The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2021 | Fatherhood at a crossroads?: Exploring how fathers in India understand and ‘do’ fathering
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Fatherhood at a crossroads?: Exploring how fathers in India understand and ‘do’ fathering

Principal Supervisor: Katherine Twamley

Co-Supervisor: Penny Vera-Sanso

Most contemporary research on fathers, and our theoretical understandings of what it means to be a father, draws on research conducted in western contexts. This has led to a narrow and western-centric understanding of fathers, and a dearth of empirically and locally grounded theories to conceptualize family transformations in the 21st century. To address this gap, this project will explore emerging ideals and practices of fatherhood in the rapidly changing context of urban India. The study will contribute to theoretical debates about fatherhood and family processes, and to policy concerns about gender roles, women’s participation in the labour force, and men’s contributions to children’s lives.

India is the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. Economic liberalisation is significantly changing family life for urban families, with increased participation of women in the labour market, exposure to global media, and the rising importance of earnings in upward mobility and aspirations (Dickie 2006). Research has uncovered changing norms and ideals in family formations and parenting. In urban settings there is a move towards nuclear family living and young people are increasingly looking to form marriages based on intimate connection rather than on the parent-arranged marriage that their parents had before them (Twamley and Sidharth, 2019). These changes are not played out the same amongst different socio-economic groups (ibid), and do not necessarily lead to greater gender equality, but may in fact further entrench gendered roles (Vera-Sanso 2016); challenging many of the theoretical developments in western gender and family scholarship.

Along with increased pressures on men as providers, there are increased pressures on women akin to the ‘intensive mothering’ ideals observed in the UK and US. The raised expectations of mothers are thought to isolate fathers from participating in childcare (Donner 2008), even as media discourse idealises ‘involved fatherhood’. To date, research on parenthood in India has been limited and focused on mothers, more precisely middle-class mothers. Investigating constructions of fatherhood and masculinity is critical to understanding how economic transformations are impacting gender relations, and how they are differently experienced amongst the poor and affluent. This study will explore how, in the context of increasing inequality, differently situated fathers reconcile the diverse pressures and ideals of ‘intimate family life’, their provider identity and women’s changing roles. This will contribute to a more rounded theoretical understanding of fathers and fatherhood beyond the global north, as well as to understandings of the inter-relations of economic change and the gender and family transformations that are being witnessed across India.

Research Questions

  1. How do Indian men with pre and/or primary school age children understand fatherhood and 'do' fathering?
  2. How do they understand childhood and appropriate childcare, and their role within it?
  3. How do practices and understandings of fatherhood interact with those of motherhood?
  4. How are ideals and experiences shaped by class and caste?
  5. How do they reconcile their multiple roles (as husband, son and ‘provider’) with being a father?

    We propose an ethnographic research approach for the project. Using in-depth interviews, the student will explore the men’s relationships with their own fathers, sons and daughters; their conceptions of a ‘good’ father and mother; the fathering activities they are involved in; the difficulties they face in their fathering role; their hopes for their children; and child-raising roles of other family members. There is room for further methodological innovation, depending on the interests of the student – e.g. the use of diaries, observations, and photo elicitation techniques.

    Two sites will be selected for data collection – an affluent ‘colony’ in the suburbs and a slum area in Delhi (or another city can be selected in consultation with the student). We suggest a purposive sampling of 40 men, 20 in each site, with varying family formations, in terms of employment and joint/nuclear family living. To keep the study manageable, we suggest a focus on opposite-sex couple families only, with pre and/or primary school age children.

    The studentship is for a duration of three years. The successful candidate will be initially registered as a MPhil student. In the first year (2021-22), the candidate will undertake research methods training and project development, taking advantage of taught courses in both UCL and Birkbeck, culminating in upgrade to PhD registration. The second year (2022-23) will be spent conducting fieldwork in India. The third year (2023-24) will be spent writing up in London.

    Applicants from outside of the UK may apply for this project, however additional costs of overseas fees will need to be provided from other sources.

    Candidate Requirements:

    We invite applications from outstanding and highly motivated candidates who have an undergraduate or Master’s degree in Sociology or Anthropology or other relevant discipline at merit or distinction level (with a minimum grade of 65% for their dissertation). Experience of living, travelling or working in India would be advantageous.

    Subject Areas/Keywords

    Fatherhood; India; Ethnography; Sociology / Anthropology; Class; Caste

    Key References:

    Dickey S, "The Pleasures and Anxieties of Being in the Middle: Emerging Middle Class Identities in Urban South India," Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 3 pp.559-599 (2012)

    Donner, H., (2008) Domestic Goddesses: Maternity, Globalization and Middle-class Identity in Contemporary India, Aldershot: Ashgate

    Morgan D (2011) Locating Family Practices Sociological Research Online, 16 (4) 14

    Twamley K and Sidharth J (2019) Negotiating respectability: comparing the experiences of poor and middle class young urban women in India Modern Asian Studies 53(5)

    Vera-Sanso, P.  (2016) Taking the long view: attaining and sustaining masculinity across the lifecourse in South India, in Cornwall A.  Frank, G. and Lindisfarne Masculinities under Neoliberalism, London, Zed Press

    Further details about the project may be obtained from:

    Principal Supervisor: Katherine Twamley –

    Co-Supervisor: Penny Vera-Sanso -

    Further information about PhDs at UCL is available from:

    Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

    Closing date for applications is:

    26th February 2021