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  • Transnational Feminisms Roundtable
  • Maylei Blackwell (bio), Laura Briggs (bio), and Mignonette Chiu (bio)

The special issue editorial collective organized this roundtable as part of the Transnational Feminisms Summer Institute held at Ohio State University in July 2014.

Given the abundant circulation of the term “transnational feminism” in current women’s studies scholarship, dissertations, and job descriptions, the collective invited scholars to trace their own genealogies of transnational feminisms and describe what they think is at stake in those genealogies. We asked them to address the possibilities and limitations of transnational feminisms: Can feminist engagement with the transnational generate further analyses of globalization, empire, colonization, and feminist scholarship, or is it just as likely to reproduce those processes? Finally, we asked the scholars to consider how these critical engagements might open up spaces for thinking of new formations and coalitions not bounded by the nation-state.

What are the genealogies of transnational feminisms for you?

laura briggs (lb):

“Transnational feminisms” as the name of an intellectual field in gender and sexuality studies is of relatively recent vintage. Despite the fact that Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty used the term in their Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies in 1997, it didn’t immediately name a field. In 2001, when four scholars whom we would inescapably link with the field—Amrita Basu, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, and Liisa Malkki—edited a smart special issue of Signs with articles about the resurgent importance of internationalist socialist feminism, they called the field “gender and globalization.”1 Although I recently titled a book with “transnational,” my formation was in a field called gender and empire, with roots in the third-world decolonization activism of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. In 2002, my Reproducing Empire [End Page 1] considered questions of development, modernization, and globalization as part of a broader process of colonialism and its relationship to the postcolonial. “Transnational” was not yet a keyword in that conceptual universe.

When Chandra Mohanty published Feminism without Borders, a book without which we cannot imagine the field, she did not use the term “transnational” either.2 That book includes important analysis of the failures of the intellectual and activist project of “global sisterhood,” whereby a homogeneous group called third-world women are just like US women only more oppressed by things called “religion” or a universalized “patriarchy.” Like her sometimescollaborator Jacqui Alexander, Mohanty wrote that she found herself situated awkwardly as an immigrant feminist constructed as a “woman of color” in the integral yet vexed relation of the Black Freedom Movement to US feminism. Finding themselves only partially hailed by this US-based feminist conversation about race, gender, and class, they turned to activism related to gender and sexuality in India and the Caribbean, drawing on rich traditions for thinking political economy and the state and turning their attention to heterosexualization and women’s work. By 2005, when Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing came out, she explicitly called the field she was working in “transnational” and “transnational feminisms.”3

These, then, are some of the tangled genealogies of transnational feminism—international gatherings, un-sponsored and not; anti-imperial and decolonial thought; postcolonial studies, especially via Gayatri Spivak; and a rejection of the universalized politics of “global sisterhood” (which was so homogenized that Robin Morgan thought she could pretty much just publish a country-by-country list of groups and issues in her 1984 book of that name). Others included a debt to socialist feminism and non-US traditions of understanding political economy (I am thinking here of the third-world Marxist and feminist theoretical and activist tradition), and a complex and sometimes disavowed relationship to the Black Freedom Movement.4 As Aihwa Ong argues, “transnational” also names an emergent, post-1965 immigration reform axis of difference, a narrative that is not the civil rights one within which US academic protest has long articulated itself, one which centers “new immigrants” and the new forms and rhythms of globalization and its resistance.5 There are other contributors, too. One is Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands epistemology, which argues for the literal Southwest and the metaphorical inbetweenness of Chicana/o identity as neither here nor there, US nor Mexico, akin to what other...


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