The Feminization of Globalization
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Cultural Critique 63 (2006) 1-32



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The Feminization of Globalization

Research and teaching about globalization verges on disciplinary status. In this, the contemporary position ofglobal studies (and "globalism") is not unlike that of postcolonial studies in the 1970s. As with that earlier field of inquiry, the study of globalization has come under considerable pressure from critics both friendly and antagonistic toward its foundational claims. The contention that globalization represents the decline of the nation-state, for example, was no sooner offered as axiomatic than it was targeted for critique.1 Likewise, commentators have had serious questions about the stipulation that contemporary migrancy is of revolutionary scale and scope.2 As the study of globalization spawns the study of globalization studies, it has become clear that there is a good deal to ask of this incipient field. In this article, I considersome of the criteria used to identify and evaluate the newness of recent geopolitical trends. Specifically, I interrogate the rhetorical utility of using the fate of the world's women as a measuring stick for historical change.

For any number of scholars and critics, the novelty of globalization must be articulated to gender. To Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the question "are the new diasporas quite new?" has only one answer: "The only significant difference is the use, abuse, participation, and role of women" (92). Writing in the disciplinary vernacular of development, Amartya Sen makes a related claim: "Nothing, arguably, is as important today in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic and social participation and leadership of women" (203). For Arjun Appadurai, the "fertile ground of deterritorialization, in which money, commodities, and persons are involved in ceaselessly chasing each other around the world," is symbolized by the "young women" of the sex trade who, "barely competent in Bombay's metropolitan glitz, come to seek their fortunesas cabaret dancers and prostitutes" (38). And Barbara Ehrenreich goes [End Page 1] so far as to maintain that no assessment of globalization is possible without considering its "female underside . . . the global transfer of the services associated with a wife's traditional role--child care, home-making, and sex--from poor countries to rich ones" (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 4-5). Although one could easily adduce further instances, these divergent uses of women to mark globalization's difference, herald its accomplishments, and figure its victims suffice to identify a critical trend that is also a bit of a puzzle: What do women mean to the scholarship of globalization?

The obligatory reference to women's lot in very different, not to say antagonistic, arguments about globalization has given feminist scholars pause. J. K. Gibson-Graham attends to a broad range of "left discussions in which globalization is represented as the penetration . . . of capitalism into all processes of production," and argues that this tropic tendency feminizes territories and treats peoples as victims according to a "rape script" (120-22). Spivak opines that "the constitution of 'woman' as object-beneficiary of investigation and 'feminist'as subject-participant of investigation is as dubious here as elsewhere" (104). Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan contend that talk of "global feminism" by nongovernmental organizations and academics alike "has elided the diversity of women's agency in favor of a universalized Western model of women's liberation" (17). Universalism in, for instance, Sen's Development as Freedom gives freedom a telos that may deny the complex social formations Gibson-Graham describes as characteristic of the "Third World" (131).3 Mere mention of globalization's women, these arguments collectively insist, hardly suffices to secure the progressive credentials of their advocates, though it invariably seems to advance just such a claim.

One has to admit that the appearance of women in writing about globalization is liable to introduce a curious shift in rhetoric. To pick but a single example, deterritorialization functions as a term of dispassionate analysis when Appadurai's Modernity at Large focuses on emerging markets, transnational fundamentalisms, and "invented homeland[s]." In this context, deterritorialization is simply "one of the central forces of the modern world" (37-38). In contrast, it causes "tragedies of displacement...


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