Queer Activism in India

A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics

Queer Activism in India

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: Published: October 2012

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

In Queer Activism in India, Naisargi Dave examines the formation of lesbian communities in India from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with activist organizations in Delhi, a body of letters written by lesbian women, and research with lesbian communities and queer activist groups across the country, Dave studies the everyday practices that constitute queer activism in India.

Dave argues that activism is an ethical practice comprised of critique, invention, and relational practice. Her analysis investigates the relationship between the ethics of activism and the existing social norms and conditions from which activism emerges. Through her study of different networks and institutions, Dave documents how activism oscillates between the potential for new social arrangements and the questions that arise once the activists' goals have been accomplished. Dave's book addresses a relevant and timely phenomenon and makes an important contribution to the anthropology of queer communities, social movements, affect, and ethics.


"Dave draws upon ethnographically rich data from her fieldwork among lesbian activists in New Delhi and innovative scholarship from queer studies, anthropology and critical theory to produce an important book for students of queer anthropology, the anthropology of South Asia and the emerging field of the anthropology of ethics.”  — Brian A. Horton, Social Anthropology

“The exciting aspect of this book is how Dave draws on the everyday practices of queer activism, in particular lesbian activism in India, to expose the deeply considered and ethical positions that they take. . . . Dave’s book marks a significant contribution to the archive of queer scholarship generally, but more importantly to making visible a postcolonial perspective in this scholarship." — Ratna Kapur, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Naisargi Dave’s book on queer activism in India offers something new and valuable. A book-length account of the queer political landscape with a focus on lesbian activism, this study is distinctive both for its longer temporal view and for the productively ambivalent positionality of its author.” — Rahul Rao, International Dialogue

"Dave’s is a fascinating study, so rich and detailed in its intimate telling of the textures of everyday activism that one is absorbed as if reading a novel."  — Srila Roy, Antipode

"While shedding light on the myriad challenges to the achievement of sexual rights and justice, Dave ultimately paints a portrait of radical possibility where the affective, the material, and the political effects of activism cannot be predetermined." — Amy Bhatt, Signs

“Dave’s book, with its anecdotes, observations, and rich endnotes, will no doubt add to our understanding of urban lesbian activism while compelling us to reflect about methods and ethics in the age of “affect.”” — Shohini Ghosh, Journal of Asian Studies

"A more nuanced understanding of the ethical convictions that motivates ordinary individuals to join a movement, to become activists, to go on acting primarily in their own interests but also in the interests of others like them, can only be gained by a complete reading of this richly textured ethnography." — Harjant Gill, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"A beautifully written ethnography, offering a passionately detailed ethnographic perspective on queer politics, feminism, and social movements in India." — Kamala Visweswaran, author of Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference

"An excellent, detailed, and highly nuanced ethnography of the ethical and affective undercurrents of lesbian activism in Delhi, India, from the late twentieth century to the present. Naisargi N. Dave's focus on ethics provides a necessary intervention in the ethnography of social action and movements." — Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Naisargi N. Dave is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Rendering Real the Imagined 33

2. Within Limits, Freedom 61

3. Virtuous Women, Radical Ethics, and New Regimes of Value 97

4. Public "Emergence" 137

5. To Be Lawful, to Be Just 167

Appendix. Cast of Organizations 205

Notes 207

References 235

Index 253
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Maldives & S. Asia, incl. Myanmar

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2013 Ruth Benedict Award (outstanding monograph), presented by the Association for Queer Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5319-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5305-8
Publicity material