- Nursing & Empire: Gendered Labor and Migration from India to the United States by Sujani Reddy
If “Indian physicians were perhaps the consummate representatives of both brain drain and model minority discourse” (14), what do Indian nurses represent? Sujani Reddy’s masterful new monograph, Nursing & Empire, answers this question through eight rich chapters that chart the global field of nursing, nursing migration, and its imbrication in the shifting terrain of Anglo-American imperialism. Examining how Indian nurses have been viewed as “women on the loose” (associated with low morals and impurity) and “women in the lead” (due to female-led migration patterns), Reddy explodes many of the classed and gendered assumptions we have about South Asian migration to the United States.
One of Nursing & Empire’s most notable aspects is how it consistently challenges an American exceptionalist frame. By carefully charting Indian [End Page 433] nurse migration in relation to U.S. imperial incursions into the subcontinent, the history of the professionalization (and according racialization) of nursing, the global division of nursing labor, and the larger historical and economic factors that act upon migrants, Reddy tells a story that necessarily exceeds U.S. boundaries. She furthermore rejects U.S. exceptionalism by resisting what Chandra Mohanty calls “third world difference” as an explanatory model. That is, by tracing the concurrent and linked development of nursing in the United States and India, Reddy questions “cultural” explanations for the stigmatization of nursing labor in either site.
In sketching these larger contexts, moreover, Reddy contests what she calls a “model minority exceptionalism” that figures the United States as “the ultimate horizon for decolonization and desegregation” (14). Instead, she theorizes Indian migration in relation to the United States as an “imperial nation,” a formulation she uses to reference U.S. settler colonial projects at home and imperial adventures abroad. Indeed, the care with which Reddy outlines the contours of U.S. empire as it developed in relation to British imperialism and Indian nationalism is one of this book’s many strengths.
Another strength is Nursing & Empire’s methodology, as Reddy tells the story of Indian nursing migration in a variety of different ways. Not only does she excavate historical archives, she interjects nurses’ own stories and voices throughout, particularly in the last two chapters. These stories serve to both animate and complicate the historical and theoretical perspectives elaborated elsewhere. But equally striking is the careful way that Reddy registers various silences; silences of the archive, silences of nurses who for whatever reason did not or could not speak to her. In this sense, Reddy follows a subalternist reading practice in which, as she beautifully states in her epilogue, she recognizes “silence as a chosen strategy, one not always reducible to the act of being silenced” (211).
The eight body chapters are arranged according to focus, with the first two concentrating on Protestant medical missionaries in India. Chapter 1 charts how women’s medical missionary work dovetailed with Indian nationalist grapplings with the “woman’s question” and issues of social reform. The second chapter creatively mines archives to investigate the precarious place of Indian nurses within the development of the global division of nursing labor. Its wonderful readings show us how, in India as well as in the United States, the stigmatization of one kind of nursing labor enabled the rise of another.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 look at the ways the Rockefeller Foundation takes over the work of medical missionaries. Chapter 3 draws important connections between the development of Jim and Jane Crow in the U.S. South and the global professionalization of nursing, charting how the Rockefeller Foundation was a part of a U.S. strategy of “open door imperialism.” Chapter 4 traces [End Page 434] the development of what Reddy calls “open door nursing,” namely, a system of Rockefeller Foundation fellowships that produced a global coterie of nurses trained in U.S. methods. This then became a means of creating the United States as...