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Dr Penny Vera-Sanso

Senior Lecturer in Development Studies and Social Anthropology

Profile

  • Penny lectures in Development Studies and is Director of the Social Anthropology programme. She joined Birkbeck in 2001. She was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (1998-2001), a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Canterbury, Kent (1994-1998), taught anthropology at Goldsmiths College (1988-90; 1992-93) and in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, London University (1986-88). She has a BA (Hons) in Anthropology and Geography from University College London (1985) and a PhD in Social Anthropology from Goldsmiths (1994). Alongside her academic career Penny has founded two housing co-operatives in north London.
  • Penny is Principal Investigator of international, multidisciplinary projects 'Ageing, Poverty and Neoliberalism in Urban South India' , 2007-10, and the follow up project 'Ageing and Poverty: the working lives of older people in India' , 2012-13 that were part of or arose from the New Dynamics of Ageing research programme funded by five UK Research Councils. She is a member of the Policy Advisory Group, Women's Budget Group and on the Advisory Board of the South Asian Form for Aged Women (supported by the UNFPA)
  • Penny has published widely on later life and gender relations in India, particularly on the impact of liberalisation and the global economy on livelihoods and gender and generational relations in low-income households and, more recently, on ageism and age discrimination and the role of older people’s paid and unpaid work in supporting India’s economy. Recently she has focused her interest in developing visual materials to make her research available to the general public. The documentary ‘We’re Still Working’ can be seen on https://vimeo.com/97903890 (English version) and https://vimeo.com/81929055 (Hindi version). The photo essay/exhibition has been exhibited across India and in London and at Dublin’s The First International Conference on Age-friendly 2011, to strengthen the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities. The photo essay can be seen at http://www.koodam.org/photo_essay.  In order to extend the research and encourage popular participation in research projects to spur public debate Penny collaborated with The Hindu, one of India’s most widely read newspapers,  and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai to launch the National Photographic Competition on the Working Elderly. This produced a unique gallery of the extraordinary range of work older people undertake across India (http://bit.ly/19Y6jqp).

Research interests

  • The focus of my research is on how wider structures, processes, and discourses impinge on people's lives through conceptualisations of differential personhood. I explore this within the context of urban and rural poverty in India, focusing on gender relations, masculinity, inter-generational relations, old age and ageism from a life course perspective and the contribution of older people to family, community and economy. Recently I have been exploring methods for making research available to a wide range of people beyond academia and for encouraging popular participation in research projects in order to spur public debate.
  • My research interests include:
    • Globalisation, labour market, informal economy and older workers
    • Demography, poverty and the labour market
    • Globalisation, consumption, rights and intergenerational resource flows
    • Conceptualisations of personhood

Teaching

  • I convene the MSc Development Studies and Social Anthropology and co-convene the MSc Development Studies.
  • I teach the following postgraduate modules:
    • Development Studies: Theoretical Approaches
    • Anthropology: Theory and Method
    • Gender and Development
    • Master Class in Research Methods for Birkbeck Institute of Social Research

Supervision

  • I am currently supervising the following students:
    • Ezi Beedi: Adequacy of pension income in Nigeria: the case of women civil servants
    • Nemu Joshi: Globalization, modernity and gender practices: media and women in urban spaces of Nepal
    • Andrea Deri: The Role of Local Ecological Knowledge Creation and Social-Ecological Learning in the Resilience and Adaption to Climate Change of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India
    • Marianna Leite: From Rhetoric to Reality in Improving Maternal Health Outcomes: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Women’s Rights Activism in Brazil.
  • I am interested in supervising in the areas of old age livelihoods, intergenerational relations and resource flows, and poverty, informal economy and low-income settlements from a gendered perspective.

