More than just Tacking Women on to the ‘Macropicture’: Feminist Contributions to Globalisation Discourses


Abstract: This paper maps three discrete and overlapping feminist perspectives on globalisation, locating their theoretical genealogies and legacies in development studies, Third World/transactional studies and post-Communism transitology studies. It underlines the prominent discourses of globalisation which in outlining the econo-techno and institutional processes as having a pervasive if uneven impact, treat them as gender neutral. The paper argues that a mode of relational analysis, which makes feminist contributions distinctive, helps to make connections and trace the naturalised assumptions in the debate on globalisation. It suggests that engendering the discourse of globalisation entails more than simply tacking women on to macrostructural models of globalisation.

Keywords: feminist political activism, dalit feminists, globalisation and gender, global political economy, gendered global labour markets, domestic feminised workforce, transnational feminist practices

In the 1970s and 1980s, the most urgent task for feminists reviewing the social science discourse was that of addressing the questions of ‘invisibility’ of women. More than two decades after the emergence of second wave feminist political activism and scholarship, one imagines that feminists would no longer have to contend with the questions of invisibility and legitimacy of gender as, a category of analysis. In the 1990s, gender index became a crucial factor of assessment, be it for the World Bank or the Human Development Report. The much-celebrated ‘success’ of women’s micro credit programmes has meant that gender needs and planning have become imperative for all projects in the NGO sector. The decade has also been marked by the visibility of upper class caste women in ‘public’ — be it in the anti-Mandal protests or the violence and looting during the Gujarat carnage. As Tharu and Niranjana (1994) have commented ‘women are suddenly everywhere’ (p 93) and yet this visibility is not something at which feminists can take heart. It seems to raise more problems than ways out for a theory of gender. A theory of gender in times of globalisation has to contend with old questions of ‘invisibility’ of gender and the new questions of contesting ‘hypervisibility’ of market and inverted feminisms as also the questions of conceptualising ‘differences among women’. [Consider for instance the conversation between Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens on the character of globalisation. Hutton says “…The growth in personal household services is the result of the emergence of the two-earner household who have to buy in services because the woman is no longer at home” [quoted in Lutz 2002:90]. The automatism in the phrase ‘household services have to be bought’ suggests the persistence of the older questions — of invisibility and the absence of gender as a category of analyses. While the only visible woman in Hutton’s statement, ‘the woman who is no longer at home’ — the professional middle class woman stands as if for all women; making invisible the gender race character of the domestic services that have to be bought in. The rise of right-wing and market feminisms on one hand and the significant political assertions and theoretical interventions of Third World and dalit feminists on the other have challenged this assumed universality of gender oppression. [Feminist analyses of globalisation that seek to contest the assumed universality of gender oppression must account for relations of power not only between men and women, north and south but also between women. In the last two decades or more, feminist analyses has mapped the dynamics of gender race and global capital; the dynamics of caste, gender and global capital is emerging as an urgent area of inquiry. The analyses of the impact of the New Economic Policy on Dalits [Guru 2000; Jogdand 2001; Teltumbde 2001; Vikalp 2002] have focused on caste and livelihoods and the reconstitution of land relations and urban spaces. The National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW) [NGO Declaration on Gender and Racism 2001] underlines the intersections with community, race and poverty as vital to understanding the implications of globalisation for women generally and especially dalit women. The NFDW thus has suggested a materially and methodologically more meaningful juncture of feminist, labour and dalit studies. This paper does not even attempt a summary of the current state of all these discussions on globalisation; the very scope of the discussions would make such a task impossible. Given that the immediate task is to review the perspectives which theorise the connections between globalisation and gender, the challenge is to underline the ways in which feminist focus suggests new insights and perspectives on established ways of seeing. We begin by mapping some of the major features of contemporary globalisation on which there is basic agreement among Social Scientists and outline the different foci of the new analytical paradigms suggested by them. This makes possible a comparison with feminist perspectives on globalisation — so that in the final analysis the distinctively feminist contributions to current globalisation debates and politics, which have not always been clear, may be drawn out.

