Dissertation Abstracts

The Indian Diaspora-Space Under the Lens of Social Rapports: Filmmakers and Heroines of an Imagined Community

Author: Mesana, Virginie C, virginiemesana@gmail.com
Department: School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies
University: University of Ottawa, Canada
Supervisor: Dr. Linda Pietrantonio
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: French

Keywords: Diaspora , Social rapports , Imagined Community , Women Filmmakers
Areas of Research: Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Women in Society , Visual Sociology


Among the dominant film industries still largely dominated by masculine voices and gazes, women filmmakers’ work has often been left unseen. This research looks into the case of women filmmakers from the Indian Diaspora and examines their gazes on their home and host lands. The objective is to better understand how discursive techniques of film production and circulation employed by these directors contribute to forming the Indian Diaspora as an “imagined community” and to gendering belongings in Diaspora, including at festivals where women filmmakers primarily showcase and promote their films. This doctoral dissertation centers on the following question: How does the mise-en-scène of Diasporic heroines contribute to producing alternative narratives about imaginings in the Indian Diaspora Space?
These women filmmakers’ cinema may belong to neither dominant film industries (nor Bollywood or Hollywood), yet it borrows from several cinematic codes and influences from national (and other) cinemas. It appears to be located within a cinematic in-between, which is examined in light of the material and ideological dimensions of film practices understood as “imagination as social practice”. More specifically, we study the filmmakers’ activity of showing and performing consubstantial social rapports of gender, race and class, within and outside Diaspora, in North American host societies. The qualitative methodological approach includes three data collection phases: 1. An analysis of a corpus of ten films directed by women filmmakers from the Indian Diaspora in North America; 2. A series of six interviews conducted with these films’ directors; 3. A participant observation of the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) over two years, in 2012 and 2013. The conceptual framework is located at the crossroads of major theoretical contributions in the Sociology of Culture and Cultural Studies, as well as in the Sociology of Ethnic and Race Relations and the work of French materialist feminists examining consubstantial social rapports. This theoretical assemblage sheds light on Indian Diasporic women filmmakers’ social practices and their (re)positionings within relations of domination, leading to the emergence of an “idealized majority” position in Diaspora and the experience of belonging to an “in- between majorities”.