Publications

  • Journals
    • Harriss-White, B, W Olsen, P Vera-Sanso and V Suresh (2013) The Impact of Shocks on Workers in Urban Slums in South India, Economy and Society 43, 3, pp 398-429
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2012) Gender, Poverty and Old Age, in Urban South India in an Era of Globalisation, Oxford Development Studies, 40, 3, pp 324-340
    • Vera-Sanso, P and C Sweetman (2009) ‘Introduction’– as Expert Guest Editor of special issue Ageing and Generations, Gender & Development 17(3) p365-376
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2008) ‘Whose Money is It?’: On misconceiving female autonomy and economic empowerment in low-income households’, IDS Bulletin, Special issue ‘Reclaiming Feminism: Gender and Neoliberalism’, 39, 6, Dec, pp51-59
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2007) Increasing Consumption, Decreasing Support: a multi-generational study of family relations among South Indian Chakkliyars, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 41 (2) pp.225-248
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2006) Experiences in Old Age: a south Indian example of how functional age is socially structured. Oxford Development Studies, vol 34 (4) pp.457-472
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2000) Masculinity, Male Domestic Authority and Female Labour Participation in South India. In (Ed.) Cecile Jackson, ‘Men at Work: Men, Masculinities, Development’, a special issue of the European Journal of Development Research, Vol. 12, No.2, pp 179-198
    • Vera-Sanso, P (1999) Dominant daughters-in-law and submissive mothers-in-law? Co-operation and conflict in South India. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp 577-593
    • Vera-Sanso, P (1997) Household composition in Madras’s low-income settlements. Review of Development and Change, Vol. 2, No.1, pp 72-98
    • Vera-Sanso, P (1995) Community, seclusion and female labour force participation in Madras. In ( Ed.) Sylvia Chant, Special Issue on Gender and Development, Third World Planning Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp 155-167
  • Chapters in Books
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2013) Ageing, Work and the Demographic Dividend in South Asia, in Field, John, Ron Burke and Cary Cooper (Eds) Sage Handbook on Aging, Work and Society, London: Sage pp 170-185
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2010) Gender, Urban Poverty and Ageing in India: Conceptual and policy Issues’, in Sylvia Chant (Ed) Elgar International Handbook on Gender and Poverty, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar p220-226
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2007) Experiences in Old Age: a south Indian example of how functional age is socially structured’, in Roger Goodman and Sarah Harper (Eds) Ageing in Asia: Asia’s Position in the New Global Demography, London: Routledge
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2006) Conformity and Contestation: social heterogeneity in south Indian settlements, in de Neve and Donner ( Eds), The Meaning of the Local: Politics of Place in Urban India. London: UCL Press. p182-205
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2004) ‘They Don’t Need It and I Can’t Give It’: filial support in South India, in Kearns and Schoeder-Butterfill, (Eds), Ageing Without Children, Berghahn Press p77-105
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2001) Masculinity, male domestic authority and female labour participation in South India, in Cecile Jackson (Ed.), Men at Work: Men, Masculinities, Development. London: Frank Cass p179-198
    • Vera-Sanso, P (2000) Risk Talk: the politics of risk and its representation, in Pat Caplan (Ed), Risk Revisited. London: Pluto p108-132
    • Vera-Sanso, P (1993) Perceptions east and west: a Madras encounter, in D. Bell, P. Caplan and WJ Karim (Eds), Gendered Fields: Women, Men and Ethnography. London: Routledge p159-67
  • Newspaper Articles, Research Blogs and Podcasts
  • Videos, Photographic Exhibitions, Photo Competition
    • 2013 We're Still Working - 17 min documentary : Director Deepa Dhanraj, Producers Dr Penny Vera-Sanso and Dr V. Suresh. Unseating the assumption of old age dependency, We're Still Working reveals the extent to which families, communities and India itself rely on older people’s work. Shot in India, in urban Tamil Nadu, rural Rajasthan and tribal Maharashtra, the film makers argue that people aged over 60 are shouldering the burden of India’s economic development by providing low-cost labour that makes India competitive in the global market. Yet older people’s work and their moral and legal rights as workers, citizens and people remain unacknowledged.
    • 2013 The Forgotten Generation – 40 min documentary : Director Deepa Dhanraj, Producers Dr Penny Vera-Sanso and Dr V. Suresh. In The Forgotten Generation older people aged over 60 in India, in urban Tamil Nadu, rural Rajasthan and tribal Maharashtra, reveal the realities of their lives, relationships and work as well as their expectations of the future. We learn how they manoeuvre within tight constraints to create new social and economic opportunities for themselves, their families and friends and how targeted social pensions are producing Kafka-esque encounters with the State.
    • 2013, National Photo Competition on the Working Elderly, launched in association with The Hindu and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai. The aim of the competition was to reverse the ‘invisibility’ or denigration of older people’s work by uncovering the work of older people in India, revealing its diversity and demonstrating their contribution to family, society and economy through their determination and endurance. Judges: Aruna Roy, Pension Parishad, (social activist), Rajiv Menon (filmmaker & cinematographer) and The Hindu’s Picture Editor, D. Krishnan. A unique on-line gallery of 2,873 contemporary photos from across India of older people working is available at http://bit.ly/19Y6jqp.
    • Photo Exhibition/Essay, ‘We too Contribute!’, on older people's economic contribution to family, community and economy through their paid and unpaid work, demonstrating their contribution to all major economic sectors (45 captioned photographs). Exhibited by invitation of the Pension Parishad, a network of people's organisations campaigning for a universal old age pension, at their 4 day rally in Delhi from 4-8th March 2013. Exhibited on the street to the public and several thousand participants at the rally. Exhibition taken by the Pension Parishad for their campaign work round India. Also exhibited at international conferences in Delhi (2013), Chennai (2010), Dublin (2011) and London (2011, 2012, 2013) and to municipal bodies in Chennai (2009, 2013).