Debates on Globalisation: Through a Feminist Lens

Debates on globalisation can no longer be confined to the academic, as the term has circulated in diverse ways into business, political and journalistic discourses. Within academic debates too, as there are no clear-cut lines of contestation, categorisation of trends and positions remains broad. A broad classification between globalists who see contemporary globalisation as a real and historical development and the sceptics who see it as an ideological construction has been suggested [David and Held 1999]. Two broad trends, albeit internally differentiated, one more biased towards international political economy and the other towards the sociological and cultural aspects of globalisation, have been traced [Marchand and Runyan 2000]. Across the different classifications and trends, despite major differences with respect to Matters of historical interpretation and normative argument there seems to be a basic agreement on some key issues, processes and actors involved in globalisation. The important issues over which there is substantial agreement have been summarised as follows:

— The global economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a planetary scale as historically distinct from the world economy.

— The importance of neo-liberal ideology in influencing the direction of globalisation.

— Cultural ramifications of global capital as recognised by both homogenisers and heterogenisers.

— TNCs, states and financial institutions as the main driving force in globalisation.

—The role of ICTs, of knowledge, information, affect and communication as contributing to globalisation and increasing and transforming the velocity and reach of social and cultural networks.

— Global migrations as a major process through which the new transnational political economy is being reconstituted.

— The witnessing of an environmental crisis and a risk society and consciousness of a global condition.

— Distinct patterns of stratification; the global military hierarchy dominated by the US, the political and economic hierarchy between the OECD and non-OECD states and within the OECD the G-8 having the greatest control over networks.

— Transformation in the management of production, distribution and the production process that transforms the nature of labour.

— The proliferation of nationstates and the loss of nation state as the sole site of sovereignty despite it remaining a critical player [Marchand and Runyan 2000; Brah 2002].

To a Feminist Reviewer there are at least two interesting observations, perhaps one seemingly more obvious, to be made from this summary of the main features of the globalisation discourse. The first observation, that feminist scholars hardly figure in these accounts though feminists have extended the debates from different perspectives [Sen and Grown 1985; Krishnaraj 1988; Shiva and Mies 1993; Ghosh 1994; Dietrich 1996; Adam 2002; Brah 2002; Rai 2002] is perhaps more predictable than the second. Feminist analyses have directly and indirectly drawn upon these debates and expressed their debt to “second and critical’ wave of literature on globalisation, especially in contesting the prevalent and tenacious myths about the predetermined logic of globalisation. However, as Adam (2002) has argued, that recent prominent discourses of globalisation do not speak to the feminist debates is apparent as the econo-techno and institutional processes outlined as having a pervasive if Uneven impact are treated as gender neutral. Further, though the authors of Institutional globalisation, especially those who have concentrated on the .globalisation of poverty [Choussudovsky 1997] have given some attention to the gendered impact of globalisation their analysis leaves the depth of gendered experiences largely untouched. This is particularly surprising since feminist scholarship at least since the 1980s had focused on the internationalisation of manufacture, production and feminisation of the off-shoring of labour. In a sense the gendered lens of these scholars had laid bare the nexus between the mantling of the proletariat in the first world and formation of off-shore ,feminised proletariat as both an operational reality and an analytical strategy Sassen 2000].

The first observation thus suggests that we explore the lack of dialogue 4th the feminist discourse on globalisation. Does this lack of dialogue with feminist discourse stem from disparate set of concerns? What are the blind is created by this apparent lack of dialogue? The second and less predictable observation about the dominant discourse of globalisation concerns its dispersed character. There are wide gaps between the language of the academic communities and the everyday understanding of experiences of global forces by the poor [Appadurai 2000]. The same may be said of the analyses of global conditions in the discourses located in the north and those in the south including south in the north [Pieterse 2000]. There seems to be a growing divorce between the academic debates and the vernacular discourses; the common metaphor for globalisation in the booklets published in the regional languages g imperialism or neo colonialism [Rege and Chavan 2001].

In contrast, much of the feminist discussions on globalisation seem to Step back from the abstractions that constitute academic practice to consider problems of global everyday. The discussions seek to democratise the knowledge about globalisation, thus bridging academic research, policy discourse concerning trade, labour and environment, movement literature and advocacy efforts. There have been several efforts by feminists to democratise knowledge about globalisation. Reports like ‘Womenspeak: United voices Against Globalisation, Poverty and Violence in India’, annotated bibliographies on the impact of structural adjustment programme [Lingam et al 2001], several documents brought out in regional languages on the occasion of the Global: March 2000 are all cases in point. In Maharashtra for instance, at mass gatherings of women such as those organised on the International Women’s Day and the `Bhartiya Stree Mukti Divas’ (Indian Women’s Liberation Day), the impact of globalisation on women and marginalised communities in India has been highlighted and detailed resolutions against structural adjustment policies passed.

