restricted access Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms (review)
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Journal of Asian American Studies 10.1 (2007) 110-113

Reviewed by
Nirmal Trivedi
Boston College
Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms. By Inderpal Grewal. Durham: Duke University Press 2005.

In Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms, Inderpal Grewal further develops the "transnational feminist cultural studies" inaugurated in her co-edited volume Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices.11 She does so by focusing very specifically on how middle-class Asian Indian and American subjects were produced in the 1990s as neoliberal subjects through moments of converging biopolitical and geopolitical interests. While geopolitics signifies the political and economic interests of nation-states vying for global dominance, biopolitics involves analyzing the impact of political power in managing all aspects of life.22 In each of the chapters, Grewal examines moments when Asian Indians were implicated in the neoliberal discourses created through these convergences as "subjects gendered, classed, and racialized in specific ways" (3). Grewal draws out the ways in which feminism has historically operated in a transnational context by relying on a rhetoric of "choice." She analyzes the many [End Page 110] uses of choice in struggles for full citizenship to illustrate how they have actually narrowed the kinds of social relations available to feminists because of their dependence on consumer culture's inflexible notions of race and gender.

In line with feminist scholars who analyze how race and gender can help us to understand inequalities of the globalization process, Grewal analyzes the market's role in a variety of movements through what she calls "connectivities."33 Suggesting both "collectivities" and information technology networks with multiple centers, the term connectivities refuses association with a general deterritorialization of relations, or a linear path from product to consumer. Rather, it allows the inclusion of histories of unevenness and inequality built into neoliberal governmentalities (24). Citizenship is one such connectivity that is foundational for democratic participation. Grewal qualifies any uncritical enthusiasm for citizenship by showing how the "privileges of citizenship are extended unevenly – to women, minority religious groups, and racial and sexual minorities," so as to concentrate instead on how citizenship is used to produce neoliberal subjects (10).

In the chapter, "Traveling Barbie," Grewal explores the moment when Barbie became available in India under the nation's liberalization policies of the 1980s. Rather than an instance of cultural imperialism, Grewal writes how the success of Mattel's product relied upon "the transnationalization of the beauty and fashion industry in India as well as the transnational connectivities produced by diasporic Indians" (89). Mattel capitalized on the Indian government's creation of a separate financial category for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) not by distributing a South Asian Barbie, but rather by selling a "white" Barbie marketed as a traveler who could be dressed in a sari and made to be "totally at home in India" (81). By selling this refashioned, cosmopolitan Barbie in five-star hotels, airports, and tourist locations, Mattel and the Indian government produced a class of diasporic Indians invested in their own racial subjugation. Broadening her analysis beyond the multinational corporation, Grewal shows how Mattel tapped into segmented markets of international travelers, adolescents and children organized around gendered and racialized notions of fashion and mobility. This new "Indian transnational imaginary" abetted by multinational corporations strengthened rather than undermined national boundaries by priming citizens to think of themselves as entering a "global" stage in their national development (90).

Grewal also offers a reading of three South Asian authors who write for what might be called a cosmopolitan readership. The "cosmopolitan" functions here as another subject position created by connectivities. In "Becoming American," Grewal highlights how three writers of the Indian diaspora in America tap into their histories as products of a privileged English-educated class born in the age [End Page 111] of decolonization to produce a postcolonial cosmopolitan identity. She analyzes the works of Amitav Ghosh, Bharati Mukherjee, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni to argue that each mystify, albeit differently, a central tenet of liberal subjectivity: the individual as possessor of rights and as a product of international trade (42...