In India, elite law firms offer a surprising oasis for women within a hostile, predominantly male industry. Less than 10 percent of the country’s lawyers are female, but women in the most prestigious firms are significantly represented both at entry and partnership. Elite workspaces are notorious for being unfriendly to new actors, so what allows for aberration in certain workspaces? Drawing from observations and interviews with more than 130 elite professionals, Accidental Feminism examines how a range of underlying mechanisms—gendered socialization and essentialism, family structures and dynamics, and firm and regulatory histories—afford certain professionals egalitarian outcomes that are not available to their local and global peers. Juxtaposing findings on the legal profession with those on elite consulting firms, Swethaa Ballakrishnen reveals that parity arises not from a commitment to create feminist organizations, but from structural factors that incidentally come together to do gender differently. Simultaneously, their research offers notes of caution: while conditional convergence may create equality in ways that more targeted endeavors fail to achieve, “accidental” developments are hard to replicate, and are, in this case, buttressed by embedded inequalities. Ballakrishnen examines whether gender parity produced without institutional sanction should still be considered feminist. In offering new ways to think about equality movements and outcomes, Accidental Feminism forces readers to critically consider the work of intention in progress narratives.
About the Speaker
Swethaa Ballakrishnen is Assistant Professor of Law (and, by courtesy, of Sociology, Asian American Studies, and Criminology, Law and Society) at the University of California, Irvine. Primarily oriented within a critical socio-legal praxis, they write, think, and teach about law's connection to actors/institutions/relationships at the periphery, usually around identities/queers/souths. Ballakrishnen’s work has appeared in, among other journals, the Law and Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry, International Journal of the Legal Profession, and the Canadian Review of Sociology. Accidental Feminism (Princeton UP 2021) is their first book. Other book projects focus on collaborative legal globalization (Invisible Institutionalisms, ed. w/Sara Dezalay), gendered inheritances of constitutional privacy (Gender Regimes w/Kalpana Kannabiran), and inequ(al)ities in legal education (ed. w/Bryant Garth).