"Women, Education, and Inequality in Colonial India"

The post-doctoral research project "Women, Education, and Inequality in Colonial India" is conducted in the framework of the Transnational Research Group (TRG) "Poverty and Education in India", funded by the Max Weber Foundation. It particularly contributes to the TRG's collaborative research on "Key Moments of Educational Policy towards the Poor." It focuses on changing educational regimes in regard to gender relations, from the 1820s to the 1930s. Each chapter of the envisioned book monograph explores the emergence of a new constellation of educational ideas and institutions for girls and women, from the 1820s to the 1920s, on regional levels (Bengal, Maharashtra), as well as in the emerging domain of nationalist educational politics and policies. The core issue is women's agency in education. How does the field of education change, when women emerge as educational activists, experts, and policy-makers? How does that affect processes and structures of educational decision-making? The other aspect of this is to look at women as teachers - from kindergarten to higher education. Changes in educational provision and control, the project assumes, are entangled with changes in the order of gender, sexuality, and reproduction.

The project looks at gender and education from an intersectionality perspective. Central to this approach is the assumption that contradictory subject positions, i.e., social actors being privileged in some ways, and disprivileged in others, will have a bearing also on emancipation movements. Struggles for empowerment in the 'contested terrain' of education, were sometimes linked to a universalistic agenda of striving for social equality, but not necessarily so. Efforts for bettering one's own condition and to enhance one's agency could easily slip into attempts to establish a dominant position over against others. The project will hence analyze the gender politics of educational projects and debates in relation to other power relations, along the lines of caste, class, and colonialism/imperialism. Moreover, it will take into account question of changing notions of life-cycles, and debates about girlhood and widowhood as crucial to the development of 'female education'.

Looking at gender and education in this way can contribute to a better understanding of educational policy towards the poor in a double sense: on the one hand, it relates poverty and deprivation to complex matrix of difference and subordination in society and analyses the gendered nature of some policies towards "the poor". On the other hand, an intersectionality perspective on - in a broad sense - feminist politics of education would explore the effects of those for girls and women disprivileged in terms of caste and class. Such an analysis could thus work as a critical contribution to social histories of education of "the poor", as well as a corrective to history of women's education which disregard differences among women, and the potentially harmful effects of an elitist feminist politics.