She then goes on to discuss the danger of lack of detail in Daly's explanation of sati. Daly refuses to acknowledge the heterogeneity of the third world communities within a culture. Narayan says that the lack of detail about the variations sati has "across race, caste, religion, and geographical location" leads to a "totalizing picture of 'Indian culture and tradition' [which] contributes to an ongoing pracitce of 'blaming culture' for problems in Third-World contexts and communities". She then accuses many western feminists of overlooking the legacy of colonialism. She uses Daly's essay as an example by showing how Daly unknowlingly justifies the practice of colonialization because of her failure to realize it's presence.
Narayan also discusses the colonial politics of the formation of tradition and made tradition unproblematized. She expains how colonialists did not want to interfere with some native traditions that woudl create an uproar in the communities and to decide what practices were traditional they had Indian religious scholars use scriptures of thier religion to decide whether or not something had religous ties. But after the scholars came to disagreements about whether or not a practice could be considered "culturally authentic" the colonialists had the last say. They then made the practice a national tradition whereas it was only practiced by some in certain places or circumstances of a commuinity.
This then played a role in Hindu fundamentalist views on sati as a an important part of the culture.
Finally she dicusses the modern economic motivations, politica, and religious motivations of sati. Widows in some communities will recieve the dowry and land that once belonged to her dead husband. The family memebers of the man will then coerce the women into sati so that they will receive the wealth. Religious reasons are that ideal Indian womanhood is exemplified by sati. It shows true devotion to her husband which is prized in Indian culture. Narayan's point though is that accounts, such as Daly's, of sati and other Indian traditions are viewed as an unchanged long standing tradition. She dismisses this by showing how the reasons for and acceptance of sati have changed.

I really could not think of a question to ask about this chapter.

Chapter 2

In the chapter "Restoring Histoy and Politics to 'Third-World Traditions', Narayan makes the argument that the feminist tradition in the West generally applies a colonialist discourse in its undressing of cultural practices foreign to their experience. The example used by Narayan is the extensive critique of the practice of sati, or widow immolation, in India by the feminist Mary Daly. (It also should be noted that Narayan does take pains to say that the third-world feminist can replicate this perspective just as easily, but it does seem rather pointed because of her engaging with the work of Mary Daly and her predecessor, Katharine Mayo.)

Daly, argues Narayan, applies a flawed logic to her exploration of the implications of sati on Indian women. Daly employs an approach that does not consider the whole picture; she fails to take the route of intersectionality. Applying the ideas that surround the Western conception of patriarchy and female oppression does not effectively address the situation in the case of a practice like sati. It effectively lessens the perspective of the woman in that culture, reflecting the colonialist view that they are unable to speak for themselves. Narayan challenges Daly's understanding of sati by contextualizing it through other important factors in Hindu culture as well as modernity. She pays special attention to a wife who was burned in her own home - but whose particular situation involves implications of class, wealth and much more as a tool to rethink the way we encounter and construct/deconstruct these kinds of events.

I thought Narayan's explanation/examples of why these colonialist perspectives are so damaging was particularly powerful, but I also was left with a question - or more of a consideration, perhaps. I would be interested to think a little more about the implications of time period in the way we talk about Mary Daly's original article. I know that a lot of her work came out in the 1970s, and I expect that Gyn/Ecology, where the article on sati was originally produced, came out in that decade. It is hard to take an approach that engages all of these perspectives/considerations, but I think that is an important one. The understanding of sati may have changed dramatically by the late 1990s, when Narayan was writing, just as it changed in the decades between Katherine Mayo's piece and Daly's.

Chapter 5

In chapter 5, Uma Narayan discussed how food is homogenized when taken to a new culture. She discusses the phenomenon of curry as an example. It is commonly believed that curry is one spice, when in actuality it is a collection of spices called Masalas. I agree with Narayan that this is a common occurrence, but I question how this practice alone demonstrates an imperialist mentality. The practice of homogenizing food when brought into a new country works both ways. When Chinese or Indian food is brought to the U.S. it is Americanized, but when American food is brought into other countries, it is also homogenized as well. Hamburgers in India are often made out of lamb. McDonald's hamburgers in Spain are changed to be more "America" with the addition of barbecue sauce and other amenities which don't really occur in the United States. I think she has a point however that we should be mindful of how the "ethnic" food we eat in the U.S. is really Americanized "ethnic" food and "American" food in other countries is adjusted to the culture. To say that this phenomenon isn't a reflection of the culture would be false, people at the very least enjoy eating Americanized "ethnic" foods more than they do eating the actual foods from a particular culture. Otherwise, why would it be changed?