Feminist discussions on globalisation across the different sites of advocacy, resistance marches, academic writings, conference proceedings and resolutions passed in mass meetings intersect and flow into each other considerably. The intersection and dialogue between issues and perspectives across the varied sites of the academic, organisational, political and advocacy efforts is apparent. This observation leads us to rephrase the question raised earlier as — is it a different set of concerns or/ and a different mode of analyses that constitutes the distinctive character of the feminist contributions to the debates on globalisation? We shall argue that a mode of relational analysis is what makes the feminist contributions distinctive and makes a case for combined conceptual forces that would help make connections and trace the naturalised assumptions in the debate on globalisation.

Globalisation: Mapping Feminist Perspectives and Concerns

In tracing the Feminist Studies on globalisation, refraining from a ‘stages or phases’ approach, at least three discrete and overlapping perspectives may be mapped. There is, no doubt, internal differentiation in positions within perspectives and considerable overlap between the three perspectives. However, their theoretical genealogies and legacies are distinctly located — more specifically in development studies, the postcolonial/Third World/transnational studies and practices and post-communism transitology studies. The first, which may be outlined as a gender and political economy of development perspective has documented and theorised the underside of globalisation through women’s experiences of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The second, which may be called a transnational feminist perspective, draws upon postcolonial analyses of uneven and dissimilar circuits of culture and capital. It seeks to provide a position from which to argue for a comparative, relational feminist praxis that is transnational in its response to engagement with global processes of colonisation. The third perspective, which may be outlined as gender perspectives between states and markets, draws upon the experiences of women living through the post-communist transitions. It seeks to underline the specificity of their situation and suggests need to develop paradigms that go beyond women as losers or winners of transition. We shall briefly outline the areas and issues explored by each five and then pull together the important issues in the feminist discourse globalisation.

Gender and Political Economy of Development Perspective

In mid-1980s ‘The Women and the Household in Asia’ series established the centrality of the household as the concrete site of the production and reproduction of social life. In noting the variations within and across households, this collection documented and analysed home based production .across traditional activities and new technologies [Singh and Kelles-Vitanen 1987]. Women’s labour in the free trading zones, food processing, coir and garment export industry in the Asian region came to be documented, This series remains one of the early documentation of the global political economy as the interaction of reproductive and productive economies. It also marked a beginning of a south Asia framework in Feminist Studies; a kind of regional `feminist internationalism that has gained momentum in the last decade. Besides, it set the household as the locus of the feminist interrogations of the global economic regimes.

In the 1990s, while there were some feminist reflections on macroeconomic policy [Ghosh 1994; Krishnaraj 1996; Dewan 1999], the feminist focus was largely on the effects of the Structural Adjustment Policy. The effects of SAP especially as they directly and indirectly shape gender relations inside and outside the household came to be underlined. This engagement with globalisation as lived experience is closely related to the special relationship between gender and development studies. Studies in the field of development, in contrast to globalisation studies are tuned to gender and their own development has been closely linked to the second wave of feminist theorisation [Adam 2002]. This is reflected in the feminist challenges to the growth model posed by the basic needs approach [Nussbaum 1999], feminist environmentalism [Agarwal 1992], and ecofeminist and post-development critiques of development. The eco-feminist critiques [Shiva 1989], and the Marxist feminist critiques of the gendered nature of capitalist accumulation and international division of labour [Mies et al 1988] have become central to development discourse, Feminist perspectives on globalisation vary in the emphasis they place on anti-capitalism as anti-industrialism, the importance of a politics of place and the possibility of strategic engagement with the policy community, state and international economic institutions [Rai 2002]. Gender and development perspectives that draw from a socialist feminist tradition have made a significant contribution towards outlining the gendered character of the processes of global restructuring. Research in this tradition has been guided by questions about the material structures and practices — the sites so to say of global restructuring in specific places as also the sites and strategies of resistance. Feminist analyses have mapped labour, livelihood and security, household, sexuality and the state as some of the major sites of global restructuring.

