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  • Reclaiming Third World Feminism: or Why Transnational Feminism Needs Third World Feminism1

Third World and transnational feminisms have emerged in opposition to white second-wave feminists’ single-pronged analyses of gender oppression that elided Third World women’s multiple and complex oppressions in their various social locations. Consequently, these feminisms share two “Third World feminist” mandates: First, feminist analyses of Third World women’s oppression and resistance should be historically situated; and second, Third World women’s agency and voices should be respected. Despite these shared mandates, they have diverged in their proper domains of investigation, with transnational feminism concentrating on the transnational level and Third World feminism focusing on local and national contexts. Further, their respective positions regarding nation-states and nationalism have been antithetical, as leading transnational feminists have categorically rejected nation-states and nationalism as detrimental to feminism. In recent decades, transnational feminism has become the dominant feminist position on Third World women, overshadowing Third World feminism, and the dismissal of nation-states and nationalism as irrelevant to feminism has become fashionable. Against this current trend, this article argues for the relevance of nation-states and nationalism for transnational feminism and the urgency of reclaiming Third World feminism.

Third world feminism and transnational feminism2 are two of the most significant branches of feminism relating to Third World women. They [End Page 1] both emerged in opposition to mainstream second-wave feminism, which subscribed to the idea that all women everywhere face exactly the same oppression merely by virtue of their sex/gender. In its single-pronged analysis of gender oppression, white second-wave feminism elided Third World women’s multiple and complex oppressions in their various national contexts, whether in the Third World3 or the West, which are compounded not only by race and class but also by imperialism and colonialism. In their common stance against white second-wave feminism, Third World feminism and transnational feminism share important similarities, such as the rejection of false universalism presupposed by white feminism and an emphasis on Third World women’s complex and intersecting oppressions and multiple forms of resistance.

Third World feminism and transnational feminism, however, are distinct. Third World feminism, on the one hand, became popular in the wake of Chandra Mohanty’s powerful critique of white feminists’ pernicious mischaracterization of Third World women’s oppression as merely a worse case of gender oppression (Mohanty 1991a). It aims at generating descriptively reliable feminist analyses by Third World women themselves of Third World women’s diverse forms of oppression and different modes of resistance on the ground. Consequently, its focus has been on Third World women’s activisms in their particular local/national contexts. Transnational feminism, on the other hand, is primarily interested in feminist organizations, networks, and movements occurring outside and beyond individual nation-states at the transnational level (Grewal and Kaplan 2001, 665–66; see also Nagar and Swarr 2010, 4). A corollary of such divergence is their differing attitudes toward nation-states and nationalism: Transnational feminists4 by and large consider nation-states and nationalism as detrimental to feminist causes, whereas Third World feminists are relatively neutral to, and at times even approving of, nation-states and nationalism.

The early 1990s witnessed vibrant discourses concerning Third World feminism. In the new millennium, however, Third World feminism seems to have lost its appeal. Transnational feminism, by contrast, has become influential among Third World feminists as well as white feminists. This is due in large part to the fact that since the 1990s, various transnational feminist networks have made remarkable progress in pursuing gender justice at the transnational level against neoliberal global capitalism and fundamentalist religious movements (Keck and Sikkink 1998, chap. 5; [End Page 2] Moghadam 2005, chap. 5). Although I fully recognize the significance of achievements made by transnational feminism as a social movement during this period, in this article I will demonstrate the ways in which transnational feminism as theory—advanced in particular by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan (Grewal and Kaplan 1994), whose work has been considered “canonical” by some transnational feminists (Nagar and Swarr 2010, 9)—suffers from ambiguities and vagueness, if not inconsistencies, especially concerning nation-states and nationalism. I believe that such lapses considerably undermine the transnational feminist claim that it represents Third World women’s interests, as nation-states and nationalism have crucial relevance for Third World women’s activism (for more, see part I). Further, the sharp focus on the transnational urged by Grewal and Kaplan potentially leaves the local/national, an extremely important arena of Third World women’s activism and the proper domain of Third World feminism, under-theorized. Therefore, this article argues that not only should the theoretical basis of transnational feminism be rethought, especially regarding its stance toward nation-states and nationalism, but also that Third World feminism as a distinct branch of feminism ought to be reclaimed in order to promote inclusive and democratic feminisms that accommodate diverse and multiple feminist perspectives of Third World women on the ground.

This article comprises four parts. Part I focuses on Third World feminism, in which I start by recounting the emergence of Third World feminism in relation to white second-wave feminism and its successor “white” global feminism. In this process, I will identify Third World feminism’s two constitutive elements and clarify its relation to nation-states and nationalism. In part II pertaining to transnational feminism, I will examine the circumstances in which transnational feminism became dominant, elaborate on its theoretical constituents as proposed by Grewal and Kaplan, and analyze the transnational feminist stance toward nation-states and nationalism. The third part engages in critical analyses of Grewal and Kaplan’s theorization of transnational feminism and exposes its conceptual and substantive problems. Part IV concludes by suggesting a way forward: rethinking transnational feminism’s theoretical base and reclaiming Third World feminism. Transnational feminism and Third World feminism ought to be reconceptualized as close allies that collaborate with each other to build a “noncolonizing feminist solidarity across borders” (Mohanty 2002, 503). [End Page 3]

I. Third World Feminism and Its Constitutive Ideas

Most second-wave white feminisms in the West—liberal, radical, psychoanalytic, or “care-focused” feminisms (Tong 2009)—have assumed that women everywhere face similar oppression merely by virtue of their sex/gender. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, feminists of color residing in the West began to criticize the implicit racism and imperialism of white second-wave feminists, which rendered white feminists oblivious to complex and multiple oppressions faced by women of color and dismissive of the latter’s agency (Combahee River Collective 1979; Amos and Parmar 1984; Lorde 1984; Sandoval 1991; Carby 1997). Partly as a response to such criticisms, some white feminists began to espouse “global feminism” in the 1980s and turned their eyes to the rest of the world, attempting to recognize diversity in women’s oppression across the globe (Morgan 1984; Bunch 1987). I will qualify this global feminism as “white” in order to contrast it with its more recent usage as interchangeable with transnational feminism (see Moghadam 2005; Ferree and Tripp 2006; Hawkesworth 2006). White global feminism is distinct from “international feminism,” which presupposes “existing configurations of nation-states as discrete and sovereign entities” (Kaplan and Grewal 2002, 73; see also Alexander and Mohanty 1997, xxix; Nagar and Swarr 2010, 4). In contrast, white global feminism advocates transcending national boundaries.

