Gender, Affect, and Aspirations: Politics of a 'Suitable Match' amongst the Middle Class of Delhi

by

Dr. Parul Bhandari

Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, New Delhi


The ‘neoliberal’ middle class has garnered much attention both in scholarship and popular culture. An aspect of their life-choices that certainly seems to draw much commentary is that of marriage, as it is widely believed that they are spearheading some change in this sphere as well. I begin to explore this presumption and hope by an analysis of their expectations of a suitable spouse, with a particular prism, that of gender. In this paper, based on interviews with over a 100 young middle class professionals and visits to matrimonial agencies and websites, I reveal the strong as well as the muted presence of gendered expectations that define a suitable match. I explain the pertinence of these roles and expectations not in the language of ‘tradition’ and parental influence, but in the context of being an aspirational middle class. I then turn the sociological gaze on the affective dimension of spouse-selection. Here, I bring out the feelings of anxiety, vulnerability, and experience of rejection that this process almost inevitably carries with itself. The affective performance too comes under scrutiny, most popularly in the presentation of being shy, ‘soft-spoken’, and ‘calm’. A process of spouse-selection, I argue, disciplines the affect and emotion as much as the body, which together informs the construction of gender. On the basis of these explanations, I present the modern space of spouse-selection as a playing field where each actor is keen to optimize their status, in the name of ‘love’, companionship, and honour, all the while reproducing gendered norms that the Indian society knows too well. At the end I ask how different are the notions and ideals of companionship of this middle class? Have their expectations of gendered partnerships undergone transformations? And after all, how ‘new’ is this ‘neoliberal’ middle class?


Parul Bhandari completed her PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge. Her thesis was on understanding the construction of a neoliberal middle class identity by focusing on the processes of spouse-selection amongst the professional and educational elites settled in Delhi. At CSH, her research is on elites of India. She has held Guest Lectureships at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Insitute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, and at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics