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  • Beyond "Déjà Vu All Over Again?" Women's Work in the Global Economy
  • Donna R. Gabaccia (bio)
Kristen Ghodsee . The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. xii + 226 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-8223-3650-2 (cl); 0-8223-3662-6 (pb).
Tamara Jacka . Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration, and Social Change. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2006. xii + 329 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-7656-0820-0 (cl); 0-7656-0821-9 (pb).
Jennifer Bickham Mendez . From the Revolution to the Maquiladoras: Gender, Labor, and Globalization in Nicaragua. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. xiii + 284 pp.; ill.; maps. ISBN 0-8223-3552-2 (cl); 0-8223-3565-4 (pb).
Pun Ngai . Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005. xi + 227 pp.; ill. ISBN 1-932643-18-4 (cl); 1-932643-00-1 (pb).
Nana Oishi . Women in Motion: Globalization, State Policies, and Labor Migration in Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. xviii + 238 pp.; tables. ISBN 0-8047-4637-0 (cl); 0-8047-5638-9 (pb).

In our postcommunist, postsocialist, post-Maoist, postmodern, neoliberal era, the changes associated with globalization—which include rapid, long-distance movements of capital, labor, images and ideas—seem capable of radically transforming the lives, identities, options, and desires of laborers everywhere. It was an emerging sense of globality as a sharp rupture from the past that produced so much exciting theory (although also much "global babble" and "globaloney") in the 1990s. In these five books, a new generation of scholars in women and gender studies begin to sort out the meaning and consequences of globalization for women's labor. All focus on today's world. If globalization has indeed sharply separated global present from national and local past, then a historian reader expects to be surprised with each page turned. Instead, this reviewer experienced an overpowering sense of "déjà vu all over again." Why should the decidedly postmodern workers [End Page 222] of contemporary Bulgaria, China, Nicaragua, or the United Arab Emirates seem so familiar to a scholar who has worked mainly on the Atlantic labor migrations of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

In part, this sense of déjà vu results from the fact that so many of the central questions and observations highlighted in these five books are the same ones featured in the research of historians studying industrialization and urbanization in earlier centuries and in other parts of the world, including Europe, North America, and parts of Latin America. While industry has certainly relocated recently (to what was once termed the "third world"), the majority of women workers in most of these new, and urbanizing, industrial sites are migrants from the countryside, just as were the women workers of the past. Domestic servants in our own times—as was the case a century ago, too—are migrant women who differ religiously, linguistically, and culturally from their urban employers. This is and was especially the case when women traveled in search of work across national boundaries. But in both the past (in France, for instance) and in the present (for example, in China), culture and language could just as decidedly mark as profound outsiders the peasant women who arrived "from the provinces." The work and workplaces of both factory and service workers today are as highly gendered as in the past and they are also surprisingly similar in that gendered dynamics seem to have reproduced the low wages, long hours, alienating and minutely manipulated, abysmal working conditions deplored by reformers and advocates a century ago. Today's employers, workers' families, and local societies also continue to eye women's migrations and the work they travel to take as potentially corrupting. Assuaging fears of migrants' potential moral stigmatization supposedly motivates employers in China today—as it did also in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1830s—to require their "girl workers" to live in dormitories. Finally, in all these works, scholars of today's women workers wrestle with the familiar, if complex, issue of how the search for autonomy and the desire to contribute to familial economies motivate...


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