- (Post) Colonialism, Citizenship and Domesticity:Intersectionality in Feminist Histories
But Oh! I've seen with trembling fear,The dreadful moveing day draw near,With all its sad vexation;When dire confusion rules the day:And female power usurpe the sway;As if it were a nation.1
This review will focus on a series of feminist rethinkings of political, social, cultural and economic representations, discourses, and practices in several historical contexts. These are: nineteenth-century New York; turnof-the-twentieth-century colonial India; twentieth-century colonial British Honduras (Belize); and Algeria since 1830. The books under consideration are each centrally concerned with how gender as a social category works through other ascriptions and experiences of difference: class, race, religion, ethnicity, and—in the Indian context—caste. As such, they engage with the [End Page 315] question of what kind of work categories of social difference do as they intersect with gender ideologies and practices. Algeria Cuts most explicitly begins in the present day, as Ranjana Khanna declares herself committed to a transnational or "new internationalist" feminism, and sets out to ask: what has gone wrong in Algeria to so curtail women's rights (xiii)? In response, she works through some of the visual and textual artefacts of colonialism and its aftermath in a French colonial context. But empire looms large in the other volumes too. Though ranging geographically from North and Central America to South Asia as well as across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the books share a commitment to unpacking the nature and meaning of intersectionality in a range of colonial and postcolonial contexts. J. Devika's En-gendering Individuals, Anne S. Macpherson's From Colony to Nation and Anupama Roy's Gendered Citizenship each focus on the nature and meaning of colonialism and anticolonialism within a gendered framework that centers on issues of nationalism, the legacies of enslavement and migration, social critique, modernity and modernisation. Dabel's A Respectable Woman shares some of this ground and, if one were to situate it beyond its most obvious historiographical framework as a feminist African American urban history of New York, it speaks also to recent efforts to incorporate both the intimate and public spaces of North American history into postcolonial studies in potentially interesting ways.
The authors each make distinct contributions to specialist literatures: opening up "gender" as an important category of analysis in spaces where they claim it has been substantively ignored in the past. Each book will, therefore, be of enormous significance to scholars across a range of literary, historiographical, and comparative contexts. Indeed, perhaps surprisingly, despite the growing interest in histories of women and empire, only Macpherson's exploration of women's political activism in Belize, From Colony to Nation, is anchored in any depth to other colonial contexts, though both Devika and Roy successfully integrate their research into the broader South Asian historiography. (An aside: I am baffled by the absence of the words "South Asia," "India" or even "colonialism" in Roy's book title). In this review essay, I will attempt to go beyond the books' regional or comparative significance, however, to focus on some (though by no means all) of the themes and approaches that either criss-cross or lend coherence to them as...