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Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies





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Linguistic uses of ‘sisterhood’ provide a window into disparate understandings of relationality among virtual and actual interlocutors in women’s development across vectors of caste, class, ethnicity and nationality. In this essay, I examine the trope of ‘sisterhood’ as it was employed at a women’s development project in Janakpur, Nepal, in the 1990s. I demonstrate that the use of this common signifier of kinship with culturally disparate ‘signifieds’ created a confusion of meaning, and differential readings of the politics of relationality. In my view, ‘sister,’ as used at this project, was a multivalent, strategically deployed, and divergently interpreted term. In particular, for the local participants in the project, use of the term ‘sister’ provided access to a world of status and privileged connection that was part of the very stuff of development, locally construed. The very same signifier was used by local women to negotiate ambiguous relations of trust, dependency, intimacy, hierarchy, and difference—in such a way that their tactical movements and subtle critiques did not put at risk important ties with relatively advantaged others.