White global feminism, however, was largely a global application of the aforementioned white feminist outlook. The single-minded focus on gender as the primary cause of women’s oppression worldwide led white feminists to believe that Third World women were suffering from the same kind of oppression as white women: universal patriarchy (Bunch 1987, 304). Most notably, Robin Morgan argued that “female human beings per se [have] become ‘other,’ the invisible” in “virtually all” countries where “the standard for being human is being male” (Morgan 1984, 1). According to Morgan, women have “shared attitudes” because of “a common condition” besetting “all human beings who are born female” (4; emphases in original). Based on “a shared biology,” women all over the world must launch a coordinated resistance movement (34) against the universal “patriarchal mentality” (1). This coordinated “global sisterhood” movement requires transcending particularities that divide women, including their respective “nation-states” (Bunch 1987, 301); feminists must work [End Page 4] together to end forms of oppression based on “social forces that divide women from each other,” such as “race, class, sexual orientation, colonialism, poverty, religion, [and] nationality” (303).

Although well intentioned, white global feminism incurred severe criticism from Third World feminists who championed the cause of subaltern Third World women. Chandra Mohanty, in particular, provided an eloquent rebuttal of false universalist claims of white global feminists, arguing that it is only through homogenization and historical reductionism that white feminists are led to believe that women are “a cross-culturally singular, homogeneous group with the same interests, perspectives, goals and similar experiences” (Mohanty 1991b, 33). Ahistorical conceptions of gender and patriarchy presumed by white global feminism entail “the erasure of the history and effects of contemporary imperialism” (34). By subscribing to the cultural imperialist conception of Third World cultures as hopelessly backward and patriarchal (Mohanty 1991a, 72), white feminists view Third World women’s oppression as simply worse than that of white women in the West. Thus is generated a monolithic conception of the “average” Third World woman as leading “an essentially truncated life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and her being third world (read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, family-oriented, victimized, etc.)” (56). This “colonialist move” results in depriving Third World women of “their historical and political agency” (72; emphasis in original).

From Mohanty’s critique of white global feminism above, two constitutive ideas, among others, of Third World feminism that adequately theorize about and address Third World women’s oppression can be identified. The first is that Third World feminists must carefully examine and analyze Third World women’s oppression and resistance on the ground in their historical specificity by paying attention to intersections of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nation pertaining to their locations (Mohanty 1991b, 2–3). Studies that have adhered to this idea reveal that Third World women’s resistance often does not involve an explicit demand for gender equality or radical social restructuring in order to achieve feminist goals. Instead, Third World women tend to opt for gradual changes that result from their collaboration with their male counterparts to enhance their communal influence vis-à-vis other members and to improve living standards of their families and of the community itself (see Jayawardena [End Page 5] 1986; Ong 1987; Shiva 1993; Basu 1995; Pardo 2001; Forbis 2003; Basu 2010). Also, local women’s activisms tend to be aligned with other local social movements, such as national, pro-democracy, or human-rights movements. However, as Amrita Basu has aptly pointed out, even in these mixed activisms “women ultimately take up questions of gender inequality even if this was not their initial objective” (Basu 1995, 19).

The second constitutive idea is the importance of recognizing Third World women’s “historical and political” agency and paying due respect to it. This is not difficult to do when close attention is paid to their activism on the ground, as Third World women have been engaging in various forms of local activism to enact positive changes in their particular locations. Since they are active agents of positive change, Third World women’s viewpoints must receive due respect. Yet there is another, more fundamental, reason that Third World women’s viewpoints deserve respect. As feminist standpoint theory has correctly argued, “marginalized” social locations are especially propitious for producing “less partial and distorted,” and even “objective,” understanding of the human condition (Harding 1993, 56, 62). Thus, the marginalized status of Third World women enables them to have “epistemic advantage” (56) or “epistemic privilege” (Mohanty 2002, 511, 515) concerning events and conditions that affect their lives. Third World feminists must therefore recognize the agency of Third World women and respect their diverse viewpoints and activisms, even if these may not conform to their preconceived notions about feminist activism. Instead of imposing their own feminist preconceptions on Third World women, Third World feminists must “identify and reenvision forms of collective resistance that women, especially, in their different communities enact in their everyday lives” (515).

Having identified the two constitutive ideas of Third World feminism, a more precise definition of Third World feminism can now be stipulated: Third World feminism encompasses feminist perspectives on Third World women that (1) generate more reliable analyses of and recommendations for addressing Third World women’s multidimensional and complex oppression through careful examinations of their local conditions in their historical specificity; and (2) respect the agency and voices of Third World women engaged in diverse forms of local activism. [End Page 6]

Third World Feminism’s Relation to Nation-states and Nationalism

When Third World feminism is conceptualized in this way, an interesting question arises concerning its relation to nation-states and nationalism. Before I elaborate, however, let me clarify my usage of these terms. In the nationalism literature, “nation” and “state” are distinguished: The former connotes “an intergenerational community, more or less institutionally complete, occupying a given territory . . . sharing a distinct language and history” (Kymlicka 1995, 18), whether or not its national territory has been internationally recognized. The latter primarily refers to a territorial-political unit, whether or not predicated on common culture (Smith 1983, 176–80). “Nation-state” then typically means a nation with internationally recognized boundaries. In this article, however, I will use “nation-state” generically to refer to a political and territorial entity to which “nationalism”—understood broadly as a political movement to protect and maintain an independent national culture—is relevant.

Most Third World feminists recognize that the historical relation between nation-states/nationalism and Third World women has been tumultuous, although Third World women often worked in tandem with nationalists in their anticolonial and independence movements (Jayawardena 1986). One of the main reasons for this is that male Third World nationalists have consistently subscribed to essentialist and masculinist conceptions of nation and nationalism, predicated on the subjugation of women (see, for examples, Herr 2003, section II). This historical evidence gives Third World feminists good reason to be cautious in dealing with nation-states and nationalists. Nevertheless, I believe that Third World feminism’s mandates to pay attention to Third World women’s particular local conditions as well as to confer due respect to their voices entail the injunction for Third World feminists to continue to pay attention to Third World nation-states and nationalism for at least two reasons.

