This talk will consider ways in which social capital, as manifested in associations, networks, and everyday sociability mutually inflected the creative agency of South Asian women in the public sphere during 1920-1920. While the term social capital, as adumbrated by Robert Putnam and Pierre Bourdieu, is well-known, ‘creative agency’ needs explanation. I am arguing for a connotative, multifaceted analysis of women’s agency in the public sphere, as manifested in a number of areas such as writing, lobbying, political and social activism: this analysis pays great attention to women’s creative work, most notably manifested in writing, but also in a broader, open-ended view of the often informal and quirky ways in which women acted in the first part of the twentieth century in the Indian subcontinent. At the Sybil Campbell Library, my research was enriched by looking at material related to the Indian Federation of University Women: here too one was struck by the way official association business, social and political activism, creative performances, and food and drink enmeshed to form a dense web of associational life. I shall be analysing further this richness, and bringing in issues of the interlinking of personal autonomy and collective endeavour. Deliberately, I shall be collocating apparently disparate figures, notably Cornelia Sorabji, Rokeya Hossain, and Lila Majumdar, whose principal identities were those of lawyer, educationist, and children’s writer. As a scholar in literary studies, I argue that we gain more through connotative richness than what we lose by the attendant fuzziness, if we view women’s agency and the enmeshing of the associational, the creative, and the personal in this way.
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