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Latin American Research Review 40.1 (2005) 187-201

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Women's Political Lives in Latin America:

Reconfiguring Terrains of Theory, History, and Practice1

University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Colorado, Boulder
After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. By Florence E. Babb. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Pp. viii+304. $50.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.)
Why Women Protest: Women's Movements in Chile. By Lisa Baldez. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xvii+234. $65.00 cloth, $23.00 paper.)
Empowering Women: Land and Property Rights in Latin America. By Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena León. (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Pp. vii+486. $55.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.)
Women and Guerrilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba. By Karen Kampwirth. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. Pp. x+194. $35.00 cloth.)
Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle Against Allende 1964-1973. By Margaret Power. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. Pp. xxii+311. $65.00 cloth, $25.00 paper.) [End Page 187]
Un siglo de luchas femeninas en América Latina. Edited by Eugenia Rodríguez Sáenz. (San José, Costa Rica: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 2002. Pp. ix+267. N.p.)
Mujeres, género e historia en AmÉrica Central durante los siglos XVIII, XIX y XX. Edited by Eugenia Rodríguez Sáenz. (San José, Costa Rica: Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies. UNIFEM, 2002. xi+221. N.p.)

In this essay we review seven recent publications that take up the politics of Latin American women's lives and struggles from the mid-colonial period to the present. The books' diverse topics exemplify the breadth that "politics" has acquired over the past two decades as a conceptual frame in Latin American research on women and gender: from formal electoral politics to informal quotidian activities; from explicitly political protest to more subtle subversions; from demands for equality as citizens or workers to demands for reproductive freedoms. Each book contributes to our understanding of women as political actors and agents of social change. While the works vary in the ways and extent to which they deploy gender as a category of analysis, each makes an important and distinct contribution by challenging the conceptual, methodological or thematic terms that have delimited the terrains of research on women's political life in Latin America with which they engage. We review the books in relation to four research terrains: the politics of women's circumstances under neoliberal capitalism, women's place in revolutionary theory, women contesting political institutions, and the politics of women's everyday lives.

One of the qualities that marks feminist research on women, gender, and politics in Latin America as critical research is the inclination to question and revise its own accounts of women's lives, struggles and consciousness. Thus, feminist scholars have produced gendered re-readings of the historical record that call into question earlier tendencies to narrate Latin American women's changing circumstances as a story of progress, identifying instead the uneven, contradictory, and regionally varied development of gendered politics and women's material circumstances. Each of the books reviewed here contributes to this more critical, if at times unsettling, picture of women's political engagement across the region.

While scholars have readily pointed to advances in feminist theories as the basis for this more heterogeneous reading of gender politics in Latin America, few have been similarly inclined to question the progressive and equally romantic narrative about those theories. Certainly each new "wave" of feminist theory contributes new insight, but it often does so at the expense of key insights of the previous "wave," creating new theoretical blind spots rather than moving toward richer syntheses. As Mary Weismantel recently pointed out, "authors today [End Page 188] speak of 'identities' that combine 'fluidly'; this language may make 'difference' visible but it renders inequality so diffuse as to be impossible to analyze."2 Elizabeth Dore similarly identified the...


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