First, Third World nationalism has the potential to promote Third World feminist causes even under this “postcolonial” world order. Despite their checkered record, the main driving force behind Third World nationalisms has been the aspiration to liberate subjugated peoples from imperial conquests and colonialism. Many such movements have contributed not only to national independence but also to feminist consciousness in the Third World (Jayawardena 1986; Basu 1995, 3; Basu 2000, 77). The liberatory spirit of Third World nationalisms is relevant even today, as the [End Page 7] majority of Third World nationals suffer from the present-day neocolonial global hierarchy, one manifestation of which is neoliberal global capitalism. If anti-imperialism is a core value of Third World feminist theorizing and activism (Mohanty 2002, 503), then Third World nationalist resistance against such a global order may have strategic significance to Third World feminists. For instance, women activists of still-colonized indigenous nations within Western “settler” societies choose to work with their nationalist male counterparts, for they believe that achieving national self-determination is more urgent than overcoming internal gender discrimination (Trask 1993; Jaimes with Halsey 1997). Some white feminists mystified by these women’s adamant anti-(white) feminist stance have attributed to them “false consciousness” (Okin 1995) or “adaptive preferences” (Nussbaum 2000). However, a careful consideration of their particular historical situations and due respect for their voices would reveal that these women are full moral agents who advocate nationalism as a strategic tool to resist imperialism and colonialism. In fact, these activists consider white feminism as a facet of imperialism, as it imposes the Western perspective while failing to recognize the adverse effects of imperialism and colonialism on indigenous and/or conquered peoples.

Second, and more important, Third World feminists must engage with their nation-states, as these are not only the main arenas of democratic contestations since the advent of modernity but also important loci of women activists’ struggles, both feminist and nonfeminist. Undoubtedly, Third World nation-states’ policies and laws have been patriarchal, and male nationalists have attempted to exclude Third World feminists from national politics by accusing them of “inauthenticity.” Yet Third World feminists must not relinquish the national political arena to patriarchal nationalists, as doing so would be tantamount to authorizing them to continue with impunity the subjugation of women. The result would then be outright dangerous for Third World women, as they would be sidelined or, worse, completely silenced. Third World feminists must therefore insist that they are as authentic as any other member of their nation and demand their right to participate in national discourses, since feminist “contestations are no less rooted in [their] experiences within ‘[their] cultures,’ no less ‘representative’ of [their] complex and changing realities, than the views of [their] compatriots” who accuse them of inauthenticity (Narayan 1997, 30–31). Recognizing this danger, local and national women’s [End Page 8] movements have been “overwhelmingly directed at the state” (Basu 2010, 14) and have been “most successful when they have engaged the state, through contestation and collaboration, without abdicating their own identities and constituencies” (3).

II. Ascendancy of Transnational Feminism

In recent decades, transnational feminism has been widely invoked not only among Third World feminists but also among white feminists, thanks in large part to impressive and fruitful activities of transnational feminist networks (TFNs) and NGOs, especially around the 1995 Beijing UN World Conference on Women (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Basu 2000, 70; Moghadam 2005, chap. 1). Particularly notable is their activism against neoliberal economic globalization and religious fundamentalisms. Under these circumstances, even Mohanty, whose earlier works were seminal in the popularization of Third World feminism, now characterizes her current scholarship in reference to “transnational feminist practice” (Mohanty 2002, 509, 530).

What explains such a shift? Mohanty’s move away from Third World feminism is discernible as early as 1997 when she and Jacqui Alexander recounted the evolution of their anthology’s title, Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Early on, the title contained “Third World Feminism,” which was dropped in the end. Alexander and Mohanty explain that the changes in the title reflect “subtle shifts in the discursive and material terrain and in the organizational practices of feminist communities around the world” (Alexander and Mohanty 1997, xv), among which is the need to shift “the unit of analysis from local, regional, and national culture to relations and processes across cultures” and understand “the local in relation to the larger cross-national processes” (xix). Alexander and Mohanty recognize that “a focus on the state seems . . . crucial” especially in Third World contexts, given the entanglements among Third World women, global capitalism, and Third World nation-states (xxiii). Yet, given the urgency to form “global alliances” in order to counteract “global capitalist processes” (xxix), they argue for “a comparative, relational feminist praxis that is transnational in its response to and engagement with global processes of colonization” (xx; emphasis added). In short, they are pointing toward “transnational feminism” (xxix). [End Page 9]

Mohanty’s turn to transnational feminism becomes more obvious in her “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited” (Mohanty 2002). This transition is due in part to Mohanty’s recognition of not only the “imprecision” and “inadequacy” but also the danger of “institutionalizing” the categories of “Western” and “Third World” (Mohanty 2002, 506; see also Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 8, 14–16). Yet Mohanty still recognizes the value of this distinction for its “political and explanatory value” (Mohanty 2002, 505) in capturing “a history of colonization” (506). Therefore, a more significant reason for Mohanty’s turn to transnational feminism is “[a] greater visibility of transnational women’s struggles and movements” as well as the “rise of religious fundamentalisms” that threatens not only feminist struggles but also women’s well-being itself (508). Most important, however, Mohanty’s shift to transnational feminism has crucially to do with her acknowledgment that “the politics and economics of capitalism [is] a far more urgent locus of struggle,” given “that global economic and political processes have become more brutal, exacerbating economic, racial, and gender inequalities.” Therefore, Mohanty’s “focus now” is on “anticapitalist transnational feminist practice” that concentrates on the “critique of global capitalism (on anti-globalization)” (509).

Transnational Feminism’s Theoretical Contour

Although Mohanty’s rationale for turning to transnational feminism hints at some core elements of transnational feminism, such as its “anti-globalization” stance, we need to turn to Grewal and Kaplan’s influential introduction to Scattered Hegemonies (1994)—which some Third World feminists consider “canonical in defining and conceptualizing transnational feminisms” (Nagar and Swarr 2010, 9)5—for a more systematic understanding of its theoretical basis.6 According to Grewal and Kaplan, transnational feminism’s major impetus is to expose the unwarranted universalization of gender espoused by white global feminism that “has elided the diversity of women’s agency” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 17). Any aspiration to construct “a theory of hegemonic oppression under a unified category of gender” is misguided, Grewal and Kaplan assert, for it homogenizes differences among women (17–18) and “wittingly or unwittingly lead[s] to the oppression and exploitation of many women” (2). In order to overcome the limits of white global feminism, they emphasize “a great need for feminist critiques of the Western model of sisterhood in the global context” (4; original emphasis). [End Page 10] Of utmost importance is to “address the concerns of women around the world in the historicized particularity of their relationship to multiple patriarchies as well as to international economic hegemonies” (17). Transnational feminism, then, embraces the two constitutive ideas of Third World feminism mentioned earlier: It not only emphasizes careful and historically situated analyses of Third World women’s oppression and resistance, but also recognizes the importance of being attentive to “viewpoints of feminists from various locations around the globe” (3).

