Women, Family and Child Care in India: A World in Transition

Article excerpt

Seymour, S. C. (1999). Women, Family and Child Care in India: A World in Transition. New York: Cambridge University Press. 323 pages. Paper ISBN 0-521-59884-2. Price: $21.95.

Drawing from her anthropological research in India from 1965 to 1989, Seymour focuses on the manner in which 130 children and their extended families have adapted to a rapidly urbanizing and modernizing environment. The author's stated goals of the book are: (a) to introduce American readers to the strikingly different cultural assumptions and structural principles underlying the Indian system of family structure and gender roles, (b) to illustrate that the ideal patrifocal joint family system in India is actually quite diverse in structure and identity, (c) to make the texture of women's lives accessible and to challenge some stereotypes of South Asian women as passive and powerless, and (d) to expand Western readers' notions of what is "normal" by illustrating the collectivist cultural assumptions in India.

To a large extent, the author has fulfilled her goals. Seymour uses detailed descriptions of people's daily lives and physical surroundings as well as insightful excerpts from interviews to paint a vivid picture of the complexity of changes occurring in Bhubaneshwar. The city, which has grown from a small agricultural village in the 1940s to a state capital with a 1989 population of 450,000, is the canvas upon which Seymour paints her portraits of women and their changing roles in the family and society.

Chapter 3 begins by discussing rural, upper-status patrifocal joint families in the 1960s. We come to understand how childrearing practices inculcate cultural expectations of interdependence and submission to authority in these families. Chapter 4 contrasts the rural village portrait to family life and people's attitudes in a newly established urban town where the families were more nuclear or extended in nature and had access to Western-style schooling. Chapter 5 illustrates yet another factor that has had a major influence on women's roles and family lifepoverty. …