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Beyond the statistics: A Critical Review of Katy Gardner's Songs at the River's Edge. Stories from a Bangladeshi Village.

Beyond the statistics: A Critical Review of Katy Gardner's Songs at the River's Edge. Stories from a Bangladeshi Village.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Tricia Kehoe. Originally submitted for Sociology of Rural Development at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Kathy Glavanis Grantham in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Tricia Kehoe. Originally submitted for Sociology of Rural Development at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Kathy Glavanis Grantham in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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12/11/2013

 
 Course:
BA (Chinese Pathway)
  Year of Study:
2nd
 Module:
Sociology of Rural Development
 Essay Title:
Beyond the statistics: A Critical Review of KatyGardner's
Songs at the River's Edge. Stories from a Bangladeshi Village.
Date of Submission:
17 December 2010
 
2
For an undergraduate student of the North studying the developing South, falling atthe first hurdle of getting caught up in terminology, theories and statistics is a real
danger. It’s important to remember
what the nature of our study is. Naturally,frameworks and statistics are essential in understanding and assessing the processes
at local levels. Looking beyond what aggregate data and ‘the obsessive pursuit of themeasurable’ masks in the quest for a full
er picture is essential to considering thenature of the rural and of development
1
.Moreover, as highlighted by Bernstein et al.
(1992, p.17), to understand poverty, we need to understand what constitutes ‘a
minimal decent standard of living and way of life
’.
Factors such as gender, ethnicityand class are just some of the other dimensions which influence the degree to whichfull social participation can be accessed at local levels. The disaggregating at data isessential in understanding these complex processes to further our understanding of 
who 
and
what 
is behind poverty.
It is for this reason that Gardner’s Songs at the River’s Edge proves an impo
rtantsource of study. Though essentially an anthropological study, it remains anextremely relevant reading in the understanding of the sociological processes of therural. From the recordings of her fifteen month stay in the rural Bangladeshi villageof Talukpur, Gardner gives profound insight into the inner workings and social forcesof the local community. Through the detailing the symptoms and nature of poverty,survival strategies and the internal dynamics of the household, Gardner provides uswith a vivid and personal account of the human experiences of the rural.In this essay, the author aims to assess the significance and relevance of Gardner
’ 
swork in how we understand poverty beyond data and the deeper dimensions of therural South in relation to undertaking development. Through the exploration of subheadings
 ‘
Gendered Vulnerability
’ 
,
 ‘
Domestic Abuse and Loans
’ 
and
 ‘
The LandIssue
’ 
, followed by a brief examination of the research process, this discussion aimsto place Gardner
’ 
s study within the wider context of our course in the explorations of the experience of the rural and processes of poverty.
1
Bernstein, H., Crow, B. and Johnson, H., 1992, p.17.
Rural Livelihoods: Crises and Responses 
. Oxford,Oxford University Press in association with The Open University.
 
3
Gendered Vulnerability 
One of the most striking and reoccurring themes in Gardner
’ 
s study is that of howslippery the slope to absolute poverty is for women in particular. As we see in thecase of Banessa, one of the many
 ‘
destitute
’ 
women from outside the village whoworked in the family
bari,
she is dependent on the demands and needs of otherhouseholds for work. We do not learn whether Banessa is married or widowed, orhow many children she has. Yet, it is significant that she is working outside her ownvillage. As noted by Cain et al (1979, p. 25), the
 ‘
norms of 
purdah 
influence thedistance a woman would be willing to travel to work, the distance a husband wouldpermit his wife to travel, a woman's willingness to work for a stranger, and thereceptivity of potential employers
’ 
. Thus,
purduh 
 
can limit a woman’s ability to
diversify in order to meet the needs of her family and in many cases defines mobilityand the sexual division of labour. We may deduce that Banessa
’ 
s violation of 
purdah 
 suggests that the traditional protection awarded by a husband has been eroded orlost and her access to social participation compromised. The uncertainties andinsecurities of Banessa
’ 
s position were the
bari 
to no longer need or be able to affordher are highlighted by the scenes of the crowds of beggars that gather at Shazna
’ 
sfuneral or at Pir-Saheb
’ 
s shrine. Again, in Matoc Bibi
’ 
s situation, women
’ 
sdependence on the protection of their husbands is highlighted in how
 ‘
if her husbanddied...there would be little to keep her from becoming one of the skinny women inrags waiting patiently with coconut shells and cracked bowls for alms
’ 
2
. The threat of separation, divorce or, in this case, death leaves women subject to high risk inproviding for their families.In the case of Sufia, we see two strategies at work. The first survival strategy,though a failure,
was Sufia’s attempts to please her husband’s family. The security
and stability in good relations with in-laws can form a kind of protection for the wifeas a place to turn in the event of death of her husband
3
. Thus, we see theimportance of strengthening kinship as a kind of assurance for the future. The other
2
 
Gardner, K., 1992, p.107. Songs at the River’s Edge. Stories from a
Bangladeshi Village. London, PlutoPress.
3
Cain, M., Khanam, S. R. and Nahar, S.,1979, p.5. Class, Patriarchy, and Women's Work in BangladeshPopulation and Development Review, 5(3), pp. 405-438
 

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