Lectures

  • Selected conference papers, external lectures, symposia
    • October 2013: ‘Ageing, Poverty and Neoliberalism in Urban South India’, New Dynamics of Ageing, Design Centre, London 21st Oct
    • September 2013: ‘Economic and demographic change in India: challenging assumptions of family breakdown’, British Society for Population Studies 2013 Conference, University of Swansea, 9-11th Sept
    • August 2013 ‘Ageism and age discrimination: stereotypes and counter imaginations’, International Conference on Ageing Women: Critical Challenges and Concerns, Stree Shakti, HelpAge India, UNDP, New Delhi 26th-27th Aug
    • May 2012 ‘Dalit women’s narratives of the life course and linked lives’, International Conference on Dalit Women’s Narratives and Voices: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives, University of East Anglia, 3rd-4th May
    • Oct 2011 Social Reproduction: An expanding reliance on older people?, 7th International Symposium on Cultural Gerontology, ‘Theorizing Age: Challenging the Disciplines’, Maastricht University, The Netherlands, 6th-9th October
    • Sept 2011 Building the Leadership Role of Older People in Cities: what does it take? First International Conference on Age-friendly Cities: Building the WHO Global Network, Burlington Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, 28th-30thSeptember
    • March 2011 ‘Age, gender and poverty’ Conference on Poverty in South Asia, British Academy and University of Oxford, 28-29 March, Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford
    • February 2011 ‘Visibility, equity and sustainability, extending human development to the older poor : ageing in South India’ Presentation to the Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme, New York, 10 February
    • Sept 2010 ‘Old age, work and poverty in urban south India: Dalits, MBCs and Backward Castes compared’, International Conference on ‘Mobility or Marginalisation? Dalits in Neoliberal India’, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford, 1st and 2nd September
    • March 2010 ‘Policy-informing concepts eg of old age’British Academy – British Association of South Asian Studies International Workshop on Poverty in South Asia, University of Warwick, 30th March
    • March 2010 ‘Gender, Urban Poverty and Ageing in India: Conceptual and Policy Issues’, International Institute for Population Sciences, Chennai, India.March 2010 ‘The Older Paid and Unpaid Working Poor and Chennai’s Economy’, The Hidden Contribution of Older People: Rethinking Age, Poverty, Opportunity and Livelihoods. International Conference on Mainstreaming Elderly in Policy, Planning and Practice, IIT Madras, 19thand 20th March
    • March 2010 ‘The Experience of Slum Dwellers in Chennai under the Economic and Environmental Insults of 2008-9’Wendy Olsen, Barbara Harriss-White, Penny Vera-Sanso and V. Suresh The Hidden Contribution of Older People: Rethinking Age, Poverty, Opportunity and Livelihoods. International Conference on Mainstreaming Elderly in Policy, Planning and Practice, IIT Madras, 19th and 20thMarch
    • July 2009: ‘Experiences of older persons in South Asia’s urban slums: evidence from Chennai, India’, Invited Symposium on Ageing in Megacities, 19th International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, World Congress, Paris
    • July 2009: Globalisation and older women’s livelihoods in South India, Invited Symposium on Feminisation of Ageing, 16th World Congress of International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographical Science, Kunming, China (not presented in person as conference postponement clashed with IAAG conference.)
    • Oct 2008: Globalisation and older people’s livelihoods amongst the urban poor in South India, invited Symposium on Ageing and Globalisation, 6thInternational Symposium on Cultural Gerontology, University of Lleida, Catalunya, Spain.
    • July 2007: Whose money is it? Are feminists still asking the right questions? Invited International workshop, Reclaiming Feminism, Institute of Development Studies, Falmer, Sussex (Published)
    • June 2006: Intergenerational relations in India: unpacking assumptions, invited speaker, The 19th European Conference on Modern South Asia, International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, The Netherlands.
    • February 2005: The experience of old age in rural and urban South India, invited speaker, International Conference co-sponsored by the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Oxford, the Asian Studies Centre at St. Antony's College and the Oxford University Institute of Ageing. (Published)

Media

Professional membership

  • Advisory Board, South Asian Forum for Aged Women (supported by UNFPA)
  • Policy Advisory Group, Women’s Budget Group
  • Development Studies Association

