Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility among India’s Professional Elite
In India, elite law firms offer a surprising oasis for women within a hostile, predominantly male industry. Less than 10 percent of the country’s lawyers are female, but women in the most prestigious firms are significantly represented both at entry and partnership. Elite workspaces are notorious for being unfriendly to new actors, so what allows for aberration in certain workspaces?
Drawing from observations and interviews with more than 130 elite professionals, Accidental Feminism examines how a range of underlying mechanisms—gendered socialization and essentialism, family structures and dynamics, and firm and regulatory histories—afford certain professionals egalitarian outcomes that are not available to their local and global peers. Juxtaposing findings on the legal profession with those on elite consulting firms, Swethaa Ballakrishnen reveals that parity arises not from a commitment to create feminist organizations, but from structural factors that incidentally come together to do gender differently. Simultaneously, their research offers notes of caution: while conditional convergence may create equality in ways that more targeted endeavors fail to achieve, “accidental” developments are hard to replicate, and are, in this case, buttressed by embedded inequalities. Ballakrishnen examines whether gender parity produced without institutional sanction should still be considered feminist.
In offering new ways to think about equality movements and outcomes, Accidental Feminism forces readers to critically consider the work of intention in progress narratives.
Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen is a socio-legal scholar whose research examines the intersections between law, globalization and stratification from a critical feminist perspective. Particularly, across a range of sites and different levels of analysis, their work interrogates how law and legal institutions create, continue, and counter different kinds of socio-economic inequalities. Together, these motivations have resulted in three main areas of empirical inquiry. The first is a set of projects that analyze gender inequality and representation through the lens of comparative legal institutions. The second concentrates on inclusivity and diversity in legal education and the legal profession. The third focuses on the socio-legal implications of transnational migration. Scholarship from these projects has appeared in, among other journals, Law and Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry, and the Journal of Professions and Organization. Their first book, Accidental Feminism (Princeton University Press: 2021), unpacks the case of unintentional gender parity among India’s elite legal professionals; a second book Invisible Institutions (Hart Publishing: 2021, ed. with Sara Dezalay) brings together cross-subjective perspectives on legal globalization; and a third forthcoming book Gender Regimes and the Politics of Privacy (Zubaan Books, with Kalpana Kannabiran) investigates the gendered legacies of India’s privacy jurisprudence. Before entering academia full-time, Professor Ballakrishnen was a legal intern to Hon’ble Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court of India, an international banking associate in Mumbai, and a litigation consultant in New York City.
For more information, please visit https://www.law.uci.edu/faculty/full-time/ballakrishnen/