The structural deformation of subsistence production, transfer of access of natural resources from poor women to multinationals has been documented as having deleterious effects on the food security system [Bhattacharya 1994]. The impact of market driven agricultural prices, reduction of food subsidies and targeting strategies in the public distribution system for women in poorer households has been noted. The institutionalisation of SAP through the international legal regimes saw feminist analyses developing a political and normative case against the gendered phenomenon of environmental damage and commodification of social knowledge [Mies and Shiva 1993]. Global market systems, it has been argued, are hypermasculinised sites that recognise only certain forms of knowledge leading to economic emasculation in the market place. Male populations of the Third World are feminised; the suicides of cotton farmers and their invisible widows are cases in point [Rai 2002].

The impact of displacement of female agricultural labour in terms of increased violence both at home and work has been another area of concern [Womenspeak 2000]. Considering that violence and discrimination against girls by their own families is not a new phenomenon, research has sought to trace the increased intensity and wider spread of such practices [Banerjee 2002: Kapadia 2002]. It has been noted for instance that among castes and in regions where dowry was hereto unknown, dowry has become the central achievement of a consumerist subject, an important diacritic of translocal modernity [Kapadia 2002]. Most of the studies contest the neo liberal mantra of market led growth by foregrounding indicators like women’s access to land, property, credit, employment, environment, education, health and housing. It is argued that women pa) a disproportionate share of the costs of economic globalisation while being excluded from its benefits. Macro issues of health policy have been traced to the micro mechanisms of consumption, production and distribution of health care within households [Karlekar 2000]. Cuts in public spending have been traced to the expansion of women’s work outside the home, longer hours of work, daughters foregoing school for care work, increased malnourishment and violence [Elson 1989; Moser 1989; Afshar and Dennis 1991; Beneria 1999; Deshmukh-Randive 2000; Grown, Elson and Cagatay 2000]. This concern with the impact of SAP on social security has shaped into specialised studies of budgets and state and central government expenditure patterns from gender perspectives [Prabhu 1994; Patel 2002].

There is a wealth of studies on gendered global labour markets, especially on the feminisation of labour, the conditions of labour and ideologies of femininity operating in the export promotion zones. The feminisation of labour and the concentration of women in assembly lines in FTZs, sweatshops, homework, domestic service and sex industry resulting in female migration and gendered vulnerability has been documented. The feminisation of labour, its flexiblisation and casualisation is underscored as being structural to the new international division of labour [ Shah et al 1994; Mitter and Rowbotham 1995; Gothoskar 2000; Streefkerk 2001]. It is the control over and flexibility of women’s labour; the ability to lay-off and recruit as and when needed is what guides the preference for female labour. It has been argued that the process of feminisation of export employment in east Asia peaked in the early 1990s. However, even before the financial crisis began to have an impact on economic activity, women workers were disproportionately prone to job loss. The crisis adjustment period has seen a large number of women workers in this region working on their own account or on subcontracting basis [Ghosh 2002]. The feminisation of export-oriented employment has taken a particularly regressive form in India, pointing to the limits of aggregative models of social policy in contexts of differentiated populations. Gender differentiation acts in a more complex manner because of the interrelationships within households. In India, where the marginal utilisation of women workers is in the lowest paid parts of the production chain, the feminisation of work has been marked by an organisational structure of outsourcing and home-based work. Thus, women are deprived of all benefits of outside employment; be it health care or collective bargaining [Ghosh 2002].

The gendered impact in specific spheres like electronics, ICTs, teletrade and teleworking is being explored [Banerjee 1996; Mitter 2000] with a specific focus on understanding gender, flextime and use of new tools. The role of the family, state and trade union structures in distributing IT related employment has been explored [hitter 1995]. The new opportunities and kinds of double burden that rapid changes taking place in the concept of workplace especially related to teleworking, bring for women have been documented [Gothoskar 2000]. The assumed mobility and flexibility of ICT sector, as ‘virtues’ for women workers are being interrogated [Kelkar et al 2002].

Feminist analyses have sought to unmask the gendered character of the neo-liberal discourse, underlining the gendered metaphors and symbolism that naturalise the relations of dominance. Neo-liberal discourse draws upon gendered binaries in privileging finance over manufacture, market over state, the global over the local and the consumer over the producer. For instance, the market is represented as robust as against the feminised state represented as a drag on the economy and which must be subordinated. The state thus seeks to re-masculinise through a role akin to the private sector, minimising welfare and increasing its role of surveillance and coercion [Marchand and Runyan 2000]. The changing form and nature of the nation state and the rise right of wing parties and state-sponsored fundamentalisms thus been areas have of focus in feminist debates on globalisation [Moghdam 1996a]. The emphasis on family values placed by neo-nationalisms not only regulates and mobilises women but also consolidates the private sphere that services late capitalism [Chakravarti and Sangari 1999]. Domestic labour is a part of the dependable social relations in which the market is embedded; women’s labour provides the buffer against the depredations of the market.