Does the practice of homogenizing food from a different culture into the culture in which it serves help people from the culture in which its served understand the different culture or is it a form of imperialism?

Chapter Two "Restoring History and Politics to 'Third World Traditions'"

What point is Narayan making in this chapter? What does she mean when she repeatedly brings up the term "colonialist stance?" Narayan is trying to prove throughout this chapter that Mary Daly's chapter on "Indian Sutee" in her book does a poor job of representing sati and also how they "replicate the colonialist stance." This is when Narayan first brings up the term "colonialist stance" and from there on I become confused throughout the chapter what exactly she means by it. By colonialist stance I believe she is referring to the way the Western has been raised throughout their history. She adds that many Western feminists have been critiqued poorly by their representation of their Western perspectives and have been looked down upon for excluding the concerns for the Third World women.

October 17, 2008

What is the point of Chapter 3?

"What is the point Narayan is making in chapter 3 and what question do you have after reading this chapter?"

Narayan proposes that we, as scholars, readers, writers, and women in the West, make assumptions about the societal effects of other culture on people's lives that we would not similarly apply to Western people and their culture. She describes the differing views as an "asymmetry in focus" (Narayan 90). She makes this point by contrasting the way the crimes of Indian dowry-murder are viewed to be culturally linked while the crimes of American domestic violence murder are not culturally attributed. Her essay closes with a exploration of the problems a hypothetical Indian reporter would have in construct an equivalently biased view of the Christan or patriarchal factors linked to American women's murders as that of an American reporter documenting Indian dowry-murders. Narayan points out that there are questions that aren't even conceivable in our society and yet we believe the answers of those questions when they are asked of other country's practices. We believe "other" countries horrible practices are more linked to their culture than our own practices are to our culture because Third World Culture is inherently darker, dirtier and less enlightened. Narayan doesn't use the word homogenization but that is precisely what she is talking about -- how we in the west allow all third world countries to be lumped together into categories of backwardness and ignorance without acknowledging the inherent blindness we practice by the act of categorization. After reading the chapter I have no questions about the practice of dowry-burning as Narayan answered all the questions I know how to ask about that issue. I am, however, left with many questions about domestic violence statistics in the United States. My ability to ask questions, it seems, is also circumscribed by my cultural and global location. Is the ability to question similar to the ability to speak?

eating cultures.

It seemed to me that Uma Narayan was trying to show that we assign meanings and ideas to Other's food the same way that we assign them to the Others themselves. The colonial British "fabricated" curry powder as well as they fabricated their notion of India's culture and people. I thought it was interesting that the book said "the British incorporated curry into British cuisine, as Zlotnick vividly describes, they were incorporating the Other into the self, but on the self's terms" (165). This reminded me of colonialism, where we're supposedly working for the good of the 3rd worlders, etc., but are really just spreading our ideas and doing it on our terms. Eating curry made the English feel like they were embracing world cultures, even though people in India were trying to resist the incorporation of curry into their domestic diets. Food is a very important section of culture, and there are meanings assigned to it, just like everything else constructed in culture.

My question: Are there any positives in the Westernization of food in 3rd world cultures. Do the economic benefits such as added jobs and a stimulated economy ever outweigh the negatives that come with it?

"Restoring History and Politics to 'Third World Traditions'"

The main point of this second chapter in "Dislocating Cultures" is that Western feminists lack the historical and political ideologies that surround 'Third World' affairs and traditions. Narayan proves this point by going through an extensive critical analysis of Mary Daly's piece "Gyn/Ecology." I think I understood the main topics that Narayan proves, but it was a rather in depth analysis that was hard for me to follow. Therefore I have many questions regarding the readings such as: what was Narayan referring to when she spoke about how Daly referred to dowry-harassments and dowry-murders that took place in India? I also don't understand what Narayan means by "imperial feminism" What does Narayan mean when she refers to Hindu fundamentalism? when she sttes "The 'national and cultural identity' agendas of Hindu fundamentalism aim to marginalize all non-Hindus.."

