Department of Social Anthropology

BSAS - Atreeye Sen: "No city for lovers": Urban poverty, public romance and violent moral policing of lower-class female youth in Mumbai

We are happy to announce Atreeye Sen from University of Copenhagen to hold this department seminar.

Bergen Social Anthropology Seminar 2024, UiB-logo

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This presentation will explore the violent moral policing and aggressive spatial marginalisation of lower-class, young lovers in Mumbai. I will interrogate contemporary nationalist discourses propagating appropriate, honourable conduct for women in modern India, and analyse the percolation of these forms of gendered moral surveillance into local urban politics. Young girls, who gain a small degree of economic freedom through low income employment in Mumbai, are often keen to resist arranged marriages, and choose their romantic partners. However, since upper-class ‘safe’ public spaces (such as coffee shops, movie halls, shopping plazas) are not available to poor women, these young girls use open parks, street benches, public beaches and commuter bridges to kiss, cuddle and converse with their lovers. I show how orthodox lower-class communities, conservative nationalist groups, and local policemen concerned with ‘public pornography’, coordinate physical attacks and public shaming to punish such deviant youth. I argue that this form of virtue policing of poor girls is not just directed towards informally governing the morality of young women. It is also intimately related to invisibilising and edging out poor, mobile girls from public spaces, when they boldly display their right to love, labour and occupy public spaces in the commercial city.


Atreyee Sen is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. Over the course of her academic career in India, the UK and Denmark, Sen has published extensively, and brought critical insights to studies of gender, childhoods, poverty, urban politics and South Asian cities. She is author of Shiv Sena Women: Violence and Communalism in a Bombay Slum (2007), and co-editor of Global Vigilantes (2008) and Who’s Cashing in? Contemporary Perspectives on New Monies and Global Cashlessness (2020). Some of her more recent publications include ‘An Economy of Lies: Informal Income, Phone-Banking and Female Migrant Workers in Kolkata, India' in Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies (2022), and 'Religious Spaces, Urban Poverty, and Interfaith Relations in India' in Current History (2022). In 2023, Dr Sen won the inaugural prize for best journal article from the interdisciplinary journal, Critical Asian Studies, for her article ‘No City for Lovers’.


The department seminar, known as Bergen Social Anthropology Seminars (BSAS), is the main forum for dialogue and debate about anthropological research and theoretical development at the Department in Bergen. All is welcome!