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Office of Communications 
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Visiting Fulbright Scholar explores how cultural beauty standards and economic conditions affect migration of women in India

Mar 16, 2017 |

The women’s studies program at St. Bonaventure University will welcome Binitha V. Thampi, Ph.D., to campus April 5 and 6 as the keynote speaker for this year’s Mary Devereux Lecture.

Bini ThampiThampi’s areas of research, particularly in her home state of Kerala, India, include gender and development; gender and migration; state welfarism and citizenship; and poverty, social exclusion and marginalization. Thampi will be visiting St. Bonaventure from Rutgers University, where she is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies this year.

Thampi will deliver the keynote address at the Devereux Lecture at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, in the auditorium of the William F. Walsh Science Center on campus. The title for her address, which is free and open to the public, is “Migration, Aesthetic Labour and the Citizenship — A Case of Northeastern Migrant Women to Southern Cities of India.”

According to Thampi’s research, new economic conditions in India have made single women from northeastern India more likely to migrate elsewhere for jobs. Many of these women indigenous to the northeast have the so-called “pan-Asian” facial features, light skin color, and slimmer body type that have been interpreted as preferable over the appearance of women indigenous to southern India, who tend to be shorter, stockier, and have dark skin color.

Because of these artificial cultural standards of beauty and the new mobility of single women to be able to seek work away from the places in the northeast where they grew up, jobs in the beauty industry and other service sectors in southern India cities like Bangalore and Chennai (Madras) tend to go to northeastern women who have the preferred “look,” even though local women without the preferred “look” are perfectly capable of performing those jobs.

Thampi has interviewed 140 women from northeast India who have migrated to south India for these reasons. Her project analyzes these women’s stories and experiences to see what they reveal about roles for women, cultural standards of beauty, and “the geography of labor” in contemporary India.

On Thursday, April 6, Thampi will be the speaker at the Thursday Forum for university faculty and staff. The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. in the University Club. Thampi will discuss “Engendering Development: Debates and Issues in the Context of Global South.”                                

Thampi will discuss research on gender and development, particularly through the relationship between feminist theory and the praxis around gender and development; understanding women’s work; and the relationship between gender and poverty. She will also discuss pertinent issues in the contemporary Indian context where policy intereventions are required to attain a gender just society.

Thampi holds a Ph.D. in development studies from the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore, India. She also holds a master’s degree in applied economics from the Centre for Development Studies (Jawaharlal Nehru University) in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, and a master’s in politics and international relations from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala.

The annual Mary Devereux Lecture at St. Bonaventure celebrates Women’s History Month and pays tribute to Mary Devereux, one of the university’s founders. Thampi’s presentations are made possible through the Fulbright Scholar Program’s Outreach Lecturing Fund, which enables Visiting Scholars to share their research interests, speak about their home country, and exchange ideas with U.S. students, faculty, and community organizations.


About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things.  St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #6 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.

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