Uma Narayan's main points in Chapter Two

Uma Narayan points out three main ways colonialist stances affect Third-World Cultures and why it is a problem. She does this by critically analyzing Mary Daly's Discussion of "Indian Suttee" and uses it as an example of ways Western Feminism has fallen below par globally. Narayan begins her investigation by looking at the way Daly misrepresents Sati. First she claims to use a form of inclusion, making her claim applicable to all women, by assuming one's feminists perspective applies to all females. This is not inclusion., as Narayan points out, this is exclusion. In her attempt to understand their standing, she notes how Western Feminists’ views in general are devalued because of their western superiority and hegemonic roots. Narayan heavily cautions any Western Feminist, or any feminist for that matter, to criticize another culture and in continuous points out that it is not a distinct characteristic of western feminism but one of western culture and public understanding as a whole. She defends Daly by realizing her stance is not unique to the western view. Daly was given the upper hand due to having an audience of western readers who are unfamiliar with the social, historical, political and historical contexts of Sati. This explains why Daly didn’t have to explain them or how they have changed. However, it is not an excuse for her failure to inform her audience that Sati was never widespread in Hindu communities, much less India itself. Daly is given authority within a subject she clearly doesn’t understand. Those like Daly, who do not research a topic by all sides and perspectives are responsible for cases like the ‘Dallas Observer’. No wonder the Texas court claimed she was a victim of her culture, or that her death had to be a sati suicide or a dowry murder, when Americans like Daly continue to claim that Sati is prevalent in India, and continues to threaten many Indian women’s lives. When in fact, there have been approximately only 40 known cases in the last 4 decades. Her failure to use it as a "European Witch burning" was equally embarrassing. Not to mention, her politically incorrect reoccurring them that Third-World Nations are dominated by traditional practices, and are both uniform and monolithic. Daly refuses to even gloss over the complex history in Indian's opposition of Sati. Instead, she uses these women as a crutch for justifying the "civilizing mission" of Britain and uses her critique as a form of oppression.

Question: There are several claims that Western Feminists are backing the oppression and colonialization of the Brittish. What are the European Feminists saying in comparison to American ones?

chapter 5

In chapter 5, "Eating Cultures," Narayan discusses how in the history of America, we have taken food from other cultures, changed it for our liking, and then mass distributed it in America as that country's cuisine. The first example that she uses to make her point is Indian curry. Narayan states that, "British curry powder is really a 'fabricated' entity, the logic of colonial commerce imposing a term that signified a particular type of dish onto a specific mixture of spices, which then became a fixed and familiar product, as Indian if you like as Major Grey's mango chutney, which is found in the more pretentious U.S. grocery stores and bears only a familiar resemblance to the chutneys of home" (164). In this example, she compares the act of taking another country's food and changing it to colonialism. While I agree that there is a connection with our food practices and colonialsim, I disagree with the the quote that she discusses of Lisa Heldke where she argues that some Americans in by eating "exotic" foods "display a shallow interest in 'exotic' foods" (178). Ordering American chinese food does not display a sallow interest in exotic food. It shows that that person enjoys eating American chinese food. Just because one orders American chinese food does not mean that they do not and would not eat authentic chinese food if it were available to them. Authentic chinese cuisine is difficult to find in America, not because of the consumer, but because of the market. Furthermore, even if there were many authentic chinese food places around that does not mean that people who enjoy American chinese food more are displaying a shallow interest, it means they enjoy it.

Question: Do you think the practice of serving "un-authentic" food in one's country is a common practice around the world? Why or why not?

"Cross Cultural Connections, Border Crossings and 'Death by Culture"

Q: What point is Narayan making in this chapter and what question do you have after reading it?

