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NWSA Journal 18.1 (2006) 207-213

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Technologies of Governmentality and the Question of Feminist Politics:

New Literature on the Relationships between National Narratives, Law, and Identity Formation

Women, Crime and Language by Frances Gray. Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 240 pp., $90.00 hardcover.
The Empty Cradle of Democracy: Sex, Abortion, and Nationalism in Modern Greece by Alexandra Halkias. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004, 440 pp., $89.95 hardcover, $24.95 paper.
Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics beyond the Law by Nivedita Menon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 288 pp., $60.00 hardcover, $25.00 paper.
Mainstreaming Gender, Democratizing the State?: Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women edited by Shirin M. Rai. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003, 256 pp., $69.75 hardcover, $32.95 paper.

Within the past two decades, feminist scholars have critically analyzed the gendering of nationalism and nation-state-building processes. On the one hand, they have explored how women were and are involved in nation-building and national processes (Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989; Yuval-Davis 1997; Mayer 2000; Planert 2000). On the other hand, they have shown that national imageries are represented through gendered terms—for example, feminizing spaces of a territory (e.g., battlefields, soil, homes, landscapes, or boundaries) and masculinizing the movements (e.g., invasion, conquest, and defense) over these spaces—and that specific gender roles shape images of national icons or symbols (Mostov 2000; Ramaswamy 1998).

But up to now, only little attention has been given to the question of how national identity affects personal identities or how national narratives motivate specific self-perceptions as well as forms of behavior and thus realize or engender the nation. The three books being reviewed here interrogate this question from different perspectives and academic disciplines. Furthermore, the authors not only provide a careful analysis of this connection, but also open up on the basis of their analyses the question of how feminist politics have to be drafted to redraw the intricate power relations between the self and the nation-state. [End Page 207]

Alexandra Halkias in The Empty Cradle of Democracy explores how narratives of Greek national identity are embodied through the choice of contraceptive methods. Having conducted 120 interviews with women who had two or more abortions, Halkias discloses how national identifications are translated into or embodied through sexual behavior. Because of these ways of identification, having an abortion is perceived as a natural act and a method of family planning by many Greek women. Reconstructing the mechanisms of self-articulation through national narratives, it becomes comprehensible that Greece is the country with the highest number of abortions in the European Union which, paradoxically, fuels the intensely discussed nationalist debate about Greece's low birth rate and consolidates the sex-stereotypes of national identity politics.

Illuminating the relationship between self and the nation-state with a very different approach, Nivedita Menon in Recovering Subversion argues, following Foucault, that the rule or language of law is an important technique of modern forms of power regulating and constituting identity. Moreover, the rule of law functions as an expression of historically specific narratives of European countries. Or using Menon's words: "A . . . problem is that in postcolonial societies such as ours where the law was a product of the exigencies of colonial administration, it cannot be granted the same emancipatory force it might have had in Europe during the transition from feudalism to capitalism" (8). The functions of law are problematic because it fixes identities and meanings and "is driven towards the erasure of any kind of normative ethic which differs from its own unitary central ethic" (1). Menon discusses these mechanisms of law by analyzing the debates surrounding three highly contested issues in India—abortion and femicide of fetuses, sexual violence, and the campaigns demanding reservation of a specific percentage of Parliament seats for women.

Illustrating the question of what happens to the self when confronted with mechanisms of law is also a main rationale of Frances Gray...


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