It is apparent that the gendered critique of SAP goes beyond considerations of the impact of SAP on women to discussions on the interrogations of neo-liberal economics. Feminist analyses have charted out concrete ways in which gender biases of micro, meso and macro-level institutions such as household, governments, firms and markets operate. A focus on the effects on women’s lives underline the paradoxes of global restructuring. Deregulation has been accompanied by increased regulation of reproduction, austerity by consumerism and feminised workforce with increased levels of malnutrition and violence against women. The feminist focus on the household underscores the paradox of the home at once the ‘haven’ and worksite for flexiblised labour. The gender and political economy of development perspective on globalisation builds upon two older phases of gendering recent history of economic internationalisation. As Sassen (2000) argues, development literature after Boserup had underlined that far from being unconnected, the subsistence sector and modern capitalist enterprise were articulated through a gender dynamic. The second phase in the 1980s emerged with the scholarship that underlined connections between the internationalisation of production and feminisation of proletariat especially in the garments and electronics industry. The focus had been on how offshoring and feminising restrict any collective gains for the female proletariat. In the last decade the focus has been on the impact of debt and debt servicing as systematic features on the lives of women. Sex work, entertainment and export of domestic workers are significant sources for the alternate circuits of profit-making and revenue generation for the states in indebted economies. These alternate circuits of survival sex and entertainment work and immigrant domestic work suggest the feminisation of survival [Sassen 2000]. Thus, the history of economic internationalisation through a gendered lens lays bare the nexus between patriarchies and the capitalist enterprise both as an operational reality and an analytic strategy. Such an analytic strategy has guided feminist analyses to draw out generalisations about the impact of SAP. These generalisations, no doubt, have crucial significance especially for policy implications; but essentialist generalisations may turn out to be counterproductive.

The effects of globalisation on the lives of women have been multiple contradictory, inclusionary and exclusionary [Afshar and Barrientos 1999] an cannot be overlooked. Essentialist generalisations about feminisation of pove can lead to the reduction of gender to the problem of poverty [Jackson 19961 Women then come to be used both nationally and internationally, as instruments, to manage poverty. This discovery of poor women’s economic efficiency then ends up effectively collaborating with views of marginalised men as `irresponsible’. Those working at the interface of gender and development have to refigure priorities, not by insisting on some putative ‘pure’ economy but by broadening feminist conceptions of the economy itself [John 1996]. In order to grasp the present situation of flux, intellectual practices that fix differences whether between spaces, sexes or countries have to be interrogated. Moving beyond dichotomies requires that the symbolic, institutional and subjective dimensions of gender be considered [Davids and Van Driel 2001]. We need to recall that if the trap of gender collapsing into women is to be avoided, feminist analyses of processes of globalisation will have to involve more than the complex relations of power between men and women. The complex relations of power that exclude some men from the dominant order of patriarchy and those between women in different class, caste and ethnic locations need to be considered.

Post-Colonial/Transnational Feminist Perspectives

Transnational feminist perspectives use the term ‘transnational’ over international in order to reflect on and destabilise the boundaries of nation, race and gender. This perspective has sought to analyse how inequalities of class, gender, nationality, sexuality and ethnicity are created through movements over time and space in particular ways. This is contrasted with socialist and liberal conservative models of internationalism. Transnational feminist perspectives are, it is argued, clearly different from international feminism, which has often evoked ‘difference as pluralism model’. In such a model, the Third World women have always borne a disproportionate burden of difference. Global feminism which assumes global sisterhood is also different from transnational feminism which emphasises the uneven, unequal and complex relations between women in diverse parts of the world. It builds upon the feminist analysis of the new international division of labour [Leacock and Sara 1986], underlining how capitalism depended on sexism in order to be global. The focus now is on migration and diasporas — unsettling the assumed categories of consumption and production as well as tradition and modernity. In different ways, transnational feminist practices seek to unravel the globalised histories of gender and power. Race and gender then, are not only matters of identity politics but also discourses with concrete effects within the history of imperialism [Grewal and Kaplan 2000]. The perspectives of post-colonial/ transnationalist feminisms provide a relational and comparative conception of identity, culture and history to understand specific processes of domination and subordination. The unit of analysis is shifted from local, regional and national cultures to relations and processes across cultures [Mohanty 1991].

