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Reviewed by:
  • Of Property and Propriety: The Role of Gender and Class in Imperialism and Nationalism
  • Anupama Taranath
Of Property and Propriety: The Role of Gender and Class in Imperialism and Nationalism. Edited by Himani Bannerji, Shahrzad Mojab, and Judith Whitehead. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Edited by three feminist scholars, this volume showcases an introduction plus six case-study essays and broadly intervenes in post structuralist and post colonial approaches to colonial nationalisms in India, Ireland, Kurdistan, and Finland. This book claims to recover the rich tapestry of the history of colonized women in order to contextualize their lives within the social, political, and economic relations in which they lived.

The essays in this volume prioritize the links between gender, class, and status on the one hand, and the ways that social relations are constituted within national spaces on the other. In making a case for their volume, the editors insist that class and status relations have been ignored in historiographies, especially in the constitution of gender relations within the domestic sphere. The scholars also contend that many existing post structuralist and post colonialist approaches tend to erase and/or obfuscate the forms of social inequality that do not fit into the categories of colonizer and colonized. They state that “colonized and ex-colonized peoples often appear to be constituted by the single identity of cultural colonialism rather then by the multiple identities which realistically frame their lives and choices.”

“Property” in the volume has multiple meanings, from traditional understandings of land ownership and ownership of capital, to social relations of inheritance, divorce, and marriage. When analyzing gender and nationalism, the editors set up two interrelated relationships: 1. the links between the concept of the nation and relations of property, and 2. the connections between underlying forms of property and culturally specific forms of propriety and respectability that are reflected in idealized gender identities and in the socialization of both men and women. So when we examine the theoretical and social spaces between gender and the social relations of property on the one hand, and the cultural forms and relationships of nation and sexuality on the other, what emerges is a politics of morality that associate both “property” and “propriety” issues together.

Himani Bannerji’s chapter is a detailed and more substantial discussion of certain post colonial theories that are discussed in the Introduction. She executes a sustained critique of both subaltern studies and Partha Chatterjee’s essay on the “nationalist resolution” of gendered concerns using a feminist-marxist viewpoint. The five remaining essays span a range of geographical sites in their evaluation and analysis of nationalism and social relations. Shahrzad Mojab argues that Kurdish nationalism has proven hostile to the democratization of gender relations throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Mojab’s essay theorizes the challenges and limitations of women’s rights in Kurdistan within a larger discussion of feminism and nationalism as ideological and political formations. Kaarina Kailo’s essay performs a post colonial reading of the Kalevala, a foundation text and master narrative of the Finnish nation published in 1849. She argues that this text has set the ideological stage for representations of ethnicity, class, and gender. The text’s long living discursive reach is made visible in Kailo’s examination of the relationship of nationalism to women and indigenous populations of Finland. Dana Hearne’s work focuses on the period of 1908 to 1922 in Ireland, and analyzes the ways that various liberatory social and political perspectives (such as feminist, internationalist, socialist) were eclipsed by the more conservative formulation of nationalism rendered by the Catholic Church. As in many cases around the world, Irish cultural identity was intricately linked to the regulation of women’s sexuality, and in particular, to abortion rights and reproductive issues. Uma Chakravarti and Judith Whitehead’s contributions also consider the relationship of control of women’s sexuality with the nationalist project, albeit within the Indian colonial context. Chakravarti investigates the relationship between caste, patriarchy, and the state in eighteenth-century Maharastra, while Whitehead’s essay focuses on the confluence of British and elite Indian conceptions of morality in prostitution debates in Madras Presidency, 1860–1947.

As a whole, the...

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