Author Biography

Coralynn V. Davis, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Anthropology at Bucknell University, completed her PhD (1999) in Anthropology at the University of Michigan, where she also received a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies (1994). She has held Research Associateships at the Five College Women's Studies Research Center (2005-2006) and the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School (2008-2009). Her ethnographic research with Maithili-speaking communities in Nepal has been supported by two Fulbright Grants. Professor Davis's scholarship examines issues of women's development and tourism, as well as women's folktales and storytelling practices.


Linguistic uses of ‘sisterhood’ provide a window into disparate understandings of relationality among virtual and actual interlocutors in women’s development across vectors of caste, class, ethnicity and nationality. In this essay, I examine the trope of ‘sisterhood’ as it was employed at a women’s development project in Janakpur, Nepal, in the 1990s. I demonstrate that the use of this common signifier of kinship with culturally disparate “signifieds” created a confusion of meaning, and differential readings of the politics of relationality. In my view, ‘sister,’ as used at this project, was a multivalent, strategically deployed, and divergently interpreted term. In particular, for the local participants in the project, use of the term "sister" provided access to a world of status and privileged connection that was part of the very stuff of development, locally articulated. The very same signifier was used by local women to negotiate ambiguous relations of trust, dependency, intimacy, hierarchy, and difference - in such a way that their tactical movements and subtle critique did not put at risk those important social ties.

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