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A discussion of the implications of the emergence of love-letter correspondences for social relations in Nepal

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Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted December 2001.

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Invitations to Love provides a close examination of the dramatic shift away from arranged marriage and capture marriage toward elopement in the village of Junigau, Nepal. Laura M. Ahearn shows that young Nepalese people are applying their newly acquired literacy skills to love-letter writing, fostering a transition that involves not only a shift in marriage rituals, but also a change in how villagers conceive of their own ability to act and attribute responsibility for events. These developments have potential ramifications that extend far beyond the realm of marriage and well past the Himalayas.
The love-letter correspondences examined by Ahearn also provide a deeper understanding of the social effects of literacy. While the acquisition of literary skills may open up new opportunities for some individuals, such skills can also impose new constraints, expectations, and disappointments. The increase in female literacy rates in Junigau in the 1990s made possible the emergence of new courtship practices and facilitated self-initiated marriages, but it also reinforced certain gender ideologies and undercut some avenues to social power, especially for women.
Scholars, and students in such fields as anthropology, women's studies, linguistics, development studies, and South Asian studies will find this book ethnographically rich and theoretically insightful. Laura M. Ahearn is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University.

"Invitations to Love is an important work about a crucially significant topic: how changing notions of agency, literacy, and personal development inform new emphasis on romantic attachment and ideals of companionate marriage. Even as they are often compromised in practice, these ideals promote ideologies of marital freedom that influence practice in many world areas. Ahearn's study is pathbreaking in illustrating these issues through a rich and nuanced ethnography among Magars of Nepal. Effectively documented, Invitations to Love shows how major changes in marital practice draw on emergent notions of gendered modern agency while still ultimately leaving many inequalities between men and women unchanged. Her work challenges us to think in new and more sophisticated ways about theses important and increasingly widespread tendencies."
---Bruce M. Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Emory University,

- Bruce M. Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Emory University

"Love letters! I don't know of anything like this in the anthropological or historical literature. Laura Ahearn has collected absolutely fascinating material and woven it into a complex yet always readable argument about changing senses of selfhood, love, desire, 'agency,' and what it means to be a modern or 'developed' person. Ahearn does extraordinary readings of extraordinary texts."
---Sherry Ortner, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

- Sherry Ortner, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

"A poignant exploration of how development messages are---truly---taken to heart in the intimate relations between men and women. In the best ethnographic tradition, Ahearn enlivens the notion of 'social change' by showing how images of progress, ideals of modernization, and tools of literacy yield new romantic hopes and emotional bonds."
---Stacy Leigh Pigg, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Simon Fraser University

- Stacy Leigh Pigg, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Simon Fraser University

"Ahearn's analysis of the social consequences of literacy is a valuable contribution to our understandings of the modernization of rural lives in Nepal and elsewhere."
---Mark Liechty, University of Illinois, Chicago, American Ethnologist, February 2003

- Mark Liechty, University of Illinois, Chicago

"Invitations is a very human book. Ahearn talks about love without sentimentality, talks about literacy without recourse to evaluation, and talks about social, cultural, and economic development without proselytizing. She is an engaged researcher to (re)present others in an honest and informative way. Given the pace of the world, it was a pleasure to have the indulgence of reading so measured a text. There are few books that I would read twice---this is one of them."
---Anita Wilson, Lancaster University, England, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, December 2002

- Anita Wilson, Lancaster University, England

". . . a wonderful antidote for anyone who has suffered from an aversion to ethnography, on the assumption that it means ploughing through tomes of microscopic detail on kinship in Outer Mongolia. Laura Ahearn's account of her ethnographic research into marriage practices makes for a gripping read, as we follow the adventures through love and marriage of several young couples in Tansen, Western Nepal. Not only does she succeed in involving us instantly in the action, the day-to-day relationships and events in the community where she has lived for many years, but she takes the reader through the complex process of carrying out such research and constructing an ethnography. . . . [A] fascinating account of how relations between women and men and their respective roles are changing within this particular Nepali community, which has relevance to anyone working in development and education who wonders what is happening when we are not there."
---Anna Robinson-Pant, University of East Anglia, Norwich UK, International Journal of Educational Development, Volume 22 (2002)

- Anna Robinson-Pant, University of East Anglia, Norwich UK

"Ahearn brings the study of a community in the midst of radical change. To the interest in ways that discourses of development---initiated from afar---shape and are shaped by local sociocultural practices, she brings the notion of the self and its multiple, shifting representations. And to studies of gender, she brings an ethnography that richly illustrates the ambivalent ways in which discourses of development facilitate new possibilities for gendered practices."
---Language in Society

- Chaise Ladousa, Southern Connecticut State Univ