When it comes to executing these ideas in the real world, however, transnational feminism as constructed by Grewal and Kaplan diverges from Third World feminism. As Grewal and Kaplan conceive of the current situation as “postmodern,” in which “[t]ransnational linkages influence every level of social existence” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 13), their transnational feminist perspective is true to its namesake, transnational. “Postmodernity”—“a set of relationships between the rise of postmodernist cultural forms, the emergence of more flexible modes of capital accumulation, and a new round of time-space compression in the organization of capitalism” (4)—generates “scattered hegemonies,” such as “global economic structures, patriarchal nationalisms, ‘authentic’ forms of tradition, local structures of domination, and legal-juridical oppression on multiple levels” (17). Power is no longer centered in the metropole but scattered around the globe as capital is dispersed following the movement of a few hundred multinational corporations (10) that have more economic and even political clout than most nation-states. Under these circumstances “a purely locational politics,” which has consistently ignored “gender-issues,” is unacceptable as it is predicated on “inadequate and inaccurate” binary divisions of “global–local or center–periphery” (13).

What then is Grewal and Kaplan’s alternative? It is to focus on the conditions of postmodernity, under which transnational scattered hegemonies have come to “reveal themselves in gender relations.” Transnational feminists therefore “need to articulate the relationship of gender to scattered hegemonies.” In order to do so, transnational feminists must “understand the material conditions that structure women’s lives in diverse locations” and thereby “construct an effective opposition to current economic and cultural hegemonies” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 17). Ultimately, transnational feminists ought to enable women in different communities, who are struggling to dismantle various forms of patriarchal social [End Page 11] structures and practices, to create coalitions, affiliations, or transnational solidarities (19). In forming such coalitions, the determining factor is their participation in resistant praxis and not their identity (18). Grewal and Kaplan cite the TFNs such as Women against Fundamentalism based in England, Women Living under Muslim Laws (WLUML), and Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, as exemplary transnational feminist activism (23–27).7

Grewal and Kaplan in 1994 focused more on all-encompassing global conditions of postmodernity that affect not only global economy but also exchanges of “cultural artifacts” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 15–16). Indeed, they later specify their site of engagement as “transnational feminist cultural studies” (Kaplan and Grewal 2002, 67). Those who have joined the transnational feminist bandwagon, however, have increasingly focused on neoliberal global economy, as Mohanty’s case illustrates. This is due to the expanding power of neoliberal global capitalism and the urgency for feminists to resist its deleterious effects on Third World women. Transnational feminists critically scrutinize the increasing integration of the world economy through deregulation in trade and finance, which is part of a neoliberal economic agenda pushed by economically, politically, and militarily powerful countries of the North and their multinational corporations (MNCs), aided by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. This process is known as “economic globalization” (Steger 2003) or “globalization,” for short. Globalization is “gendered,” as it entails the exploitation of poor Third World women: It has generated an increased participation of women in low-paying and insecure jobs, a large number of poor women from the South migrating to better-developed parts of the world in search of low-paying and degrading jobs, and the firing or layoff of a disproportionate number of women (Hawkesworth 2006, chap. 1).

The term “transnational” had become “so ubiquitous in cultural, literary, and critical studies” by the turn of the century that Grewal and Kaplan caution that “much of its political valence seems to have become evacuated” (Grewal and Kaplan 2001, 664). Grewal and Kaplan therefore specify their usage of “transnational” as “signal[ing] the NGOization of social movements” (665); in particular, the term transnational “stand[s]” for “several decades of UN conferences on women, the emergence of global [End Page 12] feminism as a policy and an activist arena, and the rise of human rights initiatives that enact new forms of governmentality” (665–66). Yet given that human rights discourses at various UN agencies and conferences engaged by Western global or international feminists have been uncritically “eurocentric” (Grewal 1998, 505), the term transnational “signals an alternative to the problematic of the ‘global’ and the ‘international’” (Grewal and Kaplan 2001, 666).

Transnational Feminism and Nation-States/Nationalism

The ways in which transnational feminism contrasts most starkly with Third World feminism pertain to nation-states and nationalism. Transnational feminism, as theorized by Grewal and Kaplan, is deeply suspicious of nation-states and nationalism in contrast to Third World feminism’s more nuanced approach. This is not to say that all transnational feminists uniformly reject nation-states and nationalism. Some self-identified transnational feminists have provided admirably subtle and nuanced feminist analyses of such topics (see Abdulhadi, Naber, and Alsultany 2005; Jad 2005; Jamal 2005; Chowdhury 2009a; 2009b; Deeb 2009; Basarudin 2010). Yet Grewal and Kaplan and other transnational feminists affiliated in particular with “cultural studies” (see Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 15) have expressed profound skepticism about Third World nation-states and nationalism, as “the concept of national identity [has served] the interests of various patriarchies in multiple locations” (22; see also Moghadam 2005, 83). Some transnational feminists are stridently antagonistic to all nation-states and nationalisms, arguing, “the retrospective activity of nation-building in modernity is always predicated upon Woman as trope” (Alarcon, Kaplan, and Moallem 1999, 6; emphasis added). Such a divergence between transnational feminism and Third World feminism regarding nation-states and nationalisms is a notable contrast worth investigating, as the two branches share the constitutive ideas of Third World feminism.

In order to understand this contrast, a good starting place would be Grewal and Kaplan’s own reasoning concerning the issue. In reconstructing an argument for Grewal and Kaplan’s opposition to nation-states and nationalism, their rejection of what they consider to be modernity’s constitutive binaries of center–periphery and global–local seems to provide a promising clue. Their rejection of both pairs is noteworthy. The center–periphery pair has been widely repudiated due to its [End Page 13] “Euro-North-American-centrism,” no longer applicable in the age of global economy dominated by MNCs “headquartered across the world” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 10). Yet many have accepted the global–local binary as a “qualitative leap forward” vis-à-vis the center–periphery binary for having done away with “charged hierarchical divisions” and being “less concordant with spatial boundaries or geographical regions” (Abou-El-Haj 1991, cited in Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 11). Grewal and Kaplan, however, consider the two binaries equivalent and reject both as monolithic and essentialist constructs (11–12). The reason the global–local pair is also Euro-North-American-centric is that it presumes the “cultural flows” to be “unidirectional (i.e., from the ‘West’ to the ‘rest’)” under the assumption of the “homogenizing West” (12).

