Guest Speaker: India’s Working Women and Career Discourses

I was invited as a guest speaker to one of DePaul’s Liberal Studies Program courses (Focal Point – Women and Work) taught by Dr. Nila Ginger Hofman, a professor in the Anthropology department. I was thrilled at the opportunity to speak to the mostly first year students. The students had read a chapter from my book, “India’s Working Women and Career Discourses: Society, Socialization, and Agency” and had prepared questions for me. Continue reading

Janice, the taxi driver

Given the extremely cold days that Chicago and Chicagoans have had to endure this winter, I have reluctantly given in to the luxury of taking a cab home after teaching my graduate seminar this quarter. Yesterday, my cab driver was Janice, an older African-American woman. I was pleased to be in my very first car ride with a woman driver. After exchanging pleasantries and admitting to her that this was my first time being driven by a woman, I started asking her about her work.

Because I love what I study and research – careers and meanings of work – every encounter with a “working” individual is a chance to learn more about their constructions of meaningful work and Janice was an engaged interviewee. I asked her why she rode a cab. (I did confess that I am a professor and that I study and teach about work and it’s meanings) She said it was like a business to her because she leases the cab for 24 hours and gets to set her schedule. As we continued to chat, I learned that she had been driving a cab for 9 years and really enjoyed it. Why does she enjoy it? She answered jovially by saying that “people are always coming and going” in her cab and she enjoys meeting so many new people all the time. I also learned that Janice is voluntary cook at a shelter. When I asked her what the meaning of this work was for her, she repeated her ability to have a flexible schedule. Then, she said that she liked that she helped people in her job. “How so?” She believes she helps people because she takes people to their destinations. She said she wasn’t very religious but still felt there was a hand of God in what she did and “it is also very good money!”, she said smilingly.

Before we could chat more, I had arrived home and Janice had indeed helped me get to my destination thereby fulfilling the meaning she saw in her work everyday. She is an amazing conversationalist and throughout our 5-6 minute cab ride, her smile never once left her face. She was very pleasant to chat to and I really wished I had had more time to engage with her.

With regard to meanings of work, Janice appeared to have both, intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons to find meaningfulness in her work. Her subjective interpretation of meaningful work as helping someone was unexpected for me just because I never saw the role of a cab driver from a purely functional angle. Of course it absolutely makes sense now but to see it internalized and expressed clearly from a cab driver’s perspective was new for me.

I hope to continue interviewing more people  “at work” and will update this blog accordingly. To see some of the amazing interviews my students have conducted in the past, go to

My book, ‘India’s Working Women and Career Discourses…” is released

India's Working Women  India’s Working Women and Career Discourses: Society, Socialization, and Agency

This study investigates Indian working women’s sense of the discourses surrounding work and careers. In interviews conducted with seventy-eight women across socioeconomic statuses, castes, classes, and occupational and generational categories in the city of Pune, India, women express how feeling bound by tradition confronts excitement about ongoing changes in the country. The work lives of these women are influenced symbiotically by India’s sociocultural practices and the contemporary phenomenon of globalization. Using feminist standpoint theory as a theoretical lens, Suchitra Shenoy-Packer explores how women deconstruct, coconstruct, and reconstruct systems of knowledge about their worlds of work as embedded within and influenced by the intersections of society, socialization, and individual agency. The meanings that Indian women associate with their work as well as their definition of a career in twenty-first-century India will be of interest to students and scholars of feminist theory, women’s studies, globalization, Asian studies, and labor studies.

Last week, I received a shipment of 10 copies of my first solo-authored book. Needless to say, I am excited at its release and look forward to it being read and used as a text, reference guide, or even leisure reading by others. The project has been a long time in the making. This book is the culmination of three months of data collection in India in 2008 and several years of continued and updated research since then. I absolutely enjoyed the process of meeting with my amazing participants, learning from them, and listening to their experiences. What a delightful way to engage other individuals…by talking about their work!! Because I wanted to understand my participants or my research collaborators beyond their framing of their worlds of work, I asked many a questions related to their lives as well. The answers I got were almost always candid and often inspirational. What other profession or career choice would give one this kind of an opportunity!

Journalism comes close and I am fortunate to have had experience working as a journalist for The Indian Express in Pune, back in the day. Talking to people, getting out of my comfort zone to research topics I didn’t start out knowing much about, engaging interviewees in a conversation about themselves (which is usually not difficult), and just soaking in all that information, is something I really, really love doing. I truly enjoy getting to know people from the perspective of my research questions. Whether it is journalistic investigation (although granted, much of my work as a stringer was interviewing celebrities, writing about food, music, movies, and the teen-college generation, I was very dedicated to my work and took every assignment seriously with the amount of commitment it deserved) or scholarly inquiries, I live for that engagement. I am so thrilled to be working in a profession I love.