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The happy and anxious lives of (feminist) legal scholarship: an interview with Prabha Kotiswaran

Abstract

This interview with Prabha Kotiswaran, Professor of Law and Social Justice at King’s College, London focuses, among others, on the many dimensions of postcolonial feminist legal education and scholarship; her own scholarly journey across three continents; insights into the gendered nature of academic labor; the lived dimensions of her feminism, the limitations and possibilities of emerging forms of feminisms in the wake of #MeToo; on her own scholarship on sex work; the misreading of governance feminism; the tradition of materialist feminism; her current project on law and social reproduction; and the imperative for strengthening solidarity between the women’s and labor movements in India.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See generally, Mary E. John (ed), Women’s Studies in India: A Reader (Penguin Books 2008).

  2. 2.

    See generally, Benny LeMaster, ‘Star gazing: Transing Gender Communication’ (2019) 33(3) Communication Teacher 221; Jennifer Musto, ‘Transing Critical Criminology: A Critical Unsettling and Transformative Anti-Carceral Feminist Reframing’ (2019) 27(1) Critical Criminology 37; Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, ‘Transing Religion: Moving Beyond the Logic of the (Hetero)Norm of Binaries’ (2018) 34(1) Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 88.

  3. 3.

    See generally, Davina Cooper, ‘A Very Binary Drama: The Conceptual Struggle for Gender’s Future’ (2019) 9(1) feminists@law; Davina Cooper, ‘Beyond the Current Gender Wars’ (2019) IPPR Progressive Review 25(4) 393. For a description of the project see: ‘The Future of Legal Gender: A Critical Law Reform Project’ <https://futureoflegalgender.kcl.ac.uk/> accessed 1 November 2019.

  4. 4.

    Ania Loomba and Ritty A. Lukose (eds), South Asian Feminisms (Duke University Press 2012); see also, Srila Roy (ed), New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities (Zed Books 2013).

  5. 5.

    India Law Review <https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rilw20> accessed 1 November 2019.

  6. 6.

    Prabha Kotiswaran, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labour: Sex Work and the Law in India (Oxford University Press 2012). The book won the 2012 Hart-SLSA Book Prize for Early Career Academics.

  7. 7.

    See, N.R. Madhava Menon, A Handbook on Clinical Legal Education (Eastern Book Company 1998) 238.

  8. 8.

    Catherine A. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Harvard University Press 1988).

  9. 9.

    See, Melissa Ditmore, ‘In Calcutta, Sex Workers Organize,’ in Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley (eds), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Duke University Press 2007) 170-188.

  10. 10.

    Jean D’Cunha, The Legalization of Prostitution: A Sociological Inquiry into the Laws Relating to Prostitution in India and the West (Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society 1991).

  11. 11.

    Rosemary Hennessy, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism (Routledge 2000) 28.

  12. 12.

    Danielle Juteau and Nicole Laurin, ‘From Nuns to Surrogate Mothers: Evolution of the Forms of the Appropriation of Women’ Mary Jo Lakeland (tr) (1989) 9(1) Feminist Issues 13-40, 20.

  13. 13.

    Lise Vogel, Woman Questions: Essays for a Materialist Feminism (Routledge 1995) xii.

  14. 14.

    Rosemary Hennessy, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism (Routledge 2000) 28.

  15. 15.

    Danielle Juteau and Nicole Laurin, ‘From Nuns to Surrogate Mothers: Evolution of the Forms of the Appropriation of Women’ Mary Jo Lakeland (tr) (1989) 9(1) Feminist Issues 13-40, 20. See also, Annette Kuhn and AnnMarie Wolpe, ‘Feminism and Materialism’ in Annette Kuhn and AnnMarie Wolpe (eds) Feminism and Materialism, Women and Modes of Production (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1978) 8-9 for a subtle articulation of the term materialist feminism which is presented as moving towards the construction of a Marxist feminism to the extent that it is an attempt to transform Marxism.

  16. 16.

    Nancy Holstrom, ‘Introduction’ in Nancy Holstrom, The Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics (Monthly Review Press 2002) 5.

  17. 17.

    Materialist feminism has also inspired studies of the political economy, see for instance Jennifer Cohen, ‘What’s “Radical” about [Feminist] Radical Political Economy?’ (2018) 50(4) Review of Radical Political Economics 716-726. For a materialist feminist analysis of sex work, see Chapters 2 and 3 from Prabha Kotiswaran, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labour: Sex Work and the Law in India (Oxford University Press 2012).

  18. 18.

    ibid Kotiswaran xi.

  19. 19.

    See Tithi Bhattacharya (ed) Social Reproduction: Theory Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (Pluto Press 2017).

  20. 20.

    Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Hila Shamir and Chantal Thomas, ‘From The International to the Local in Feminist Legal Responses to Rape, Prostitution/Sex Work, and Sex Trafficking: Four Studies in Contemporary Governance Feminism’ (2006) 29 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender 335.

  21. 21.

    Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir, Governance Feminism: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press 2018); Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir (eds), Governance Feminism: Notes From the Field (University Of Minnesota Press 2019).

  22. 22.

    Prabha Kotiswaran, ‘Governance Feminism in the Postcolony: Reforming India’s Rape Laws’ in Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir (eds), Governance Feminism: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press 2018) 75-148.

  23. 23.

    Janet Halley, Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (Princeton University Press 2006).