I think that the main focus of this chapter is the tendency for cultures to look at other cultures as the "other" and to separate oneself from the issues, making the other issues more serious, more primitive. This problem allows overgeneralization and the concept of the "third world women" too be to encompassing. Narayan's talks about iInformational border crossings, which relate to the barriers information and understanding of different cultures face when entering into a new country/culture. Narayan explains that in cases of "dowry murders" it is the murders, the "other" the "extreme" that makes it passed the borders into the public awareness yet true explanations get left at the door leaving the issue highly susceptible to misinterpretation. Narayan uses the example of clitorodectomy, stating that the concept in the U.S. has become an "icon" of oppression in Africa, yet other issues similar to ones for women in the U.S. get left at the border, unseen. This causes people in the U.S. to only see the sensational issues, the issues that seem so much worse than the ones they face in the U.S. making women of Africa the "other," the more oppressed. Narayan believes that the concept of "'Dowry murder" in India is not different from the "domestic abuse murders" that occur in the U.S. Yet she tackles the question of why in the U.S. people are so baffled by the concept when similar acts are happening in their own country. She believes it is because there is a western tendency to blame the "Indian Culture" as a whole for issues of sati and dowry murders. That blaming the problems on the culture as a whole, makes not understanding the real issues more acceptable. By claiming that it is their culture or their "indianness" as Narayan states, that is the problem makes it seem as though it is just something that happens elsewhere and is very different to what happens here. Narayan makes some conclusions as to why this is so. She says that the attention that is given to issues of domestic murder in India and in the United States differ, aiding in the misinterpretation of the problems. For example, in the U.S. although many women are killed as a result of domestic violence, the problem that is focused on is the battering, the homelessness. The focus is put on finding shelters for the women, welfare for the children, not so much on ending domestic abuse murders. Now in India, there are many protests and a lot of emphasis put on putting an end to "dowry murders" and less on the much more common emotional abuses. So, people in the U.S. know that domestic abuse happens...but they are not as bombarded with the concept of people dying from the abuse. So they see the notion of "dowry murders" as something different from what is going on in their culture, even when it really is not. They see it as a sweeping problem, something that all Indian women are plagued with, even when they are not. Another reason why there may be difficulties in understanding the concept of dowry murders for people in the U.S. is because burning seems so sensational. Yet in India, the idea of shooting someone has the same effect, because guns are not prevelant. There seem to be many barriers to understanding different cultures. And I think that Narayan's notion of information "border crossing" is a great way to make some sense of it. There is a lot of danger in making the sweeping generalization of the "third world woman."

chapter three

"What is the point Narayan is making in chapter three and what question do you have after reading this chapter?"
Narayan discusses how western people connect situations that occur within society as a direct connection to the culture in third world countries but not in other areas. Narayan uses the example of dowry-murders as an example of a cultural aspect of Indian culture whereas domestic violence is not viewed as a cultural aspect of the United States.

Narayan touches on the point on how dowry-murders are really one of the only forms of domestic violence that occurs in Indian that Americans are given information on. Therefore this leads to westerns only seeing the most extreme cases of domestic violence which in turn reinforces the idea of “otherness?-the distinction between them and us.

Additionally, Narayan addresses context when looking at other cultures. She uses the example of westerners examining the issue of dowry-murders. Because westerners do not have the context for the issue it can, an in fact is, easily taken out of context, twisted and suddenly seen as a cultural ritual.

On a side note, I found it incredibly interesting that there is a lack of records regarding domestic violence deaths in America. I am curious as to why this is.

Uma Narayan and "Death by Culture"