Honours and awards

  • Penny was  Principal Investigator of the project, 'Ageing, Poverty and Neoliberalism in Urban South India' , 2007-10, within the cross-council research programme, New Dynamics of Ageing, awarded by the Economic and Social Science Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council. This research was conducted with The Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai. Impact rating: Very Good, over 46 outputs. RES-352-25-0027
  • On the basis of the first project's impact Penny was an early awardee of an innovative ESRC Follow-on Funding/impact grant 'Ageing and Poverty: the working lives of older people in India' , 2012-13 for which she was the Principal Investigator.
  • Penny’s research has been showcased by the Economic and Social Research Council and by Birkbeck:
    • 2014 BBK, Birkbeck’s Magazine Review, 2013, issue 32, ‘The poverty and working lives of older people in India’, p32-33 http://www.bbk.ac.uk/downloads/bbk/bbk32.pdf
    • 2013 Britain in 2013, the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual flagship magazine, ‘An Age-Old Dilemma’, p125, http://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/Britain_in_2013_International_tcm8-29259.pdf
    • 2010 Economic and Social Research Council’s, Society Now, Impacts Section, ‘A Better Life for the Elderly’, Spring Issue, p16 http://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/Society-Now-6_tcm8-3574.pdf
    • 2010 Raising Awareness of India’s Elderly, http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/features-casestudies/case-studies/2781/raising-awareness-of-indias-elderly.aspx, uploaded 26th January 2010.

Highlight

  • Vera-Sanso’s research on livelihoods in later life in India has been described as demonstrating ‘that thorough and well founded research when effectively communicated can change minds and influence popular opinion and decision makers, with relation to a population which is invisible and profoundly under-valued. This project has changed the perception of older people’s rights and of their role in the economy and it is as a result of this change that improvements to the dignity and wellbeing of older people through the introduction of a universal social pension has gathered such widespread support.’ Harsh Mander, Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies, India.
  • Documentaries
    • 2013 We're Still Working - 17 min documentary : Director Deepa Dhanraj, Producers Dr Penny Vera-Sanso and Dr V. Suresh. Unseating the assumption of old age dependency, We're Still Working reveals the extent to which families, communities and India itself rely on older people’s work. Shot in India, in urban Tamil Nadu, rural Rajasthan and tribal Maharashtra, the film makers argue that people aged over 60 are shouldering the burden of India’s economic development by providing low-cost labour that makes India competitive in the global market. Yet older people’s work and their moral and legal rights as workers, citizens and people remain unacknowledged.
    • 2013 The Forgotten Generation – 40 min documentary : Director Deepa Dhanraj, Producers Dr Penny Vera-Sanso and Dr V. Suresh. In The Forgotten Generation older people aged over 60 in India, in urban Tamil Nadu, rural Rajasthan and tribal Maharashtra, reveal the realities of their lives, relationships and work as well as their expectations of the future. We learn how they manoeuvre within tight constraints to create new social and economic opportunities for themselves, their families and friends and how targeted social pensions are producing Kafka-esque encounters with the State.
  • Photographic Evidence
    • 2013, National Photo Competition on the Working Elderly, launched in association with The Hindu and the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai. The aim of the competition was to reverse the ‘invisibility’ or denigration of older people’s work by uncovering the work of older people in India, revealing its diversity and demonstrating their contribution to family, society and economy through their determination and endurance. Judges: Aruna Roy, Pension Parishad, (social activist), Rajiv Menon (filmmaker & cinematographer) and The Hindu’s Picture Editor, D. Krishnan. A unique on-line gallery of 2,873 contemporary photos from across India of older people working is available at http://bit.ly/19Y6jqp.
    • Photo Exhibition/Essay, ‘We too Contribute!’, on older people's economic contribution to family, community and economy through their paid and unpaid work, demonstrating their contribution to all major economic sectors (45 captioned photographs). Exhibited by invitation of the Pension Parishad, a network of people's organisations campaigning for a universal old age pension, at their 4 day rally in Delhi from 4-8th March 2013. Exhibited on the street to the public and several thousand participants at the rally. Exhibition taken by the Pension Parishad for their campaign work round India. Also exhibited at international conferences in Delhi (2013), Chennai (2010), Dublin (2011) and London (2011, 2012, 2013) and to municipal bodies in Chennai (2009, 2013).

Contact details

Email: p.vera-sanso@bbk.ac.uk
Tel:
+ 44 (0)20 3073 8445
Tel:
+ 44 (0)20 7631 6653 (messages)

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