Analyses of incorporation of Third World women into the global division of labour at different geographical ends the Silicon Valley and the lace makers Narsapur —outline the relationship between job typing and social identity of the workers concentrated in low paying, unsafe and invisible sectors of labour. Inherent to globalisation is the ‘redomestication’ of women made apparent in home-based work and ideologies of Third World mothers in Silicon Valley [Alexander and Mohanty 1997]. Thus, much of what is narrated in the language of immigration and ethnicity is a series of processes to do with the globalisation of economic, cultural activity and identity formation as it is to do with the Increasingly marked racialisation of market segmentation. Often, transnational feminists underline the ways in which the components of the production process in the advanced global economy that takes place in immigrant work environments are not recognised as part of the global information economy [Sassen 1998]. The analyses of domestic workers in the north [Phizacklea 1998, Anderson 2000, Lutz 2002] have pointed to global care chains as a crucial aspect of the international division of labour. This domestic service sector in dope is different from the earlier appearances in that the domestic workers mainly migrant women — suggesting as transnational feminists argue the intersectionality of class, gender and ethnic differences in globalised labour markets. Domestic workers are denied green cards and a long-term chain of and dependencies that follow have been traced by feminist scholars.

The feminisation of migration has also translated into women’s labour being sexualised. There have been efforts to map the sexual economy routes from places of dislocation to places of greater accumulation. The travel money, the debt bondage that it precipitates — a geography of their recruitment across borders is traced and this is also traced as the routes of circuits of survival in the margins of pan capitalist reality [Biemann 2002]. The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed a boom in prison construction and sharp rise in women prisoners in Europe and North America. Transnational feminist analyses have drawn attention to the new regimes of accumulation and discipline of the prison-industrial complex that draws upon the systems of racial and patriarchal exploitation. The connections between the fundamental shift in the role of the state, the intricate web of relations of prison industrial complex and the US-led global war on drugs are underlined. These processes are seen as constitutive of corporate maximisation of profits [Sudbury 2002] and of global feminisation and racialisation of poverty.

The focus on the labour of Third World women in the north, it is argued, underlines the limits of any simple class analysis. The effort thus is to underline the centrality of gender within the historical processes of globalisation and women’s agency in social movements in opposition to globalisation. One of the significant contributions of this perspective is the focus that it brings on to the mapping of gender and race parameters of global capitalism. Studies have sought to map how women’s work is constitutively defined in terms of gender, race and caste parameters and the ways in which capitalist ideology, processes and values come to be naturalised through this. Thus, transnational feminists have conceptualised the ‘scattered yet connected hegemonies’ [Grewal and Kaplan 1994] of global economic institutions, nation-states, patriarchal households and other structures traditional or juridical legal that support exploitation. Transnational feminist practices, no doubt, have made a major contribution in underlining white feminism as situated, local and partial. However, several questions emerge — are transnational feminist practices limited by their contestation of generalisations? Do they privilege the discursive over the material? One of the seminal texts of transnational feminism is Mohanty’s (1984) essay ‘Under Western Eyes’ ; an essay that dismantled hegemonic western feminism’s construction of Third World feminisms. Revisiting this essay 16 years later, in the context of privatisation and corporatisation of public life; Mohanty (2002) seeks to trace the challenges facing a transnational perspective in the 21st century. She argues for a feminist solidarity model that remains as committed as before to struggles that critique the effects of discursive colonisation on the lives of marginalised women. However, the challenge now, is to see how specifying differences can make way for the theorisation of universal concerns. Transnational perspectives, no doubt, have to guard against the earlier ‘sisterhood is global’ format that now appears in the mantra of human rights. The crucial task for such perspectives is to specify the differences in the articulations of gender, women’s bodies and labour. Having made the differences visible, efforts must be directed towards theorising this visibility as a process of articulating a more inclusive anticapitalist politics.

