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Autonomy, gendered subordination and transcultural dialogue

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This paper is a theoretical and empirical investigation into whether persons in subordinate social contexts possess agency and if they do, how do we recognise and recover their agency given the oppressive conditions of their lives. It aims to achieve this through forging closer links between the philosophical arguments and the ethnographic evidence of women's agency. Through such an exercise, this paper hopes to bridge the existing gap between feminist theoretical interventions and feminist politics as well as to increase 'sociological awareness' within feminist philosophical arguments. In order to think about women's agency in oppressive social contexts, the paper evaluates the suitability of existing theoretical frameworks for examining, describing and capturing the autonomy of persons and concludes that a new and a more complex thinking is required to facilitate thinking about human agency within oppressive transcultural contexts. The social context of subordination, the exhibition of agency within and oppressive context and the application of the new theoretical framework is illustrated in an extensive empirical study of the contact with modernity and its accompanying ideas of autonomy and individual rights of rural women belonging to two districts in Rajasthan, North western India.

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