In her chapter, “Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings and Death by Culture: Thinking About Dowry-Murders in India and Domestic-Violence Murders in the United States?, Uma Narayan claims that the way in which dowry-murders in India are framed in U.S. feminist context is problematic for multiple reasons. Primarily, when “Third-World? experiences are shared with Americans, their historical and contextual knowledge is lost in the crossing of boarders. This blurs the lines between old, rare practices such as sati, with the newer and increasingly more frequent occurrences of dowry-murders. This in turn can lead to the construction of the ideas in the West where “’Indian culture’ [is] one beset with a ‘cultural habit’ of burning its women!? (Narayan, 86). Furthermore, she says that this notion perpetuates the explanation of the “other? through “cultural explanations? instead of contextual and historical perspectives. Narayan looks at how this shift occurs as information crosses boarders and analyzes why the “death by culture? phenomenon, which is prescribed to Indian women by Western feminists, is absent within the Western context regarding similar types of violence against women. The chapter additionally focuses on the lack of a similar category in Western discourse, for example “domestic-violence murders?, and how this deficit of categorization contributes to the “asymmetry in focus? between dowry-murders and domestic-violence murders in the U.S.
The main focus of the chapter aims to show how the reframing and editing of “Third-World? information in Western settings changes the context surrounding the crimes, and therefore misrepresents the issue at hand. She claims, “such asymmetries in ‘cultural explanation’ result in pictures of Third-World women as ‘victims of their culture’ in ways that are interestingly different from the way in which victimization of mainstream Western women is understood? (85). Narayan states that the very nature of being viewed as “other? causes specific issues, such as dowry-murders, to be “sensationalized?, and therefore they are more prone to be topics of discussion and analysis across boarders. This focus of Western analysis on fewer and more radical practices in turn leads to the more widespread notion that these behaviors are common, traditional, and dependent on “their culture? of origin. Converting a rare and historically debated issue into a “paradigmatic demonstration? of a country skews the validity of the experience and the context in which it actually occurs. In this way, the framing of dowry-death links it with “Indian culture?, instead of being viewed in an appropriate context that could evoke a more informed and valuable discourse across boarders regarding domestic violence against women.
Narayan also focuses her discussion on the absence of a similar category in Western feminist discourse. Through her investigation she finds a large deficit of data surrounding murders of women that occur from domestic violence in America. She pursues this issue to try to “make sense of why the connection between dowry-murders and domestic violence is not ‘visible’ to many Americans? (89). She discovers an “asymmetry in focus? between the feminists within each country. U.S. feminist efforts have centralized around the survivors of domestic violence and the necessary rehabilitations needed for these victims. Contrastingly, in India the feminist movement focused specifically on the increasingly devastating effects of dowry-murder. These two different approaches are not surprising given they are in different contexts and “specific feminist policies and solutions are dependent on the background social, economic, and institutional features of the national landscapes within which feminists groups operate? (93). What is at issue, Narayan claims, is not that feminists approach different issues in different ways. Her focus is why domestic violence in America is not blamed on American culture, while in India dowry-murders are. She states that the focus on crimes of “exotic? or “other? nature adds to the interest in study, and once the issue becomes sensationalized the topic becomes an international one. In this transportation the information changes and the content becomes removed from the context that once allowed it to be discussed in an academic, progressive and possibly helpful way. In this new setting issues like dowry-murder become misrepresented and linked to “Indian culture?, therefore creating the image that women are burned to death in India because of “cultural or religious traditions?. Although the sharing of information can greatly impact and benefit the fight for women’s (and human’s) rights worldwide, the misrepresentation of issues like dowry-murder in fact inhibit the ability to unite for change. It creates an exoticization of the “Third-World? and creates a rift that needs to be mended before the topic at hand can even be discussed.
In her essay Narayan claims, that the restructuring of “Third-World? issues in a Western setting removes the historical context of the topic, which leads to the “death by culture? phenomenon. With these ideas and images in mind it is clear that the correct historical and contextual representation is essential when boarder-crossing topics are approached by feminists (or anyone for that matter). Equally important is that one notices that while “cultural blaming? can be an easy answer to a complicated problem it rarely uncovers the essence of the material, therefore, stopping the discourse before any real advances can be made. Therefore, it is imperative that feminists (everywhere) remember to widen their scope and place “foreign issues? within their appropriate contexts before assuming that a crime, such as dowry-murder, is attributable to “Indian culture?. This also allows them to more clearly see and find the links between crimes like dowry-murder and domestic-violence murders, thus uniting the feminist fight to reduce violence against women on a world scale.

Follow up questions:

Why isn’t there a focus in the U.S. on domestic-violence murders? Is there an association with domestic-violence and “ongoing offenses? or repeated violence in the home?

If the Western way of looking at “Third-World? issues like dowry-murder, sati, foot-binding, and female genital mutilation (for example) places them within a colonized framework, then how does a similar analysis by a “Third-World? feminist differ when the observed issues is in a different country of origin? (For example, an Indian feminist analyzing foot-binding)


Narayan, Uma. Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings, and "Death by Culture": Thinking About Dowry-Murders in India and Domestic-Violence Murders in the United States. Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism.

October 16, 2008

Think about it all,..

What is the point Narayan is making in chapter 2 and what questions do you have after reading this chapter?