Grewal and Kaplan state that viewing the current situation through these binaries is “inaccurate” because “parameters of the local and global are often indefinable or indistinct,” as they “thoroughly infiltrate” each other (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 11). Therefore, they use the term “transnational” to “problematize a purely locational politics of global–local in favor of . . . the lines cutting across them” (13). Although it is not readily clear what constitutes “the lines cutting across” the global–local, Grewal and Kaplan argue that good examples are provided by scholars who interrogate “theories of cultural homogenization that often accompany analyses of cultural flows” by considering “movements of people, technologies, capital, and cultures,” which provide a “model of disjunctive flows.” Such studies show that cultural flows are not “unidirectional or uniform” (13). One indication of this is that “subjects in the so-called peripheries” will reformulate what they receive from outside according to “the historical heritage and particular conditions” (Mattelart, cited in Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 14). In this way, “the effects of cultural hegemony” will be considerably tempered and/or altered.

If this is the case, Grewal and Kaplan continue, then the global–local binary in its frequent “monolithic formation” is unacceptable, as it may “erase the existence of multiple expressions of local identities and concerns and multiple globalities.” Further, the global–local binary as constitutive of modernity has “dangerously” corresponded to “the colonialism-nationalism model” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 11), since modernity itself has “participated predominantly within discourses of the formation of nation-states” (22). Yet nationalism discourses are fraught [End Page 14] with problems, as they leave out “various subaltern groups as well as the interplay of power in various levels of sociopolitical agendas” (11). When “nationalism [is] examined in relation to feminist practice,” in particular, it turns out that the “concept of national identity serves the interests of various patriarchies in multiple locations.” Further, when “modernity takes shape as feminism,” it colludes with nationalism and fails to be oppositional. Therefore, Grewal and Kaplan conclude, the “need to free feminism from nationalism discourses is clear” (22; emphases added).

III. Transnational Feminist Paradox 1: Conceptual Issues

Upon close inspection, however, it is not entirely clear that Grewal and Kaplan’s reasoning regarding the global–local binary and nation-states/nationalism is sound. I agree that the center–periphery pair should be rejected for its imperial overtones and anachronism. However, it would be too hasty to jettison the global–local pair. I have three concerns about Grewal and Kaplan’s rejection of the global–local pair and will make my case by focusing in particular on nation-states as the paradigmatic local (see Wallerstein 1991, 92).

First, I disagree that any conceptualization of global–local is necessarily “monolithic,” as Grewal and Kaplan seem to assume (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 11). As they point out, the global and the local constantly influence and transform each other through transnational movements of capital, technologies, culture, and people. Grewal and Kaplan are correct that the local is not “homogeneous” and all local/national cultures are more or less fluid hybrids. If this is reality, however, then it ought to be possible to conceptualize the local, and a fortiori nation-states, in more fluid and malleable ways. After all, nation-states as “a natural, God-given way of classifying men, as an inherent though long-delayed political destiny, are a myth” (Gellner 1983, 48–49; emphasis added). A nation-state ought to be understood as a large community whose diverse members, differing in gender or class or ethnicity, differentiate themselves from other nation-states through their possession of a common “societal” culture (Kymlicka 1995, 76) to which they feel sentiments of attachment and belonging. Societal national cultures, however, are “involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic” (Said 1993, xxv), undergoing continuous change. [End Page 15] It is then possible to construct the local in a way that avoids “any mystification of the ‘local’ as inherently purer or better than the ‘global’” (Hall 1991, 11–12). When thus de-essentialized, the concept of nation-state can incorporate internal discourses among members regarding their differences in gender or class or access to power. If so, then Grewal and Kaplan’s claim that the discourses of nation-states and nationalism “leave . . . out various subaltern groups as well as the interplay of power in various levels of sociopolitical agendas” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 11), although historically true, is not necessarily true.

Second, Grewal and Kaplan’s rejection of the global–local binary is largely predicated on their claim that such a binary is “inadequate and inaccurate” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 13), since the supposed opposites “thoroughly infiltrate” each other (11) and “‘Third’ and ‘First’ world societies can be seen as permeable, complex, and connected to other world societies” (14). Although I agree that the global and the local influence and transform each other, I am not convinced that this fact renders the global–local binary itself “inadequate and inaccurate.” Grewal and Kaplan support their claim that the global and the local “thoroughly infiltrate” each other by focusing on developments within “contemporary cultural studies” regarding “cultural productions” by diasporic authors residing in the West (15). Although Grewal and Kaplan do not say so explicitly, their claims about the radical permeability and connectedness of world societies seem to logically imply that everyone is now at the same time both and neither of the First World and the Third World—in other words, they are radically hybrid. This is reminiscent of the postmodern claim that we are all fragmented, marginalized, and liminal “cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras” (Haraway 1990, 220).

Diasporic authors of postcolonial and postmodern literature may feel that they are radically hybrid and that the global–local binary is inapplicable to the world they inhabit. I doubt, however, that this sentiment would be shared by the majority of Third World subjects, a subgroup of whom are “subaltern” women, who never get a chance to travel outside of their local communities. For the majority, the global–local binary is still relevant, as they would usually experience the global and the local as distinct realms. Although many may experience the local as oppressive in various ways, the global may also be experienced as a negative force threatening their traditional way of life. Indeed, the global as manifested [End Page 16] as economic and political power usually affects them negatively, as the West/North can impose its will on the Third World/South given the enormous power differential between them. For example, it is a well-known fact that the World Bank and the IMF that represent the wealthy donor countries in the West/North impose neoliberal “Structural Adjustment Programs” on Third World nation-states, which have devastated the lives of poor women in such countries. This is part of what Alexander and Mohanty call “capitalist processes of recolonization” (Alexander and Mohanty 1997, xxi). Under these circumstances, I believe subaltern women’s experience of the global as a threat is especially relevant for Third World and transnational feminists.

