Alumna and Visiting Scholar Attreyee Roy Chowdhury on her research, marrying media, communications and linguistics with contemporary theories of gender and society
Alumna Attreyee Roy Chowdhury was appointed as a Visiting Scholar at Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge from January 2021 onwards. She is currently undertaking independent research at the University of Cambridge on ‘The Representation of Women in the Singaporean Press: Reading Women’s Magazines.’ She is a member of Lucy Cavendish College Alumnae Association and of the General Committee of Cambridge Society, Bombay.
In this interview she speaks about the opportunities in her life, her fascinating career and research around women’s empowerment and gender studies.
I didn't really plan my career per se. However, I was determined to be a fully-fledged career woman and had decided at a young age that I will always work and remain financially independent. As John Lennon famously remarked: 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'. In hindsight, I would like to reiterate that I received various professional opportunities at different stages of my life and I simply accepted these challenges and explored my potential to the fullest.
Likewise, my love affair with Paris and all things French has gone through many stages. It began in Calcutta at the precocious age of nine, an impressionable age no doubt. At that age, I decided that I was going to be a writer or perish in the attempt. It may have started with the reading of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days or by sensing something in the general climate of the time that made me feel that no artist could consider himself fully prepared for his life without eating a croissant for breakfast in the capital of France. Around the same time, my father (a retired banker) was transferred to his bank's office in Paris in 1982 and hence the entire family relocated. For me, our three-year stint in Paris was an absolute game changer which completely transformed my life. Indeed I fell in love with France and developed a lifelong love for French culture and literature. This magnificent obsession was manifested when I decided to pursue my first BA degree in French Literature at the University of Bombay. Thereafter, I continued my studies with a second BA degree in Modern & Medieval Languages (French Literature and Language) as an affiliated student at Lucy Cavendish College.
I chose Lucy since I was very inspired by the ethos and mission of the College as well its pivotal role in terms of encouraging and promoting the education of mature women, by providing them with support in a myriad of ways to facilitate the completion of their degree and thereby leading to their empowerment. In addition, I was appointed as a Chevening Scholar by Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. As a result, the receipt of full funding enabled me to devote myself to my studies wholeheartedly and I found the entire environment in the College extremely empathetic and nurturing. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet, engage and interact with extremely dynamic, kind, generous and inclusive fellow students, and faculty members from different parts of the UK and globally. Furthermore, my stint at Lucy initiated and thereafter facilitated my deep and profound interest in issues related to women's empowerment and gender studies.
My current research on 'The Representation of Women in the Singaporean Press: Reading Women's Magazines' is important for two reasons: firstly, it focuses on elite women, who are rarely a subject of study in Singapore; secondly, it provides a complex mapping of the structure and fabric of patriarchy in Singapore. In this regard, I am extending recent arguments within Gender Studies that the term patriarchy must be understood as a socially and culturally variable influence on social life, and neither rejected as 'essentialist', or safeguarded as a monolithic category of analysis. At the moment I am familiarising myself with the key bodies of theory and methodology pertinent to my chosen area of study. To my mind, my area of study complements the work already done at the Department of Gender Studies at LSE (when I was a MSC student), as well as furthering those bodies of knowledge concerned with gender, representation, and ideology. My study on press profiles of female personalities in Singapore is significant since it brings together work in media, communications, and linguistics with contemporary theories of gender and society. The suggested result of this work will be to provide a complex mapping of the structure and fabric of patriarchy in Singapore as produced and maintained through the 'profiles' I am concerned with. As a result, I hope that my proposed research will be able to contribute albeit modestly to the empowerment of alternative feminist voices seeking to contest the dominant 'truth' politics of patriarchy in press discourse in Singapore.
Attreyee Roy Chowdhury obtained a BA in French from the University of Bombay (India) - 1991-1994) and a BA Cantab (Tripos) degree as an affiliated student in Modern & Medieval Languages (French Literature & Language) from Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge (1995-1997). She pursued a Master’s degree (MSC) in Gender Studies at LSE (1999-2000) and received an Honorary Master’s degree (MA Cantab) in 2001.
She was employed as Senior Vice President (Communications) at Osianama Learning Experience in Mumbai (Part of Osian's Group, India) till recently. In addition, she is also a creative writer at Boloji.com.
Among her other professional assignments, she was employed as Joint Director at the World Trade Centre (WTC), Mumbai and was also the Managing Editor of the bi-monthly journal of WTC Mumbai known as World Trade Research and Information Report (WTRIR).
From 2002 till 2007, she worked as the Publications In-charge at Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), Embassy of France in New Delhi (India). Created in 1990, the CSH is part of the network of research centres of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Centre’s research work is primarily oriented towards the study of issues concerning the contemporary dynamics of development in India and South Asia. The activities of the Centre are focused on four main areas, namely: Economic transition and sustainable development, Institutional set-up and social transformations, Regional transformations in South Asia and international relations and Urban dynamics. As the Publications In-Charge, she was responsible for the editing and publication of approximately 60 academic and educational books and research papers and journals in the field of humanities and social sciences.
Her professional experience also comprises of an Internship on ‘Women and Culture of Peace’ (Department of Social and Human Sciences) at UNESCO Paris (2000-2001) and two previous stints in Singapore, first as a Public Relations Executive (1998-1999) at the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), and again, as a Programme Executive (Focus: Gender Issues Concerning Older Women) at the Tsao Foundation (2001).
She has also worked as a Freelance Journalist and has been a regular contributor of articles to various newspapers, magazines and websites in India, such as Indian Express, The Independent, Sunday Observer, Blitz, Society, Life Positive, Upbeat and Boloji.com.