In chapter two, Narayan is pointing out the many problems the arise when western feminists over generalize issues they view as "oppressive" and in so doing reproduce a "colonialist stance". She is referencing Mary Daly's analysis on sati to exemplify how someone overlooking history, colonialism, modernity, and politics of a given "third-world" location only serve to skew the presentation of the issue, in this case sati, and uphold the "colonial stance". She explores the problems western feminists have in there discussions of "third-world" women. For example she talks about how western feminists tend to portray the "third-world" context as being dominated by traditional practices. This is a misrepresentation given the very important political and colonial histories of "third-world" locations.

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"Culinary Imperialism"

Chapter five of Dislocating Cultures discusses how food is metaphorically and literally related to the perceptions and lives of “Third World? and Western people. Narayan discusses how food can come to represent an entire culture outside of the country. She begins by discussing how the search for spices was one of the first reasons why explorers and colonizers came to India. Colonizers also developed plantations that grew “exotic? crops, and they had slaves cultivate the land (163). She talks about how curry as we know it in the west is not actually what it is in India. Curry is not actually one spice, but a collection of spices called Masalas. The British colonizers took something that was Indian originally and transformed “the Other into the self? (164-165). She discusses the Other and self throughout the chapter, and an example of this is how her mother had Buddhist, Sikh and Christians idols along with Hindu ones, and how this is a “cultural habit? of incorporating the Other into self (171). One interesting point was how memsahibs did not prepare Indian food in their homes in India, but it was perfectly acceptable and encouraged to eat Indian food in Victorian England. Narayan states that “influence of the colonies on colonizing powers is as complicated a matter as the impact of the colonizers on their colonies? (168). One interesting point, however, is that British food was not really ever incorporated in Indian food (169). She discusses Third World food outside of the colonies and how Third World restaurants and grocery stores feed Westerners now. However, in

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Chapter 3

"Cross-Cultural connections, Border Crossings and 'Death by Culture'"
What is the point Narayan is making in this chapter and what questions do you have after reading this chapter?

In the first section, Narayan compares the representation of dowry-murders in India and domestic violence in the US. She points out that in India there are also cases of domestic violence and rape, and in the US there are also extreme cases of the woman dying because of domestic violence. However, people rarely make the connection between the two because of the "visibility" of dowry-murder in India and domestic violence in the US. Also, she points out that there are contextual reasons for the differences in focus between Western and Indian feminists. She claims that while the US has structures such as welfare in place that can help battered women, India lacks the structures and has the added stigma of divorce and women living alone to deter any efforts to help battered women in India. Instead Indian feminists focus on raising awareness of dowry-murders in order to counter laws and customs that support giving of a dowry with the bride. To conclude this section, Narayan points out that although western and Indian feminist have good reason for their different approaches, the "asymmetrical" representation has led to a lack of connection between domestic violence and the extreme case of dowry-murders.

In the next section, Narayan argues that the difference in "visibility" of dowry-murders and domestic violence murders leads to a lack of official data on the statistics in each country. In India statistics on the number of deaths suspected to be caused related to dowry are readily available, whereas in the US it is difficult to find information of the number of domestic violence murders. Narayan did find an approximation of how many deaths were proved to be caused by domestic violence. She points out that in addition to the availability of the data, there is also an inclusive/exclusive bias to the data that is caused by the differences in focus between countries.

The next section addresses the problems of border-crossings and "death by culture." Narayan claims that the issues that cross the border are often only those that are completely different from what happens in western culture. This includes sati and dowry-murders and serves to point out the "otherness" of the other culture, while harassment because of dowry and other domestic violence cases in India never cross the border because they are similar to occurrences in the US. She argues that this causes people to attribute the strangeness of burning women to the Indian culture, thus "death by culture," while ignoring the context that creates the issue. Also, she points out that from the US vantage point burning is seen as exotic whereas using a gun would be seen as exotic in India. However, she claims that these problems with context are not that easy to correct because of the problems of recognizing the distortions and then finding out what caused them and trying to correct them.

