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


Hemangini Gupta

PhD defended at: 

Emory University



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 entrepreneurial 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 in the Global South.
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. Thus a postcolonial and Asia-centric perspective to the global neoliberal economy challenges dominant understandings of embodied selfhood, labor, class, and the meaning of public space in everyday life.