  24. 24.

    Global Network of Sex Work Projects, ‘Impacts of Other Legislation and Policy – The Danger of Seeing the Swedish Model in a Vacuum’ (2015) 4 The Real Impact of the Swedish Model on Sex Workers <https://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/4.%20Impacts%20of%20Other%20Legislation%20and%20Policy%20-%20The%20Danger%20of%20Seeing%20the%20Swedish%20Model%20in%20a%20Vacuum%2C%20Swedish%20Model%20Advocacy%20Toolkit%2C%20NSWP%20-%20December%202014.pdf> accessed 1 November 2019.

  25. 25.

    Elizabeth Bernstein, ‘Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns’ (2010) 36 (1) Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 45.

  26. 26.

    Aeyal Gross, ‘Homoglobalism: The Emergence of Global Gay Governance” in Dianne Otto (ed), Queering International Law: Possibilities, Alliances, Complicities, Risks (Routledge 2018) 148-170.

  27. 27.

    Nivedita Menon, ‘Sexual Violence and the Law in India’ in Robin West and Cynthia Grant Bowman (eds), Research Handbook on Feminist Jurisprudence (Edward Elgar 2019) 184-212.

  28. 28.

    ibid 206.

  29. 29.

    Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir (eds), Governance Feminism: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press 2018).

  30. 30.

    Janet Halley, ‘Introducing Governance Feminism’ in Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir (eds), Governance Feminism: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press 2018) ix.

  31. 31.

    ibid x [emphasis in original].

  32. 32.

    Janet Halley, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché and Hila Shamir (eds), Governance Feminism: Notes From the Field (University Of Minnesota Press 2019).

  33. 33.

    Pratiksha Baxi, Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India (Oxford University Press 2014).

  34. 34.

    See generally, Prabha Kotiswaran (ed), Revisiting the Law and Governance of Trafficking, Forced Labor and Modern Slavery (Cambridge University Press 2017).

  35. 35.

    See generally, Sally Engle Merry, The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking (University of Chicago Press 2016).

  36. 36.

    Duncan Kennedy, ‘Form and Substance in Private Law Adjudication’ (1976) 89 Harvard Law Review 1685.

  37. 37.

    See generally, Sehba Imam, ‘Spar, But Don’t Sensationalise’ (The Outlook, 5 April 2018) <https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/spar-but-dont-sensationalise/299995> accessed 1 November 2019; Ajitha Rao and others, ‘Feminist Reflections on the Tragic Suicide of Khurshid Anwar’ (Kafila, 17 February 2014) <https://kafila.online/2014/02/17/feminist-reflections-on-the-tragic-suicide-of-khurshid-anwar/> accessed 1 November 2019.

  38. 38.

    UN General Assembly, Transforming Our World : The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (21 October 2015) A/RES/70/1, Target 5.4 <https://open.undp.org/sdg/targets/5/4> accessed 1 November 2019.

  39. 39.

    Duncan Kennedy, Sexy Dressing Etc. (Harvard University Press 1995).

  40. 40.

    Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton University Press 2007).

  41. 41.

    PTI, ‘Lok Sabha Passes Wage Code Bill’ (The Wire,30 July 2019) <https://thewire.in/politics/lok-sabha-wage-code-bill-passed> accessed 1 November 2019.

  42. 42.

    Prabha Kotiswaran, ‘India's New Anti-Trafficking Bill is an Empty Gesture’ (The Wire, 5 July 2016) <https://thewire.in/rights/indias-new-anti-trafficking-bill-is-an-empty-gesture> accessed 1 November 2019.

  43. 43.

    The Wire Staff, 'Complete Charade': Activists, Civil Society Groups Condemn Triple Talaq Bill (The Wire, 31 July 2019) <https://thewire.in/communalism/triple-talaq-bill-muslim-women> accessed 1 November 2019.

  44. 44.

    Dhruva Gandhi and Unnati Ghia, ‘Transgender Rights Bill: A Stunted Understanding of Gender and Equality’ (The Wire, 5 August 2019) <https://thewire.in/lgbtqia/transgender-rights-bill-a-stunted-understanding-of-gender-and-equality> accessed 1 November 2019.

  45. 45.

    Nandini Nayak and Reetika Khera, ‘Women Workers and Perceptions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ (2009) 44(43) Economic & Political Weekly 49.

  46. 46.

    See generally, Jan Breman, Capitalism, Inequality and Labour in India (Cambridge University Press 2019).

  47. 47.

    See generally, Rebecca Roach, Literature and the Rise of the Interview (Oxford University Press 2018).

Acknowledgements

I thank the issue editors, particularly my colleague Albeena Shakil, for responding positively to the idea of carrying an interview. I couldn’t have completed this interview without the excellent research assistance and prompt transcription of the audio recording by my students Ishani Mookerjee and Shivam Kataria. And of course, thanks to Prabha Kotiswaran for agreeing to this conversation.

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Sircar, O. The happy and anxious lives of (feminist) legal scholarship: an interview with Prabha Kotiswaran. Jindal Global Law Review 10, 303–320 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-019-00102-4

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Keywords

  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • South Asian feminisms
  • Women’s Studies
  • Legal Education
  • Academic Labor
  • Sex Work
  • Trafficking
  • Governance Feminism
  • Materialist Feminism
  • Social Reproduction
  • Interview