Women’s Studies is first introduced in Indian academia in the 1970s. There are now more than 150 centres conducting research on women and gender as well as numerous teaching programmes on these topics in India. Research on sexualities and non-heterosexual identities and practices, while less developed, also emerged in the 1990s. As in any academic field, research on Women’s Studies, gender, and sexuality has been marked by epistemic debates, in particular “terminology debates” (i.e., debates about the proper concepts for discussing gender and sexuality in India). Using a corpus of academic texts, course syllabi, and other academic documents as well as 15 interviews with academics involved in Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and/or research on sexuality in India, this article examines two of these terminology debates. The first concerns the use of the term “Gender Studies” rather than “Women’s Studies”, and the second looks at the relevance of terms such as LGBT and queer to designate non-heterosexual individuals, groups, and practices. In both debates the question of North/South domination and (post)colonialism are central and are also connected to issues of gender, class, and caste domination. Moreover, both debates question the link between academia and feminist/LGBT/queer activism. This article shows that the process of defining the subject of academic knowledge is highly political and embedded in complex power dynamics that are both localized and globalized. It also highlights the epistemic creativity of the knowledge produced in India to discuss women, gender, and non-heterosexuality.

Author Biography

Virginie Dutoya is a permanent CNRS political science research fellow at the Center for South Asian Studies (CNRS/EHESS). Her current work focuses on the women’s movement in South Asia (more specifically in India), and she is particularly interested in how women and gender issues are affected by institutionalization and professionalization. She also teaches in the Gender Studies Master and Doctoral School at the EHESS. Her research and teaching are based on the theoretical and methodological tools of political science, sociology, and Gender Studies. Here recent publications in English include “Defining Women’s Representation: Debates Around Gender Quotas in India and France” in Politics & Governance (vol. 7, n°3, 2019) – with Yves Sintomer and “Defining the ‘queers’ in India: The politics of academic representation in India” Review (vol. 15, n°2, 2016). She can be contacted at virginie.dutoya@ehess.fr.