This year marks forty years since Mexico City hosted the first United Nations Conference on Women. The hope in 1975 of a feminism that brought women together across the globe has since been replaced with a deeper understanding of how geopolitical and economic structures divide women by reproducing differences and inequalities resulting from imperialism, colonization, and patriarchy, and with a wariness of the ways in which hegemonic structures such as capitalism and liberalism have taken on new forms in the current neoliberal moment. This special issue of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies explores what constitutes transnational feminism and its contributions to understanding the interconnectedness of women’s lives as well as feminist methodologies and theory. In so doing, we hope to interrogate how transnational feminist analyses illuminate the contradictions embedded in knowledge production, politics, and activism in different locations.
In the past four decades, feminist scholarship in the global North has been marked by contestations over issues including women’s rights and the bases for women’s equality; constructions of women, patriarchies, and genders; and inclusions/exclusions of race, sexuality, and class. As part of these conversations, transnational feminisms have called our attention to gendered and racialized processes such as colonialism, globalization, and neocolonialism; institutions such as multilateral organizations, the military, and ngos; and colonial and postcolonial legacies and how they structure the lives of men and women around the world. They have critiqued the universalizing tendencies and gazes of feminist scholarship, narratives of rescuing women and girls in the global South, and ostensibly transnational human-rights organizations’ reproductions of unequal relations of power. However, as transnational feminism is mainstreamed, institutionalized, and increasingly offered up as a ubiquitous term in women’s studies scholarship, what it signifies and what potential it offers, in many ways, has become less clear. As transnational feminisms [End Page vii] circulate both within the academy and beyond, we ask: What constitutes transnational feminisms, what do they do, and do they do what feminists want them to do?
The vision for this special issue of Frontiers emerged from a specific place. For the editorial collective, this conversation began in the fall of 2010. It resulted from the collaboration of faculty and graduate students from various departments, schools, and the Institute for Humanities Research (ihr) at Arizona State University in Tempe. Tempe is located in Maricopa County in the border state of Arizona, and thus heavily influenced by the Mexican-US borderlands. Arizona is also home to twenty-one federally recognized American Indian tribes, and over 25 percent of the state’s land is reservation land. This convergence of the borderlands, American Indian sovereign nations, and an expansive university influenced the ways in which the asu Local to Global ihr Norton Research Cluster interrogated transnational feminism as a concept, form of activism, and heuristic.1 We sought to provoke productive and interdisciplinary conversations that drew upon postcolonial feminist literature, theories of intersectionality, Native feminisms, and transnational feminisms, and we paired readings from these areas in unexpected ways.2 These rich discussions inspired certain members in the research cluster—Roberta Chevrette, Ann Hibner Koblitz, Karen Kuo, Charles Lee, Karen J. Leong, and Heather Switzer—to propose a special issue of Frontiers that would interrogate how the emergence of transnational feminism has reconfigured existing terrains, creating new possibilities and limitations.
Over the course of six semesters, the research cluster repeatedly confronted two prevalent tendencies regarding transnational feminism. The first was the dominance of transnational feminism as the academic discourse of the moment. From our location, we could not help but wonder why it seemed that transnational feminism at times obscured women-of-color feminisms and ongoing racial struggles in the United States. Our interests were especially piqued by what seemed to be increasing attacks on intersectionality as inadequate for theorizing the specificity of women’s lives and experiences, particularly in regard to how gender is linked to other localized social formations. We questioned whether intersectionality theory is as overdetermined as some scholars argue and whether new models are really as dynamic as promised. We also considered how both transnational...