Culture in Action

Family Life, Emotion, and Male Dominance in Banaras, India

By Steve Derne

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791424261, 232 pages, July 1995
Hardcover : 9780791424254, 232 pages, July 1995

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Table of contents


1. Studying Gender Culture in a North Indian City:Beyond the Image of Culture as Shared and Constraining

2. Making Gender Culture: Men Talk About Controlling Women

3. The Collectivist Framework for Understanding Action: Hindu Men's Focus on Social Pressures

4. Culture and Psyche: Emotions, Conscience, and Self-Conceptions

5. Second Languages and Individual Desires

6. True Believers, Cowed Conformers, Innovative Mimetists, and Unapologetic Rebels: Women and Men Respond to the Threat of Dishonor

7. Culture Work and Strategies of Action: How Hindu Men Buck Social Pressure

8. Who Rejects Social Roles?: Innovators and Cultural Dopes

9. Family Structure, Ethnopsychology, and Emotion Culture: How Do They Make Each Other Up?

10. Conclusion

Appendix: Fieldwork in Urban India




By examining how Hindu men talk about marriage and family, this book shows how culture reinforces male dominance in Hindu society.


In Culture in Action Derne explores the interconnections between male dominance, joint-family living, Indian emotional life, and a cultural focus on group pressures. Derne emphasizes the Hindu focus on the social group, but shows that men often distance themselves from group culture by marrying for love, separating from their parents, or embracing closeness with their wives.

Derne's suggestion that Indian men's cultural focus on the group limits men's and women's strategies for breaking cultural norms offers a new approach to understanding how culture constrains. He shows how the child-rearing practices and emotional tensions associated with joint-family living shape Indians' group emphasis. This approach suggests that the Hindu focus on the group is intimately connected with male dominance.

Steve Derne is Assistant Professor of Sociology at State University of New York, College at Geneseo. He received the Society for Psychological Anthropology's 1991 Stirling Award for his work on family structure and self-conceptions.


"This book should be read by anyone wanting to understand Hindu life—I found it fascinating. Derné has established unusually intimate interview relationships with his sizable sample of male respondents. He has managed to get inside their thought processes in a way no other writer on Indian family life has. Furthermore, he tries to explain why these men think and feel as they do. This book is an extraordinary achievement." — Pauline Kolenda, University of Houston

"It represents an insightful handling of men's talk and the underlying motivational/emotional system out of which such talk and attitudes emerge. It complements the recent literature that examines patriarchal institutions in India from a woman's perspective by drawing insights from the ways men talk about women and family values." — Susan Seymour, Pitzer College