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Simpson, Nikita (2023) 'Ghar ki Tension: Domesticity and Distress in India’s Aspiring Middle Class.' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 29 (3). pp. 573-592.

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Tension is a polysemic term used across South Asia to describe the strains and scrapes of life, like ‘worry’ or ‘stress’ in Euro-American discourse. Yet in the formerly agro-pastoralist and upwardly mobile Gaddi community of Himalayan India, it is used by women with the qualifying ghar ki – ‘household’ – to indicate a deeper disruption to bodily humours, intimate relations, and household materiality. This article takes ghar ki tension, with a particular focus on the layered qualifier ghar, as a window into the precarity of middle-class domestic life as it is experienced in the bodies of the women who pursue it. Rather than focusing on the communicative functions of women's distress within the household, this article looks to the relational, affective, and material ways in which women see their bodies and houses as mutually constituted and disrupted. This approach reveals how women's domestic labour is both a source of dignity and a burden. This burden is experienced in ghar ki tension, in bodily symptoms of overheating, and visits from supernatural beings. This article suggests that ghar ki tension might offer a novel way of looking at distress as the psychic and embodied cost of upward social mobility beyond the Gaddi context.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Anthropology & Sociology
ISSN: 13590987
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2023 17:14
Funders: Other

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