She goes on to analyze the representation of dowry-murders in the next section by looking at the misrepresentations seen in a book by Elizabeth Bumiller. She argues that Bumiller sets up the issues of sati and dowry-murders in a way that blurres them together when they are really separate events. Additionally she points out that Hinduism and the dowry tradition cannot be argued to be the cause of dowry-murders because they have been around much longer than the murders and they are not seen in all Indian communities. She ends the section with an outline of how the cause of dowry-murders should be looked at as changes in the tradition of giving a dowry and that it should not be seen as the only cause.

Narayan ends the chapter by introducing an imaginary journalist writing a book on the ways that american culture leads to domestic violence murders. She points out that while similar comparisons are often mad about Indian women in relation to fire, it is very difficult to find information on the deaths of women in domestic violence situations caused by guns. She concludes by saying that such topics that are difficult to write about may serve to allow better understanding of about western cultures as they relate to "other" cultures.

Death By Culture

Within this chapter, Narayan wants to deconstruct the notion of "Death by Culture". “Death by Culture? is the idea that murder is based off of a cultural or religious practice; it is a violence suffered because of one’s place of origin (101). In this part of the books, sati and dowry-murders are examined. Narayan writes that these two acts are highly publicized but have little to do with India as a whole or Hindu culture and more to do with the colonizing countries' (US and Britain) interpretation of Hindu culture. Out cries against these acts stem from the belief that it is common in Hindu culture to burn widows and to murder wives if dowry is not meet, hence women being murder due to their culture. While Narayan has many goals within this chapter one of the main goals is to get at the root of these two acts and why they are so thoroughly (or unthroughly) discussed by western feminists. Narayan comes to the conclusion that while these acts are not common Hindu culture and are practiced in many non-Hindu areas of India, these deaths are brought into the spotlight due to their “fantastical? elements (113). Narayan write “The ‘alien’ features of burning and ‘dowry’ help to further code the phenomena as ‘Indian’ and ‘Other’? (101). She argues that Western feminists find the unfamiliar, in this case fire or the idea of paying a dowry, exotic and something that they can find relatable. Western feminists then find themselves outraged at the prospect of women being burned alive simply because of one’s status within a culture. While these murders are horrific, Narayan smartly compares them to domestic murders. In the last section of the chapter, she creates a hypothetical situation of an Indian journalist being outraged by the use of guns in the United States and their role in the murders of wives. While Americans find the right to own a gun a common thing, in India guns are far less common and have their own fantastical element. For Indians, the right to own a gun in America would be tied to our culture and thereby a domestic murder would be coded “Death by Culture?. Narayan also points out those feminist theorists, such as Mary Daly, comb through statistics to find outrageous numbers to bolster their books. Much the same could be done with domestic murder in the U.S. adding an element of shock to any piece of literature.
This chapter helped give me insight into how western feminists like Mary Daly, came to write the novels and theories that are so controversial. I wonder how her arguments are viewed by Western Feminists and by the people of her own country. Early she discussed that her views in India are trivialized because of her ties to the United States. How do women in India view the idea of “Death by Culture?? Do they dismiss it much like other views that Narayan has? How do western feminists view this argument? Is it simply a way that Third World Women deny the problems in their country?

Restoring History and Politics to "Third-World Tradtions"

In this chapter, Narayan is making a point of how there is a "colonist stance" toward the representation of "Third-World Cultures". Narayan is very repetative in this chapter. I did not like the way she wrote because I left like I was reading the same thing over and over again just put in slightly different words, she really drilled the point into her writing. One of her main points was that Western feminists go to Third World countries and "tell" the women what is happening to them, or without actually respecting their different cultures and beliefs, they think some of the things that the women have to do should be considered extremely unfair and wrong, such as acts like Sati. Narayan speaks a lot of Daly's writing about this, she thinks that Daly wrote a lot about the Third World women but the way she portrays the third world women makes it seem like the Western feminists know everything about them and need to interfere with their cultures so that they can have more equalities and better lives. Daly protrays Sati as a horrible thing, but some cultures do it because it is what they believe in and because of religion. Narayan also talks about the contemporary politics of Sati and how there has been a recent "revival" of Sati. The recent cases are more motivated by economic reasons. One question that this reading left me with is, Where is the line drawn with sacrifices being "acceptable" in cultures, and should others get involved when they seem "unacceptable"?

