An introductory Q&A with the Grammars of Marriage and Desire (GoMAD) research network (2021 – 2022).
Q. How did GoMAD come about?
The GoMAD research network was born from the complex interplay of personal aspirations and cultural negotiations, historical contestations, and political propaganda that have come to define the languages and grammars of marriage and desire today. The inadequacy of these grammars in ensuring well-being—ours, and that of our worlds—can hardly be overlooked. It finds expression in the climate crisis, increasing mental health issues, and an overarching crisis of care. We are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, the institution of marriage has historically provided the grammars of kinship and community. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose its potential for violence, more than ever before. It has further exacerbated existing inequalities and disrupted the societal structures that have so far grounded the institution. Social distancing and stay-at-home instructions in place during the pandemic, for instance, have led to a global spike in domestic violence. Child marriages too, have seen an unprecedented rise amid the global lockdowns, with 10 million additional girls reportedly at risk. Thus, taking one of the oldest institutions of the world back to the drawing board has become more important than ever.
As early career researchers, we aspire to build a space to reflect on and question the socially accepted practices of heteronormativity, caste endogamy, and gendered labour roles among other factors in making and sustaining a marriage, and community at large. Methodologically, we feel the need to blur the lines between the academy and the world by including lived traditions, folk practices, and marriage makers in our conversations. Through the network, we wish to link history with the contemporary, everyday negotiations with macro narratives, the household to the market, and the subjective to the social in reimagining an emancipatory grammar of collectivisation and kin-making in the twenty first century.
Q. By definition, a CRASSH Research Network has an interdisciplinary question at its core. What is yours?
In what ways can the grammars of marriage and desire constitute languages of hope and solidarity for imagining and constructing a better world? Or simply put: what makes a good marriage? It is a tough question. We felt there is not enough conversation and dialogue happening between different disciplines or schools of thought in this area. And that’s what we want to undo. For instance, we will be studying Ambedkar’s feminism to understand endogamy (marriage within a group) and think beyond the oft-cited, upper caste portrayals of it. At the same time, we will be listening to a Hindu matchmaker who talks about the need to protect caste purity through marriage. The beauty and significance of our network rests in the fact that we are bringing together different discourses and standpoints to study one of the world’s oldest institutions. We are particularly looking forward to connecting academics with people who identify as practitioners, and trying to broaden participation beyond elite educational institutions in the UK or South Asia. Across the Global South desire and marriage remain hotly debated. So many people are invested in our core question, and we think that is what will make our network really flourish.
Q. Could you tell us a bit more about this year’s convenors, speakers and attendees and the perspectives they bring to the discussion?
The three conveners of our network, Shuvatri Dasgupta, Edward Moon-Little, and Reetika Revathy Subramanian, are from different disciplinary backgrounds, in the humanities and social sciences. Edward Moon-Little moved from Art History and History into Social Anthropology and then into big data and then back to Social Anthropology. Shuvatri’s academic training has been in history, but she has participated in courses on political theory and literature, in Sciences Po. Reetika’s academic training and professional experiences, as a journalist and researcher in India, stand at the intersections of gender, labour, and distress migration. Our doctoral research converges on the institution of marriage. Whilst Shuvatri’s work is more historically oriented and explores conjugality within the context of the British empire, Reetika and Ed’s research is based on ethnographic research conducted in contemporary South Asia.
For our network activities we welcome regional comparisons, although our conveners share a focus on South Asia, albeit from diverse disciplinary training. Apart from academics whose research addresses diverse aspects of marriage and desire, we intend to invite practitioners in the marriage market (matchmakers, astrologers, priests, and wedding planners) from the Global South to share their experience with us. We also hope to have on board archivists and artists who play a crucial role in enshrining the diversity of practices which continue to produce and rewrite the grammars of marriage and desire. We plan to host our activities in a hybrid format over the next academic year, to ensure greater accessibility and participation. Using CRASSH’s wonderful infrastructure we hope to develop an interdisciplinary public-facing platform for addressing questions on marriage and desire, which shape our quotidian lifeworlds.
Q. What can we expect from GoMAD (Grammars of Marriage and Desire) in 2021/22?
In an uncertain world, affective collaborations and companionships offer much comfort and nourishment. Yet, the existing structures of kinship or languages of desire often appear exclusionary and oppressive, if not downright violent. There has never been a greater need to form solidarities and networks. The pandemic has left humanity at its weakest, by furthering the atomisation of the individual in unprecedented ways. In this context, marriage can be a prison as well as joy. We expect to use this network as a drawing board to resketch some of the structures of marriage and desire, as a part of our collective attempt to imagine a good life, and a better world. How can a sociology of love remake our worlds for the better? We know that conceptions of the good life differ widely across contexts but how do we bring this into our academic practice? Working with practitioners, scholars, and performers located in different classes, cultures, and disciplines, we hope to further our understanding of the diversity of ways people pursue a good marriage and a good life.
The interdisciplinarity of CRASSH hence remains extremely crucial to the nature of our collective explorations on marriage and desire in this network–especially when it comes to addressing these larger overarching questions which simultaneously traverse several cultural, methodological, and disciplinary frontiers. How can the methodological tools of anthropology, political theory, and intellectual history facilitate these conceptual explorations? These are some of the questions we will address across our sessions. Our sessions during the following academic year will follow two broad formats: we will host seminars with pre-circulated readings, and we will organise roundtable conversations. As a culmination of our collective explorations in this network, we will tie the knot(s) in a two-day conference in June 2022, and ask: in what ways can the grammars of marriage and desire constitute languages of hope and solidarity, for imagining and constructing a better tomorrow?
Q. How can people learn more about your Network?
Please visit the research network’s web page on the CRASSH website and do join us for our network events!
You can also follow us on our social media pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Also feel free to write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed on the CRASSH blog belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of CRASSH or the University of Cambridge.