Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings, and “Death by Culture” By Uma Narayan What does Narayan mean by the phrase: “Death by Culture”? What is wrong with the phrase: “They are burning women in India”? Why is death by culture a problematic way of thinking about violence against women in “developing” countries? Death by culture The tendency to construct a practice such as dowry murder as a feature of culture rather than as a deviant practice. Different practices that involve fire are conflated (i.e., Sati and Dowry Murder) Dowry murder is viewed as a function of religious culture (i.e., Hindu religion). Problems w/ Death by Culture View Generates inaccurate information • Dowry murders are negatively sanctioned • Dowry murder and sati are different practices with different histories. Obscures cultural/religious variation • Depicts India/Indians as monolithic • Not all dowry murders are committed by Hindu’s Obscures a broad range of women’s issues that Indian feminists focus on: Dowry murder becomes THE issue. Reproduces negative stereotypes • Invokes the “barbarian” other Why “Death by Culture” dominates western thinking of women in developing countries: Border crossings— the practice of dowry murder is de-contextualized when it crosses borders. Historical context and social forces are obscured. • As dowry murder is uprooted from its context— important information gets edited out. Dowry Murder & Death by Domestic Violence Why is dowry murder in India hyper visible, while death by domestic violence in the U.S. is invisible? Narayan is framing each as a form of domestic violence. She argues that we need to understand social context. Domestic Violence in the U.S. Context Focus on a broad range of issues—widen the scope of domestic violence. Political structure shapes focus. • Existence of social programs and acceptance of divorce generates a focus on shelters. • Women are helped to: find a shelter, secure Protection Against Abuse orders, apply for aid. Goal is to get women out of a violent marriage. Centering on death by domestic violence is not a good strategy. Dowry Murder: The Indian Context Sexual violence was not part of the original feminist agenda (pg. 91) Revised agenda focused on sexual violence: Focus on dowry murder and police rape Dowry murder received sustained media attention for 2 reasons: 1. Middle class phenomenon (police rape was a poor woman’s issue) 2. General awareness of violence against women, especially poor women. Dowry murder was a surprise; feminist were reframing kitchen accidents as murder. The Indian Context Continued Negative view of divorce. Lack of state provided social, legal, and educational services for women. Greater levels of female unemployment Together these factors made shelters less feasible Thus, Indian feminists focused on dowry murder. They could enact legislation and cultural sanctions against this practice. Dowry Murder Social Context A form of domestic violence Emerged in the 1970s (not a long standing tradition) Traditional dowry linked to spirituality (material wealth converted to spiritual wealth) and/or inheritance of movable goods. Contemporary dowry is not linked to tradition of spirituality, but is linked to inheritance. Dowry murder linked to changes in political economic structure of middle class. Emphasis on commercial goods as a form of status. Summary To avoid Death by Culture depictions feminist need to: Contextualize issues Recognize that feminist agendas are shaped by different conditions within different national contexts.