"Through the Looking-Glass Darkly"

The points that Narayan is making in chapter four "Through the Looking-Glass Darkly" is about the different roles that are understood as "Preoccupations." The emissary role is based on what Narayan suggests as the "cultural riches" as talking merely of the goods things about ones culture. It is a position placed on the speaker to change negative attitudes and conceptions of the Third World cultures. The position of the "Mirror" is a standpoint for cultural reflection. One may use information about another culture to only learn more about their own culture. One does not learn about the other culture for growth, but for reflection. The "authentic insider" is a position where on may feel they are portrayed as a representative of "the whole culture or the whole group" in regards to the Third World cultures. A question I ponder is....I know Third World feminist feel forced into these roles, but sometimes it is the only access of information about other cultures that some may encounter...isn't it still valuable that we are learning something about different cultures opposed to no questioning at all??

Curry and Country

What is the point Narayan is making in this chapter and what question do you have after reading this chapter?

Narayan is trying to get people to understand the meaning of "ethnicity" and how it comes about in dominating cultures. For example, the Indians coming into England are the two primary cultures that Uma Narayan uses throughout the entire chapter. She wants people to understand that many dominating cultures take over certain traditions from "the Others." England fabricates the concept of eating curry in their new traditions and many times they only try these new "ethnic foods" because it makes themselves feel better and more rounded. Narayan also points out that people have forgot to look inside the culture itself and see the differences within a particular aculture. The dominating people look at restaurants with immigrants working and do not care to think about the stress it puts on their families because they are working non stop to make a living. Instead, people focus on the difference between the dominating culture and the "other" culture. She uses food because it is a concrete way of using analogies and explaining patterns dealing with "otherness."
My question I still have after reading chapter 5 is why did her grandma sneak around and eat junkfood? I don't understand this because she seems to put such an importance on culture and tradition and the importance of all of those things.

October 15, 2008

Chap. 5 "Eating Cultures"

In this chapter, Uma Narayan discusses how the consumption, production and Westernization of "ethnic" food has further complicated the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. She explains that the food of the colonized was often rejected by the colonizers that occupied the land, though their food in a much different form, was often incorporated in the diets of those living in the colonizers' country. She uses the example of the British converting curry to a seasoning powder while growing up, she knew curry as a mixture of spiced vegetables with rice. She emphasizes the distortion of food when incorporating "the Other into the self." In her mind, this also symbolically means Britain in a sense eating India. She also discusses how "ethnic restaurants" are viewed in the West as a place to get a cheap meal, tip poorly and contribute to Westerners' prestige and sophistication of cultural food knowledge.

How has globalization further complicated representations, relationships and cultural food products with the introduction of fast food restaurants in “third world countries??

Restoring History and Politics - Third World Traditions

What is the point Narayan is making in this chapter and what question do you have after reading this chapter?

I think the point that Narayan is trying to prove is that no one from an outside perspective can truly speak for someone else and really get the true message out. She showed this by disproving and tearing through Mary Daly's articled about Indian Suttee. She criticized Daly for many reasons including generalizing information, blurring features about class, caste and religion which relate to the sati and basically said that Daly was deceiving the reader. Daly gave the impression that sati was a wide spread phenomenon that lead to higher rates of malnutrition and mortality in Indian women, however these two things had nothing to do with each other. She also was misleading and made it seem like sati were practiced by everyone in India when it was really only related to a certain caste, class and religion. Narayan wanted to show that Daly used discredited sources and she used large generalizations when talking about third world women. Narayan wanted to show that no woman, especially a Western woman, would truly be able to capture what a third world woman has to go through. She never completely puts herself in a third world woman's position or even tries to. Rather, like Daly, she uses certain information and manipulates its meaning to prove the point she wanted to make. I liked the point that Narayan said about how Western cultures view third world cultures as a place where "time stands still" and where "one culture rules all" (DC 50). I think that this was a very interesting and true point which I think Daly wants to prove as well because Daly made it seem like India was still stuck in the frame of satis.

I felt that this text was pretty self explanatory and it really kept reinforcing the same idea over and over again. This didn't necessarily help prove its point, I just felt that it made it less interesting to read over and over.
My question about this text is what did Daly hope to prove with her article about the Indian Suttee. I understand that she wanted to show what it was and that it had been outlawed, but I just don't understand what she wanted to the world with it. Did she just want to show how horrible it was for women?