- Dilemmas of Difference: Indigenous Women and the Limits of Postcolonial Development Policy by Sarah A. Radcliffe
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In this dynamic book, Sarah Radcliffe uses a postcolonial intersectional analysis to unpack and critique Ecuador’s development policy and practice. This macro-scale approach demonstrates the way in which social categories of difference in development are rooted in the power-laden colonial gaze of dominant groups, producing development policies that have never been for indigenous women. Radcliffe draws on seven years of research with two indigenous groups in Ecuador, Kichwa communities in Chimborazo province in the Andean highlands, and Tsáchila communities in the Pacific lowlands, in the province of Santo Domingo. Even as indigenous women are consistently marginalized by development policy, they resist its interventions to produce situated knowledges that “create an alternative vision of postcolonial social difference” (p. 30).
The book is organized in seven chapters plus an introduction. In the introduction, Radciffe outlines her argument and theoretical approach. Chapters 1 and 2 help the reader understand how social categories of development, rooted in colonial understandings of difference, produce indigenous women as inferior. In particular, Chapter 2 mobilizes Cindi Katz’s concept of counter-topographies (“On the Grounds of Globalization,” Signs, 2001) to trace lines of power that make structural processes of discrimination and dispossession visible across both Kichwa and Tsáchila groups. The remaining chapters explore different approaches to development policy, and the ways in which indigenous women are consistently excluded from these policy processes. These trends include: participatory development, “indigenous women in development” policy, sexual and reproductive health, citizenship and rights, and finally post-neoliberal development policy rooted in a rights-based agenda of sumak kawsay. Following chapters 2 and 4, Radcliffe includes “interludes” in which indigenous women speak in their own voices of their struggles, organizing, and desire for change. These interludes also serve as organizational dividers, between historical constructions of colonial categories in development policy in chapters 1 and 2, neoliberal development policy in chapters 3 and 4, and, in the last three chapters, indigenous women critiquing and creating the space for their own voices to be heard, producing situated knowledges based on their own embodied experiences. As Radcliffe suggests, the book can be read chronologically, or each chapter can be explored individually.
Radcliffe’s methodology, while not outlined in tremendous detail, does point to extensive outreach before beginning fieldwork, as well as careful collaborative efforts during fieldwork. Before beginning her field-based research, Radcliffe met with differently positioned women in Ecuador who held leadership positions as “ethnic movement leaders, elected women’s representatives, NGO workers, and civil servants,” some of whom were indigenous (p. 28). Her goal was to establish key themes that indigenous women were interested in, and to which her project could contribute. These conversations, continued via email, produced her research questions. Radcliffe writes that she engaged in a “decolonial approach” that attempted to make the invisible visible, while also attending to the knowledge produced by the invisible (p. 28). Indeed, she writes on the last page of the book, “Indigenous women’s insights suggest that epistemological doubt, analytical enquiry, and critique are not uniquely a privilege of a subject centered in the West” (p. 290). Between 2009–2011, Radcliffe returned to Ecuador to visit Kichwa and Tsáchila communities. She writes, “Questions about access and mutually agreed qualitative methods [End Page 212] [with the women in each province] were negotiated through sustained interactions with provincial federation and indigenous group leaders” (p. 29).
In the remainder of this review, I examine Radcliffe’s theoretical approach, and consider its implications for geographers. I argue that the critique Radcliffe builds in this book offers a provocative, essential analysis of development policy, and is usefully applied to other political and social contexts. Moreover, her analysis of development policy in...