Under the circumstances of “capitalist processes of recolonization,” there is a justifiable distinction between those who win and those who lose, or the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” (Moya 1997, 134). We are not all fragmented and liminal “cyborgs” indistinguishable from one another. People at the local level disadvantaged by such global processes would organize to resist them. More often than not, they would organize their resistance movements primarily around their local “identity,” be it national or ethnic or tribal. This leads to my third concern about the rejection of the global–local pair: Maintaining the concept of the local is important as long as people continue to form their identities in relation to their particular social locations. The postmodernist claim that identities are all “fabrications” without any ontological basis, “manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (Butler 1990, 336), overstates the case. As Paula Moya incisively remarks, postmodernists hastily jump from the justifiable claim that our social location does not determine our identity to the conclusion that therefore there is no causal relation between the two. Although no identity is fixed and immutable, social location is causally relevant to our experiences and will influence the formation of our identity (Moya 1997, 135, 137–38). After all, this is what Stuart Hall calls “ethnicity,” which is “the necessary place or space from which people speak” (Hall 1991, 36). When people feel oppressed in their association with a social location that partly constitutes their identity, they tend to resist the oppression by rallying around the misrecognized aspect of their identity. Ignoring this human psychology may stigmatize those who engage in identity politics as unenlightened, ignorant, or suffering from “false consciousness.” [End Page 17]

Moving away from the conceptual analysis of Grewal and Kaplan’s rejection of the global–local that undergirds their rejection of nation-states/nationalism, I will now focus on the inconsistencies in their position. In particular, Grewal and Kaplan’s claim that we need to “free feminism from nationalism discourses” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 22), as ambiguous as the claim is, contradicts the two main ideas that transnational feminism shares with Third World feminism. First, if the claim means, consistent with their rejection of the local, that transnational feminists ought to exclude from feminist discourses national politics within nation-states, then it is inconsistent with the idea that transnational feminists must engage with “scattered hegemonies,” wherever they occur, and “address the concerns of women around the world in the historicized particularity of their relationship to multiple patriarchies” (17; emphasis added). If transnational feminists were to ignore the internal context of nation-states as unworthy of feminist attention, it may lead to a neglect of issues that pertain to Third World women residing primarily at local/national levels, directly faced with “multiple patriarchies” at home and subject to patriarchal national systems of laws and institutional constraints.

Even Third World women who work in multinational factories in “export zones,” technically beyond national boundaries, are exploited not only by multinational companies but also by their nation-states. For example, the deplorable working conditions pervasive in multinational factories have often been approved, whether tacitly or explicitly, by their nation-states in the process of Free Trade Agreement ratification. Consequently, women’s struggle against oppression by global capitalism may require engagement not only with multinational companies at the transnational level but also with their own nation-states. Giving due recognition to such engagements at the local level is necessary not only to “understand the material conditions that structure women’s lives in diverse locations” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 17) but also to adequately account for Third World women’s oppression and resistance in their historically situated intersections of gender, race, class, and nation. In other words, transnational feminists must engage with nation-states to be consistent with one of their core precepts.

Second, Grewal and Kaplan’s claim that we need to “free feminism from nationalism discourses” may mean that nationalism, even when advocated by women activists on the ground, is irrelevant to transnational feminists, as feminism in “its nationalist guise … cannot be oppositional” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 22). [End Page 18] Interpreted thus, this claim may be applicable to white “international” feminists who have often replicated their male co-nationals’ Eurocentric imperialist position. However, it requires further justification as a general claim. In particular, Grewal and Kaplan’s claim generates a paradox when it comes to the position of Third World and/or indigenous nationalist women activists, whether self-identified as feminist or not, who collaborate with their male co-nationals for national independence. A careful and respectful examination of these women’s position would justify their advocacy of nationalism as an attempt to overcome colonialism and imperialism predicated on their nation-state’s particular history of colonial subjugation. If so, then Grewal and Kaplan’s dismissal of women’s activism affiliated with nationalism, regardless of its specific context, contradicts the other Third World feminist mandate that transnational feminists accept, namely, that Third World women’s perspectives be taken seriously and the “diversity” of their agency in their “historicized particularity” be respected (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 17).

Transnational Feminist Paradox 2: Substantive Issues

I now turn to more substantive problems pertaining to Grewal and Kaplan’s rejection of nation-states and nationalism. I have already conceded that patriarchal nationalists’ essentialist conception of nation as a monolith, predicated on women’s subjugation, has been oppressive to women. The crucial question, however, is this: Is any conceptualization of nation-state necessarily essentialist? As I argued above, the answer is negative. As Cynthia Cockburn, who rightly criticizes nationalism for essentialist tendencies, recognizes, it depends on how one conceptualizes nation-state (Cockburn 1998, 39–41). “Nation-state”8 ought to be understood more neutrally as a politically bounded cultural community whose self-identifying members share a pervasive national culture that is complex and emergent (Herr 2006, section V). Grewal and Kaplan’s adamant opposition to nation-states/nationalism, however, logically implies that they answer the question above positively. In short, Grewal and Kaplan’s insistence on rejecting the local/national does not demonstrate that any conception of the local/national is bound to be essentialist and monolithic but rather attests to the paradoxical fact that Grewal and Kaplan themselves are subscribing to an essentialized and monolithic conception of the local/national (see Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 13). [End Page 19]

The first substantive problem is that such a stance underestimates the potential usefulness of nation-states and nationalism, once conceptualized in the right way, for advancing feminist causes of Third World women. Consequently, it may unwarrantedly constrict feminist theorizations about Third World women. In other words, by rejecting nation-states and nationalism predicated on essentialist conceptualizations, Grewal and Kaplan are depriving feminists of a potentially useful tool to advance Third World feminist goals. Concepts of nation-state and nationalism, when properly de-essentialized, can not only be strategically useful but also intrinsically valuable for feminist goals. The situation of Third World women working in multinational factories, previously discussed, offers a particularly illuminating example of nationalism’s strategic usefulness for even transnational feminists. As mentioned, Third World nation-states are parties to bilateral or multilateral Free Trade agreements that condone deplorable working conditions in multinational factories on their soil. Such unfair trade agreements, however, are signed under the current global political conditions of neocolonialism or neo-imperialism. Under such circumstances, Third World nationalist movements that promote national economic independence and attempt to protect their national workers’ rights in multinational factories, whether independently or in coalition with other nations’ labor movements, can have strategic significance for restoring Third World women’s human dignity and improving their living standards.9

