A.B., M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Smitha RadhakrishnanLuella LaMer Associate Professor of Women's Studies; Associate Professor of Sociology
Interested in gender, finance and development in India and race, class, and gender in the U.S.
As a feminist ethnographer of gender and globalization, I strive for my scholarship to illuminate how the local and the global reflect and challenge one another. In my teaching, I aim for my students to ascertain that complex, dazzling set of dynamic interconnections. In the two major research projects that have defined my scholarship so far, I have examined the institutional contexts of work, finance, and international development, in the geographical contexts of urban India, the U.S., and South Africa, always with a focus on individual subjectivities and experiences. As a result of these engagements, both my research and teaching engage the interconnected legacies of colonialism and slavery. I highlight how these histories are often re-inscribed through contemporary forms of inequality. My methodological preference for fine-grained ethnography and interviews, and my theoretical bent towards the world-systemic dynamics of economy and culture link, at every turn, the individual/personal with the public, the social, and the political.
Currently, I am working on a book manuscript that examines for-profit microfinance in India. Through interviews and ethnographic work in the India and the United States, this project investigates how global finance continues to expand its reach to new populations through small, uncollateralized loans that target women. I pay close attention to the everyday relationships between loan officers and working women clients, and how institutional, national, and global forces shape the inner workings of these complex relationships that at once build interpersonal trust, creditworthiness, and new financial institutions. The give-and-take between the employees of microfinance institutions and the clients they serve, I argue, helps us understand how huge influxes of national and global financial flows shape new financial subjects. A book manuscript based on this work, When Women Pay Up: Power, Profit, and Personhood in Global Microfinance is currently in production. Recent publications from this research can be found here, here, and here.
My first book, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a Transnational Class was a multi-sited ethnographic examination of transnational Indian information technology (IT) workers. My research showed that gendered arrangements within educated, upwardly mobile IT families give this elite group disproportionate power in defining what it means to be Indian in the global economy. Prior to this book, I studied the cultural politics of post-apartheid South Africa, based on extensive research with South African Indian communities in Durban and its surrounding townships.
At Wellesley, I teach courses that examine globalization, race, gender, and diaspora studies, among other topics. My courses offer students an opportunity to think deeply about social difference in the context of an interconnected, albeit fragmented world. In 2014, I taught a MOOC on the edX platform, and it was re-released on 2016 in three modules: Global Sociology, Global Inequality, and Global Social Change. The educational materials I developed for these courses, including onsite lectures and interviews with prominent scholars, have reached thousands of learners around the world, and I continue to integrate them into my on-campus teaching at Wellesley.
When I am not teaching or writing, I perform and promote classical and contemporary Indian dance forms, especially Bharatanatyam. I have been a longtime member of Navarasa Dance Theater and continue to dance with them and serve on their board. In 2015, I established NATyA Dance Studio in Natick, through which I offer classes for children and adults and perform locally. I live in Natick with my spouse and two children.