Inhabiting Intimate Worlds: Tamil women and Belonging in Singapore

Inhabiting Intimate Worlds: Tamil women and Belonging in Singapore
Ranjana Raghunathan


This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of the linkages between belonging and kinship among diaspora Tamil women in Singapore. It has been driven by the dearth of conversation about their lives in contemporary and historical scholarship on Singapore, and the aporias of belonging in the multicultural city-state as diasporic subjects. By drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted for over one year, the dissertation stages a conversation between three strands of scholarship: anthropology of kinship, migration and diaspora studies, and the notion of belonging. The dissertation addresses the reifying tendencies of theorizing belonging through notions of citizenship, identity and place within diaspora studies, and instead offers an alternative approach through the lens of kinship or relatedness.

The dissertation hinges on lived experiences and inter-generational histories, and traces women’s attachments to people, places and pasts. These spatial and temporal entanglements entail coexistence and mutuality, but are also fraught with disjuncture, loss and longing. The chapters unfold through an anthropological engagement with the ideas of vīdu or house, ūr or place, bodies and secrets, to emphasize belonging as a process across generations. In doing so, the dissertation pushes the conceptual boundaries of these ideas, diversifies existing male-centred scholarship about Singapore Tamil diaspora and reinterprets the study of kinship through the lenses of migration and belonging. The focus on the intricacies of intimate life brings to fore three senses of belonging – longing to be, being at-home and ownership – which open up possibilities of researching other diasporic communities and multicultural societies.


Ranjana Raghunathan

Defended in


PhD defended at

National University of Singapore


Social Sciences


Southeast Asia


Diasporas and Migration