Further, the value of the nation-state and nationalism for feminists may be more than strategic and indeed intrinsic, if these concepts are transformed through inclusive reconceptualizations. Although it may not have been egalitarian and inclusive in the past, the nation-state can certainly be reimagined as involving “deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 1991, 7), not only among its male but also among its female members. Once the nation-state is reconceived as a more egalitarian and inclusive community, then nationalism can also serve feminist purposes, as it is reconceptualized as a political movement to attain and maintain national self-government and independence in order to protect and promote an egalitarian and inclusive national culture under conditions of neo-imperialism. Although such a radical conceptual transformation may not be attained easily in the short term, I believe that it is constitutive of the feminist ideal toward which both Third World and transnational feminists ought to strive. [End Page 20]

A second substantive problem of Grewal and Kaplan’s rejection of nation-states and nationalism, as representative of the local, is the likelihood that this may tip the scale toward the global or “universal” in feminist discourses. This in turn is likely to replicate the errors of white global feminism that neglected feminist issues pertinent to Third World women in their own communities. Indeed, some of those who have assumed the mantle of transnational feminism have moved dangerously close to the aforementioned universalist position of white global feminists. Valentine Moghadam, for instance, argues that discourses and objectives of TFNs are “not particularistic but universalistic” (Moghadam 2005, 102). She recognizes that transnational feminists “have national and regional identities.” However, TFNs must “see themselves as part of a global women’s movement” (91) in the tradition of “progressive modernist politics” in the West (102; emphasis added). In this way, Moghadam’s advocacy of universalism is reminiscent of white global feminism’s universalist stance.

One may object, however, that I am being unfair to Grewal and Kaplan, as they themselves have been consistent in their strident opposition to “universal categories” of Eurocentric “global” and “international” feminisms that “mask[] . . . particularities” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 16, 17; see also Grewal 1998; Grewal and Kaplan 2001). Transnational feminism, the objection goes, is a loose category that encompasses plural feminist perspectives about overcoming systemic oppression of Third World women at the transnational level. Moghadam’s position, whether or not the charge is applicable, is only one among many.

I agree that transnational feminism allows plurality within its framework. However, transnational feminisms ought to share some unifying regulative ideas in order to promote feminist causes of Third World women at the transnational level. Given their genesis in opposing white global feminism’s presumption of universal patriarchy, I believe that one regulative idea to which all transnational feminisms ought to subscribe is the commitment not to impose false universality on Third World women. Moghadam’s advocacy of universalism in the tradition of the modernist politics of Western Europe, however, seems to contradict this regulative idea.

Explicitly stating transnational feminism’s regulative idea against the imposition of false “universal categories” and conceding that Grewal and Kaplan subscribe to it, however, does not imply that their theory succeeds [End Page 21] in conforming to the idea. The real problem is that their theory is susceptible to being misinterpreted as endorsing empty or false universality because of its ambiguous construction of the “transnational.” As we have seen, Grewal and Kaplan consider all “world societies” as “permeable, complex, and connected” to the extent that the distinction between the “First” and the “Third” Worlds is invalidated (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 14). They argue that we must now focus on the “transnational” that “cut[s] across” the local and the global (13), such as transnational economic, political, and even religious dynamics.

But what does this involve? Some recent research on “Transnational Studies” provides some clue. According to Sanjeev Khagram and Peggy Levitt, adopting the transnational perspective requires seeing the world as consisting of “multiple sets of dynamically overlapping and interacting transnational social fields that create and shape seemingly bordered and bounded structures, actors, and processes” (Khagram and Levitt 2008, 5; emphasis added). In other words, it implies accepting “the metaphysical assumption that social worlds and lives are inherently transnational,” according to which “bordered and bounded” social units, such as nation-states, are epiphenomena (2; emphases in original). Although the transnational perspective does not “assume away” the global–local or nation-states, these are not viewed as “automatically linked to particular types of territory or space.” Khagram and Levitt further argue that “taken for granted categories, such as citizenship and identity,” must be rethought as “constituted across space” (4).

Although I agree that “cross-border forms and processes” (Khagram and Levitt 2008, 1) affect the local, it is not clear why one should accept their “metaphysical assumption” that takes “the social worlds and lives [as] inherently transnational.” Such a perspective may deny not only cultural differences but also different identities of people at the local level, paradoxically leading to the aforementioned universalization that we are all cultural hybrids. Although I have discussed why such an assumption is misguided, let me briefly repeat: Such universalization is empty, as it has scanty connection to reality on the ground, contradicting the experiences of people, especially those disenfranchised and oppressed, at the local level. More seriously, this perspective can obscure the resistance of those disadvantaged by global forces. Or worse, the particular applicable only to a small number of the privileged—namely those “Westernized” through [End Page 22] their exposure to the Western educational system and conversant in the language of the metropole, capable of understanding the transnational forces and processes and able to take advantage of them—may pose as a false universal and wield tyrannical influence on the disadvantaged whose different experiences do not resonate with the so-called universal truth.

Indeed, there are indications that some TFNs have focused on women’s issues that are more in line with Western feminists’ concerns, such as “women’s civil and political rights” and “challenging physical violence” against women (see for example, Chowdhury 2009b, 62). This is not to say that these issues are not relevant to Third World women. They are. However, the problem is their relative ascendancy in the TFN activisms vis-à-vis issues such as women’s “economic rights” or “structural violence against women” that are more urgently featured in local and national women’s activisms in many parts of the Third World (Basu 2000, 75; see also Grewal 1998, 519; Chowdhury 2009a, 419).

Such differences in focus cast an ominous shadow over the future of feminism in the Third World in at least two ways: First, they may generate divisions and distrust among Third World feminists, for Third World feminists themselves are not a monolith; some are better aligned with Western feminist interests whereas others are more locally and nationally oriented. Basu reports that TFN activism has “provoked more distrust” among Third World feminists especially in nations where local and indigenous women’s activisms are strong. TFN activism may also have deepened “divisions between globalized elites, who belong to transnational networks, and the large majority of women, who do not” (Basu 2000, 76; see also Chowdhury 2009a, 418).

