- Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis ed. by Amanda Lock Swarr, and Richa Nagar
Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis, edited by Amanda Swarr and Richa Nagar, is an ambitious anthology that aims to explore and complicate the perceived binaries between transnational feminist activism and scholarship. Along the way, the contributors, most of whom are scholars in women’s and gender studies programs, also address issues of power and privilege in collaborative relationships and the question of what counts as knowledge production.
The book is organized into three sections. The introduction and first two chapters offer a preview of some of the concepts and tensions to come. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty examine women’s studies course syllabi to interrogate the role that transnational feminisms play in undergraduate curricula within the field. They conclude that “the methodology for understanding the transnational remains an ‘add and stir’ method” (35). Like much of the book, this chapter explains a number of problems without offering concrete solutions; what they would prefer a syllabus to include is unclear. Jinga Desai and colleagues examine the relationship between the transnational and other key concepts such as collaboration, theory, praxis, and the politics of the academy. They conclude that we cannot presume transnational feminisms have transcended black feminisms, postcolonial feminisms, or other approaches often thought to be subsumed by the transnational.
The next section of the book considers specific cases of collaboration between academics and activists. All these chapters intend to complicate the idea of binaries between activism and scholarship. As the Sangtin Writers explain it, “We find it important to challenge the premise of theory and practice, ivory tower and porch, the lettered and the unlettered as opposite poles that need to be brought together. Instead, we see these as interwoven and mutually constitutive spheres that shape practices of knowledge production in and through community-based struggles” (127). Despite this noble aim, the themes that unite these chapters belie this goal. Linda Peake and Karen de Souza’s chapter captures the tension poignantly when de Souza notes that the time she spends [End Page 163] attending academic conferences helps her feminist colleagues at research universities, but it takes her away from the people who most need her in the context of her local advocacy work. The question of what activists gain from feminist academics emerges repeatedly. This section’s strongest entry is Geraldine Pratt’s chapter, which posits that collaboration between activists and academics opens up space for the use of more creative research methods such as role-playing. While Pratt’s collaboration does not avoid the power issues implicated (and discussed reflexively) throughout the volume, she seems to offer the clearest model for feminist collaboration. As the academic on the project, she writes the first draft of essays that emerge from the collaboration. She then circulates it to her activist partners. Meanwhile, the activists also have access to the data, which they use for their own purposes as well. Sam Bullington and Amanda Swarr’s chapter is a series of letters they write back and forth to each other about their work to facilitate access to HIV medication for people in South Africa. Bullington and Swarr call the chapter an epistolary dialogue, but they fail to take advantage of the rhetorical genre of an epistle appropriately, resulting in a chapter that feels forced and gimmicky. Nonetheless, their reflections on researchers’ emotional investments are instructive.
The editors entitle the third section of the book “Representations and Reclamations.” The essays in this section offer examples of creative work that blends transnational feminist perspectives with activism, including chapters on a transnational feminist collaboration to create community art projects and the lessons a filmmaker learned about attempting to produce a transnational feminist documentary. The book’s strongest chapter focuses on the Ananya Dance Theater, a dance troupe for self-described progressive women activists of color. As Omise’eke Tinsely and colleagues take turns explaining the impact of the Ananya Dance Theater on their lives, their words seem to dance on the pages. One author, exemplifying the beauty of the performative writing throughout...