- On Being and Providing “Data”Politics of Transnational Feminist Collaboration and Academic Division of Labor
Cross-border collaboration has emerged as central to the discourse on transnational feminism as well as a methodological imperative that, I argue, needs constant, reflexive scrutiny. Transnational feminism is a multi-connotative subfield within women’s/gender/sexuality/feminist studies in the United States featuring anti-hegemonic (anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, etc.) writings by feminists, many originally from the Indian subcontinent. These writings uphold the importance of praxis and interrupt a dominant notion of global sisterhood, multicultural solidarity, and conventional knowledge-making.1 As the field of women’s/gender/sexuality/feminist studies continues to internationalize, collaborative knowledge-making is one way to ensure epistemic justice and build global epistemological communities. What does this justice look like? Who belongs and has power in this epistemological community?
In this paper I investigate the meaning and nature of collaboration from the vantage of the often-silent non-Western collaborators of transnational feminisms located in the global South—women who almost never author scholarship or exercise authority on what gets published in the name of transnational feminism. I argue that there remains an academic division of labor between authors located in the global North and collaborators in the global South. Theories, methodologies, and accounts of transnational feminist collaboration often display a spiral of silence about the material conditions of knowledge production and circulation. Transnational feminist writings in the United States focus instead on the politics of collaboration narrowly between two parties, namely, the writer and the readership overlooking the global processes of exchange and mobility that determine such projects. There is little focus, for instance, on the laws governing research funding or the economics of publication. Further, while researchers from the global North reflexively position themselves within their writings, their performance of candor, positionality, and reflexivity sometimes blurs discussions of their own privilege. [End Page 25] Motivations for engaging in cross-border research projects beyond feminist and/or activist motivations and what enables such motivations are seldom discussed.2 The purpose of this paper is to also point out the discord between transnational feminist writings published in the United States that uphold collaboration as a methodological imperative, on the one hand, and actual collaborative research practices, on the other.
As a feminist scholar from India currently living and working in the United States, I approach this issue from the standpoint of research/activist collaborators in India who provide data and resources toward cross-national genderfocused (sometimes identified as “transnational feminist”) research projects that originate and are published in the United States. I was once in a similar position as a data provider for a “gender and development” project. This process of data gathering is common in anthropology and in the field of women’s studies since the 1990s. This is a characteristic of the internationalization of women’s studies in US universities, which has been critiqued as tokenism, Euro (or US)-centric hegemony and masked deployment of nationalist superiority in understanding the Other or testimonials of the Other.3
My analysis draws on interviews I conducted with twenty-five women located in academic and extra-academic spaces in India who at some point in their careers have worked with academic feminists located in the global North. While my paper could be located within a framework of transnational feminist collaboration, I am trying to understand the meaning and nature of the often-silenced non-US collaborators. In doing so, I hold up the methodology of collaboration for inspection. I investigate the politics of engagement and collaboration as a central claim made in transnational feminist scholarship. This claim often overrides other claims of recurrent powerlessness of collaborators located in the global South, as well as their perceived and articulated unease in the way they are positioned within such partnerships. These silent collaborators—because they are not the authors who write up accounts of such collaborations or the ones who exercise authority over transnational feminist discourses—often remain unable to express their concerns about their roles and marginalization in the process of collaborative knowledge creation.
To understand this silence, a phenomenology of collaborator experiences on providing...