- “Destination Globalization? Women, Gender and Comparative Colonial Histories in the New Millenium”
Among the most enduring debates in feminist historiography as we head into the new millennium is the question of what the right and proper relationship is, and should be, between studies which focus on women and those which privilege gender as a category of historical analysis. Although this may come as a surprise to many, given the velocity with which gender has become a crucial analytical category and investigative tool—partly as a result of Joan Scott’s famous 1986 American Historical Review article—the dialogic tension between “women” and “gender” remains a constitutive feature of disciplinary inquiry and feminist interdisciplinarity more generally.2 The fact that two of the most established feminist historical journals to emerge in the last fifteen years continue under the rubrics The Journal of Women’s History and Gender and History reflects and, of course, reproduces this tension—even as contributors to both constantly cross, negotiate and recast the differences between the two categories.
Significantly for the purposes of this special issue of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, the debate rages perhaps most passionately in today’s colonial history and studies, where feminist historians and anti-imperialist scholars more generally have been at the forefront of interrogating hidebound narratives, opening up new geographies of power and knowledge, and centralizing stories about women and gender at the intersection of histories of race, class, sexuality, labor, ethnicity, nation and religion under colonial and postcolonial regimes. So, for example, Ann Stoler, in her 2002 book, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power, argues that much of the recent literature on gender and empire has “tacked back and forth” between a focus on “women, their daring or despair” and one on “the ways in which a wider domain was shaped by gendered sensibilities and sexual politics.”3 In her view, “a broader gendered history may offer more than women’s history tout court.”4 Yet there is no natural or necessary consensus about this. Paul Zeleza, writing in the context of African history, argues that “gender history cannot go far without the continuous retrieval of women’s history, while women’s history cannot transform the fundamentally flawed paradigmatic bases of ‘mainstream’ history without gender history.”5 While it is tempting to try to reconcile these views, or at least to make a case for one or the other, this special issue demonstrates the futility of either path. More pressing is the task of determining what kinds of pressures gendered analyses of colonialism exert on one of the dominant paradigms of 21st century scholarship: globalization.
Although its proponents and its critics agree that it is not by any means a new thing,6 globalization nonetheless has begun to acquire a kind of inevitability as the natural destination of disciplinary inquiry in the arts and sciences broadly conceived. Despite the fact that globalization is apparently in the air we breathe—and not withstanding a few allusions to the transnational and the diasporic below—what readers will not find here is either a consensus or a resignation about the global as the ultimate destination for scholarship on women, gender and colonialism.7 In fact, with the exception of China, there is a remarkably consistent emphasis on the primacy of the local in the other area studies fields under consideration here—Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia. This emphasis impels us to question whether globalization is necessarily the natural, let alone the inevitable, endpoint for scholars interested in the interplay between and among colonialisms and women, gender, sexuality and feminism. In this sense the local foci which undergird these literatures are not merely the “after-images” of colonial power in situ; nor are the “learning places” they offer either the detritus or the precondition of global analysis in all its whiggish glory.8 Instead, the constitutive and ongoing influence of area studies’ methods, orientation, and politics remains indelibly imprinted on the historiographies of those scholarly endeavors which seek to illuminate the links between women, gendered domains and subjectivities, colonial legacies and “postcolonial” futures.
Thus this introduction is undertaken with two purposes. The first...