ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Development, Gender and Household Survival in a Kerala Fishery

This paper takes a 'household survival strategy' approach to understand the impact of economic transformation on artisanal fisherfolk communities. Through a comparative analysis of the survival strategies that fisherfolk households have forged in two communities in Trivandrum district - one Christian, one Muslim - the author examines how development has differentially unfolded in these two locales as a result of different local geographic particularities. This necessarily requires a consideration of women's economic activities as well as an examination of gender ideology and its mediation of men's and women's unique experiences of the development process. Not only do women and men experience economic processes differently as a result of gender, but difference in ideologies of gender help explain, in part, how development can differentially impact separate communities in the same region.

The past four decades have witnessed a dramatic transformation of India’s fisheries – a transformation that has included the rapid mechanisation and industrialisation of production processes, the entrance of large corporate interests into the fishing industry, and fundamental shifts in investment and expenditure patterns that transfer priority away from production for local markets to production for international export.1  The consequences such processes have had for traditional fisherfolk communities have been profound and raise a number of questions about development and the impacts on those it seeks to serve.

In this article I explore the impact of economic transformation on traditional fisherfolk in Kerala. Most such research to date focuses on production and the impact of development on fishermen, the assumption being that household and community welfare follow primarily, if not exclusively, from men’s work alone.2  In this paper, however, I take a ‘household survival strategy’ approach to understand the impact of economic transformation on artisanal fisherfolk communities. Through a comparative analysis of the survival strategies that fisherfolk households have forged in two communities in Trivandrum district – one Christian, one Muslim, I examine how development has differentially unfolded in these two locales as a result of different local geographic particularities. This necessarily requires a consideration of women’s economic activities as well as an examination of gender ideology and its mediation of men’s and women’s unique experiences of the development process.3  Not only do women and men experience economic processes differently as a result of gender, but difference in ideologies of gender help explain, in part, how development can differentially impact separate communities in the same region.

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