Start Up Fictions: Gender, Labor, and Public Culture in Neoliberal Bangalore, India Open Access

Gupta, Hemangini (2016)

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This dissertation maps the emergence of a startup economy in the south-Indian city of Bangalore. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted between 2012-2014 at different sites of the new economy including at Start Up Festivals, incubation labs, investor and networking meetings, entrepreneurial workplaces, and sites of leisure and consumption. Drawing on interviews, media and informational material, and participant observation, I argue for a concept of "start up fictions"--idealized imaginations and articulations of the new economy as open and welcoming to anyone with initiative and drive. These "fictions" sustain and maintain the promise of success and fulfillment in the new economy. They offer an analytic through which to understand how neoliberal forms of labor and governance are enforced and maintained. While dominant understandings of neoliberalism globally center the individual, in Bangalore I show that startup cultures reinforce collective belonging to religious identities, the family, and nation. Relatedly, startup ideologies produce affective labor and attachments that enable neoliberal governance in the production of docile and caring workers in the enterprise economy. Finally, tracking emergent workers subjectivities and labor and leisure practices around the city, I show how neoliberalism offers a contested realm of public culture. In postcolonial Bangalore, boundaries between work and life are blurred, and labor and gender are reformulated.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction: Navigating the Startup Economy. 1

The Enterprise Economy in India. 5

Chapter Outline. 7

Liberalization and the New Economy. 12

The Changing Industries of Liberalized Bangalore. 17

Making Bangalore the I.T. City. 21

I.T. Women: Reproducing Caste and Class Hierarchies. 23

The Transnational Service Sector. 26

Class and Gender in the Startup Service Economy. 29

Startup Economy: Shaping a New Bangalore. 33

Neoliberal Individualism and Startup Collectives. 37

II. Ethnographer at Work: Tracking Labor Across the City. 41

Mobile Sites and Mobility as Method. 43

The Dispersed Sites of the Startup Economy. 46

The Broad Landscape of Startup Culture. 49

Following the Startup Actors. 53

Encountering my Main Fieldsite: Captivate. 54

Introducing the Captivate Office. 59

Comprehending Class at Captivate. 64

Learning to Live the Good Life. 69

Start Up Services: Drawing from the Worker. 72

Placing the Ethnographer. 76

III. The Startup Economy: New Selves, Forms of Labor, and City Life. 80

Teaching Startup Entrepreneurship. 85

Launching the Start Up Festival. 87

Risk as the Basis for Startup Business. 91

"Doing What You Love": Desire, Masculinity, and the Phallic Order. 93

Distancing the Feminine and Embracing the Masculine. 97

Channeling Lifestyle Into Value. 98

Risk, Innovation, Flexibility in the Start Up City. 102

Space as a Resource for the Startup Economy. 111

Production and Consumption in the Start Up City. 116

Conclusion. 118

IV. "Giving Back": Gendered Subjectivities in the Startup Economy. 120

Human Innovation: A Labor of Passion. 120

Querying the Individual Subject: Access to Finance in the Non-West. 135

Life Histories and Life Choices. 138

Middle Class Life as a Challenge to Startup Mobility. 140

The Separate Worlds of Work and Family. 149

Mediating Global Startup Discourses Through Indian Womanhood. 153

Conclusion. 160

V. Encoding Startup Values in the Entrepreneurial Workplace. 163

The Captivate Work Ethic. 164

Cultural Capital in the Service of Sales. 167

‘Having a Chat:' Travel Consultants on the Job. 173

Flexibility as Ownership. 178

Flexibility as a Technique of Governance. 181

Work as Illness. 188

Flexibility as Gendered. 190

Conclusion. 194

VI. Resisting Startup Individuality by Building Work-as-Family. 197

Gendered Negotiations of Public Space. 197

Postcolonial Classed and Gendered Mobilities. 200

Commuting in the Entrepreneurial Sector. 201

Dreaming of Upward Mobility: Crushed I.T. Fantasies. 205

Producing the Workplace as a Middle Class Family. 207

Lata's Story: Growing Up in the Entrepreneurial Workplace. 211

Architectures of Religion and Family in the Corporate Workplace. 217

Conclusion. 220

VII. Learning Consumption, Practicing Leisure in the Startup City. 223

Street Activism. 223

Dating Clubs. 226

Running and Biking Groups. 229

(In)Flexible Mobilities and the Dream of the Supple Body. 233

Gate-Keeping to Regulate Clothes, Bodies, and Presentation. 237

Sticking to the Itinerary. 242

Sneha's Story: Knowing the Body. 246

Conclusion. 250

VIII. Conclusion. 252

Bibliography. 257

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