Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Jennifer Bair

Second Advisor

Joanne Belknap

Third Advisor

Isaac Reed

Fourth Advisor

Liam Downey

Fifth Advisor

Emily Yeh

Abstract

This article considers the gendered processes of social change in Nepal. In particular, I examine how young working class women in urban Nepal articulate their modern subjectivities. In the last thirty years women have been making significant inroads into Nepal’s public sphere, troubling long-held normative assumptions about women’s place in modern Nepal. In particular, historically dominant high-caste Hindu norms that disapprove women’s public visibility and mobility are challenged by new opportunity structures for women and an emergent structure of feeling advocating women’s equal participation in Nepal’s development projects. Rapid democratization of the political sphere, urbanization, and expansion of capitalist markets has precipitated enormous shifts in Nepal’s social organization including how women from diverse caste and ethnic backgrounds participate in the newly monetized economy as laborers and consumers. Young working class women have unprecedented access to disposable income. With their wages, they enjoy the pleasures of purchasing power and, through consumptive practices, craft their identity as modern commodity consumers. At the same time, as participants in the public sphere of wage labor, working class women are deeply aware of the social risks they are taking as publicly visible women. These risks include the danger of being labeled “over modern” and “open”–descriptors with undertones of sexual immorality. Drawing on 20 months of ethnographic research conducted with one group of young working class women: female trekking guides, I contextualize my informants’ experiences of wage earning and consumption. I explore the justifications my informants use to legitimate their public visibility and the pleasure they take in commodity consumption as well as the strategies they deploy to counter negative stereotypes associated with their status as public women. I end with a discussion of anxiety as a productive force in the lives of my informants and show how tensions between the pleasures of purchasing power and the dangers of being labeled “over modern” bracket their experiences of day-to-day living.