Virtual Event: Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen at Johns Hopkins India InstituteAccidental Feminism

Please join the Johns Hopkins India Institute and Hopkins at Home for a panel discussion on empowering the disempowered and underprivileged in the political process. Moderated by Dr. Rina Agarwala, the panel will feature Dr. Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen (Univeristy of California, Irvine), and JHU alumni and author Sujata Massey.


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.

Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen is assistant professor of law, sociology, Asian American studies, and criminology, law, and society at the University of California, Irvine. They are also affiliated faculty at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession. Twitter @ssballakrishnen