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Anthropological Quarterly 76.3 (2003) 553-559

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Sonita Sarker & Esha Niyogi De (eds.). 2003. Trans-Status Subject: Gender in the Globalization of South and Southeast Asia. Durham: Duke University Press.

In their introduction Sarker and Niyogi De assert that "what is at stake today in the processes and discourses of globalization is the (re) constitution of old and new beliefs about South and Southeast Asian nation-states, subjects, and their practices. Our essays demonstrate that hierarchical concepts of space and time form the very ground for racist, sexist and classist ideologies of modernity and modernization" (4). This volume offers readers a broad array of analysis of gender; traversing time and space with particular focus on discourses concerning South and Southeast Asian women. Contributors emphasize that a historicization of place and space complicates tendencies to understand globalization as a phenomenon which effects identities and subjectivities within historically bounded spaces. They show that notions of boundedness relate to historical constructions and productions which at times fail to contain the races, classes and genders that colonial and national cartographies attempt to control. Trans-status subjects are the people whose traversals of boundaries—both physical and ideological-mark their identities, but who are subjected to dominant discourses which continually attempt to contain them.

In the first section of the book; Figuring Genders in the Colony and Nation: Native and Foreign, contributors examine the ways that the attempts of imperial [End Page 553] administrators to map and control the space and place of the colonies prefigured dichotomies of gender, as well as ideologies of class and race which are sustained in varying ways in post-colonial nation-states. Susan Morgan inquires how racializing and gendering is performed through discourses of mapping and narratives of place in the former British colonial empire. She reads Ann Pryer's period memoir, A Decade in Borneo, as an intervention in the struggles over British imperial attempts to characterize their imperial presence in the name of business, rather than colonization. Morgan argues that Pryer constructs a narrative in which the business opportunities in North Borneo oppose masculine adventure narratives of the same period. Pryer's memoir established North Borneo as a desirable space, and according to Morgan "feminizes" it as a space to live in a bourgeois fantasy.

Philippa Levine examines how colonial anxieties about "just how order and visibility might best mesh" are played out through attempts to control the space and visibility of the sex trade in Britain's Asian colonies (53). "The brothel," she explains, "...was at the heart of the debate over home and work, public and private, visible and invisible" (Levine, 54). Because the Asian brothel was seldom distinguishable from a home, it challenged the attempts of colonial administrators to map and distinguish spheres of business and domesticity as well as legitimate and illegitimate occupations. The invisibility of the brothel led colonial officers to attempt to distinguish them by demarcating and controlling the ways in which brothels were organized. Similarly, the "visible signification of color" led colonizers to classify levels of brothels according to race. These attempts at classification and identification blurred the lines between invisibility and presence—marking the presence of brothels in order to render them invisible. "Disciplined by race as by gender, they (prostitutes) occupied an ambivalent space, always in confused motion, between necessity and revulsion, desire and rejection, the functionally visible and the politically invisible"(64).

Nihal Perera also considers the notion of movement in space to demonstrate how both European and Lankan women in the city of Columbo "used physical and social symbolic mobility" by "crossing assigned spatial boundaries, and building coalitions across categories" to subvert policies of spatial control which "marginalized" women during the colonial period (70). He traces the history of colonial involvement in the city, first Portugese, then Dutch and finally British to demonstrate the ways in which women ultimately "changed the values and meanings attached to their gender and race" (70). Sex segregation led Lankan, Indo-Portugese and European women to form bonds which, according to Perera, created a "third space" which transcended...


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