A.B., M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Smitha RadhakrishnanMarion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas; Professor of Sociology
A feminist qualitative sociologist interested in finance, development and globalization in India, the U.S. and South Africa.
My scholarship and teaching illuminate how local and global dynamics of culture and the economy reflect and challenge one another. 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. In my classroom and in my writing, am particularly attentive to how contemporary forms of racial, caste, class, and gender inequality are products of the interconnected legacies of colonialism and slavery. 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.
My new book, Making Women Pay: Microfinance in Urban India, examines the taken-for-granted practices and institutional arrangements of commercial microfinance institutions in urban India, a sector that reaches over 40 million poor and working class women through small, high-interest loans. Through interviews and ethnographic work in India and the United States, this project investigates how exploitative financial practices expand to vulnerable populations while ensuring profit for lending institutions. I pay close attention to the relationships between loan officers and working women clients. Developing the notion of a gendered microfinance chain, I show how commercial microfinance institutions, with the support of the state, extract financial and reputational value from working class women to more powerful groups in the industry, especially privileged men.
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. 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. I have produced the following massively open online courses on the edX platform: 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.
I am a strong advocate for anti-racist transformation in our education system. At Wellesley, I have served on numerous committees to advance the goals of inclusive excellence on our campus. As a Natick parent, I promote diverse books in public schools through education and advocacy.
Alongside my academic life, I perform and promote classical and contemporary Indian dance forms, especially Bharatanatyam. In 2015, I established NATyA Dance in Natick, which includes a performance collective as well as classes for children and adults.