Second, and more seriously, when such divisions exist, those who are better connected to Western feminists and international funding agencies may “forget . . . the necessity of expressing plurality and difference” among women (Borda, quoted in Alvarez 1998, 313). Transnational feminist networks “skilled in the art of lobbying” may have decisive advantage in attaining external funding from aid agencies and private foundations. Consequently, they have the power to “define . . . the larger women’s movement’s . . . agenda” in world conferences (Alvarez 1998, 308; see also 314–15). Domestically, too, “more professionalized, policy-oriented” transnational NGO feminists may present themselves as “representatives of the feminist movement” (313) and thereby shadow the diversity [End Page 23] among feminists within the national context. Such tendencies “fuel . . . suspicion among grassroots groups and less-institutionalized sectors of the women’s movement,” which are increasingly excluded from “national and international policy arenas and funding sources” (314). This development closely retraces the steps of white second-wave feminism that ignored the issues of women of color in the Western context and Third World women in other parts of the world. It is therefore not an idle speculation that transnational feminism in its adamant opposition to nation-states and nationalism may replicate the universalism of white global feminists that not only ignored local particularities of Third World feminist constituencies but also silenced their authentic voices.

IV. Why Reclaim Third World Feminism?

The foregoing critique of a “canonical” transnational feminist theory is not meant to downplay the transnational feminist movement’s invaluable contribution to advancing Third World women’s causes by bringing attention to the detrimental effects on Third World women of the neoliberal global economy and fundamentalist religious movements. Indeed, it is all the more urgent to critically examine the theoretical framework of transnational feminism precisely because of the increasing influence and importance of the transnational feminist movement. A movement not planted on solid theoretical ground is vulnerable not only to external attacks but also, more important, to internal discord that may potentially hamstring the movement itself. Now that some of the paradoxes implied by the theory have been exposed, I will conclude this article by providing a preliminary suggestion as to how to overcome them. My hope is that this will lead to further conversations on the topic among Third World and transnational feminists.

The first step in resolving these paradoxes involves transnational feminists reminding themselves of the two mandates that they share with Third World feminists: Transnational feminists must recognize that the local/national is an important arena worthy of transnational feminist investigations, as “[i]t is especially on the bodies and lives of women and girls from the Third World/South . . . that global capitalism writes its script” (Mohanty 2002, 514). Only by taking into account these women’s particular experiences on the ground can transnational feminists [End Page 24] “demystify capitalism as a system of debilitating sexism and racism and envision anticapitalist resistance” (514). The feminist linkage with “larger, even global, economic and political frameworks” (501) is necessary precisely because of the importance of “grounded, particularized analyses” of Third World women’s oppression (501). Further, in conducting such investigations, transnational feminists must pay attention to disenfranchised Third World women’s agency and voices, as “the particular standpoint of poor indigenous and Third World/South women provides the most inclusive viewing of systemic power” (511).

This does not mean that transnational feminists must always start their investigation from the ground up. Transnational feminists may maintain their focus on the transnational, provided that they do not neglect the particular conditions of Third World women in relevant locations. Although transnational feminists may investigate the local conditions of Third World women themselves, theorizing about Third World women’s conditions at the local/national level that generate particular forms of Third World women’s oppression and resistance is the proper domain of Third World feminism. Herein lies the reason that Third World feminism must be reclaimed and its continued importance recognized.

Given Mohanty’s account of the need to adopt distinctions subtler than the West–Third World dichotomy, some may think that the term “Third World feminism” is anachronistic. Although I agree with Mohanty that these terms are “very imprecise and inadequate,” I would argue that “Third World” is still the term that “most clearly approximates the features of the world as we understand it” (Mohanty 2002, 506), especially if anticolonialism is an important value for feminists. Although Mohanty worries about the inability of the term “Third World” to account for “Native and indigenous women’s struggles, which do not follow a postcolonial trajectory based on the inclusions and exclusions of processes of capitalist, racist, heterosexist, and nationalist domination” (507), I believe Mohanty is using the term “Third World” too narrowly. The history of imperialism and colonialism arguably extends over the last 500 years since Columbus’s “discovery” of the “New World.” I believe that “Third World,” despite its post-Second World War genesis, can certainly be used more broadly to encompass this longer history of Western imperialism and colonialism.

Third World feminism, however, should not focus on the local/national at the expense of the transnational. As transnational feminists have [End Page 25] correctly pointed out, a careful examination of processes and events at the transnational level is necessary at this juncture in history because Third World women in their own local and national contexts have become increasingly implicated in the operations of neoliberal global capitalism under the conditions of a tightly integrated global economy. Third World feminism’s main focus is still on the local/national, but the mandate to examine the local/national in their historical specificity necessitates that the transnational be included in the purview of Third World feminists. Therefore, it is essential that Third World feminists reach out and collaborate with transnational feminists at various junctures of their investigations. Only then would both branches of feminism be able to meet their common dual mandates and render “grounded, particularized analyses linked with larger, even global, economic and political frameworks” (Mohanty 2002, 501). The flourishing coexistence of and vibrant collaboration between the two feminisms seem to be among the best, if not the only, ways to achieve “noncolonizing feminist solidarity across borders” (503).

Ranjoo Seodu Herr

Ranjoo Seodu Herr is an associate professor of philosophy at Bentley University, Waltham, MA. Herr has published on topics such as democracy, multiculturalism, nationalism, Third World feminism, and Confucianism. She is currently working on a book-length manuscript entitled Nonliberal Democracy and Equal Respect for Democratic Peoples.


1. I wish to thank Amrita Basu and Elora Chowdhury for their very helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this article.

2. Both “Third World feminism” and “transnational feminism” are umbrella terms under which are ensconced diverging feminist perspectives that share a family resemblance. Some particular instances may even showcase considerable overlap between the two branches. In this context, however, I will use the singular terms to highlight their distinct theoretical features.

3. I am using “Third World” as a term reappropriated by previously colonized peoples to represent their political oppositionality and resistance (Mohanty 1991b, ix–x). See part IV for more on this term.

4. Although many, if not most, transnational feminists are Third World feminists in terms of ethnicity and national origin, I use the second term to refer primarily to feminists who advocate Third World feminism.

5. The other “canonical” work cited by Nagar and Swarr is Alexander and Mohanty 1997. I will not discuss this work here, because it neither offers a theoretical basis for transnational feminism nor is it unambiguously opposed to nation-states and nationalism.

6. Given their resistance to master narratives (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 6, 12–13, 28), Grewal and Kaplan may deny that they are offering a theory. I’m using “theory,” however, in a broad sense as “a systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed” (OED), which is consistent with their endeavor.

7. For more examples of TFNs, see Keck and Sikkink 1998; Moghadam 2005. [End Page 26]

8. In nationalism literature, nationalism is more commonly understood in relation to “nation” as ethnic community rather than “state” as a political unit. I will use “nation-state” to maintain continuity of discussion.

9. For an example of how nationalism may be relevant to feminist opposition against global economy, see Herr 2003.

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