Dissertation Abstracts

The Dougla Poetics of Indianness: Negotiating Race and Gender in Trinidad

Author: Kavyta K. Raghunandan, KayRag@hotmail.com
Department: Centre of Ethnicity and Racism Studies
University: University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Shirley Tate
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: gender , race and ethnicity , Indianness , Trinidad
Areas of Research: Women in Society , Body in the Social Sciences , Youth


This thesis explores the meaning and negotiation of the category ‘Indianness’ for a group of young Indian Trinidadian women through a dougla poetics framework. It looks at the intersecting categories of race and gender as configured through discursive processes and through an engagement with a raced gender performativity. Through each of the chapters, I unpick the poetics of dougla to show how hybridity, creolisation and mixing are part of Indianness but also removed from these concepts. The dougla poetics of Indianness shows how while on one hand race and racialisation are erased under the deployment of hybridity and creolisation as meta narratives and fluidity is invoked under the national slogan ‘all we is ‘one’ where mixing is seen as quintessentially Trinidadian, race also continues to operate as a distinctive marker of difference across domains such as trans-religious practices, desires and sexuality, beauty culture, carnival activity and music consumption. All of these areas which are explored in the chapters carry a racialised component. While I am not talking about the dougla (mixed Indian-African) body as such, the main discussion throughout the thesis speaks to how the poetics of dougla works at the level of culture and nation and interrogates the limits of creolisation and hybridity in the Indian Trinidadian context. Through a black feminist ethnography, I draw on individual interviews and group conversations, to explore how the young women construct their identities and identifications as linked to socially constructed norms and practices. Their talk revealed fluidity in varying ways with respect to their raced gendered subject positions but they also spoke about their fixity along the lines of racial and gendered hierarchies. I argue that in Butler’s performativity theorising, discussions of race have been largely absent and I turn to dougla poetics (Puri, 2004), a specifically Caribbean take on mixing, as a more nuanced and significant way of opening up thinking about identity and raced gender in Trinidad. Through this combination of dougla poetics and performativity, I use this as a way of responding critically to ways of understanding Indianness and the fluidity and fixity present in this. For instance, Indian as a specific identity category holds specific privileges and oppressions as well as norms that if one transgresses from carries sanctions and if followed carried rewards. Given the colonial history and present day context of Trinidad, this makes us question Butler’s theorisation of fluid identifications and based on these considerations, I use dougla poetics to explore all of these connotations. While I theorise raced gender in its shifting and performative sense, I also wish to foreground the fluidity and fixity in the young women’s talk. To that end, I use dougla poetics, as a 21st century notion, to attend to this double positioning and in combination with race gender performativity and to explore how such poetics re-inserts Indianness into Trinidad and Tobago as a nation across these five areas.

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