Transitology studies have rarely analysed the so-called transitions to post-communism in a comprehensive manner. Feminist scholarship on post-socialist societies has argued that the ways in which the transitions shill the very boundaries of state and civil society, public and private, national and international need deliberation [True 2000]. In the last decade several studies have emphasised the loss of former socialist rights to employment, living wages child care and other public services as disproportionately affecting women in central and eastern Europe [Aslanbeigui et al 1994]. The absence of women in political institutions and that of women’s organisations and movements has been noted. In such a context, the diffusion of western democracy in central and eastern Europe has been seen as producing a masculine public sphere [Einhorn 1992; Funk and Mueller 1993; Mies and Shiva 1993; Moghdam 1996b].

A more recent trend in feminist transitology studies has argued that the feminist scholars like the mainstream ones have approached the study of post-socialism from a teleological perspective rather than a gender perspective. The whole focus they argue has been on women as victims and as losers; creating thereby a category of victimised women not unlike the earlier construction of the Third World women ‘under western eyes’. The importance of analyses of global economic integration as it takes place on gendered terrain is not undermined. However, the importance of directing efforts towards locating women’s emerging sense of agency and feminism at the intersection of state repression and liberal democratic market economy is highlighted. Incorporation into gendered global division of labour as well as patterns of gender segregation under socialism, it is argued, has shaped the emergence of new forms of feminism or ‘gender humanism’ [Beck 2000]. The various configurations of struggles against neo liberalism that emerge from a context devoid of critiques of patriarchy but rooted in experiences of gender equality under socialism are outlined as areas for further deliberation. Having outlined the three feminist perspectives, we shall return to the questions raised earlier in the paper regarding the distinctive character of feminist contributions to the debates on globalisation.

Gendering Globalisation: More than Just Tacking Women onto the ‘Macropicture’

As noted earlier in the paper, the grand theories of globalisation have erased gender as integral to social and economic dimensions thus leading to an implicit masculinisation of macrostructural models. What then are the implications of ignoring gender as an analytical lens?

The feminist documentation of the impact of the SAPs has made visible the increasing burden of women’s unpaid work and the crisis of social reproduction. This challenges the notion that paid production economy can function in isolation from the world of home-bound labour. Analyses of women’s labour put into focus the four areas of labour that are generally overlooked: subsistence, unpaid work, domestic production and voluntary work [Beneria and Feldman 1992] and help to foreground the ‘productive’ economy and the gendered nature of production. The liberal discourse, which while constructing the market as private sphere and the state as public, makes invisible the private household or lumps it with civil society, is contested. Situated Feminist Studies that critique the effects of globalisation on local grounds reconfigure the private and public divide and stretch the boundaries of what is considered the appropriate domain of the global.

The transnational feminist perspectives provide a global social analytic and helps to guard off reductionist analysis. Such an analytic is global in two senses, first it engages with ‘national’ and local histories as they imbricate in a world system fashioned by imperialism and colonialism. Secondly, it understands the social as the intersection of the political, economic, cultural/ ideological, none of which can be reduced to the other. It provides a heuristic Model of imperialism that draws attention to the concreteness of particular historical conjunctures whose dynamics are shaped not by some predetermined foundations whether structural or discursive but by the outcome of specific struggles in history [Sinha 2000:1078]. The writing of particular groups of women workers in the global division of labour outlines the interests of contemporary transnational capitalism and its strategies of recolonisation. The Strategies of recolonisation that draw upon indigenous social hierarchies to construct, reproduce and maintain ideologies of skilled/unskilled, feminine/ masculine: it needs to be underlined, these are constitutive of processes of globalisation.

For all their transformative power the material and cultural forms of globalisation do not have a homogenised effect. The processes are dialectical, occurring on concrete culturally occupied locals and with socially embedded human beings This is evident in the uneasy fusion of enfranchisement and exclusion, of xenophobia and the prospect of world citizenship without the protectionism of nationhood. How do we make sense of the unanticipated ways of inclusion and marginalisation, of magnification of class differences and undercutting of class-consciousness [Comaroff and Comaroff 2002:298]. Feminist perspectives from the post-socialist societies guard against an overdetermined reading of homogenised effects and have suggestions for the study of the interplay between regional and global markets, fundamentalist forces and local identities [Molyneux 1994; True 2000].

Across the different feminist perspectives, a relational mode of analysis is what sets them apart from mainstream social science discourse of globalisation. Gender analyses have involved more relational thinking [Peterson 1997] in that it has been concerned with not just globalisation as happening out there as a set of abstract practices, institutions and structures. Feminist analyses underline globalisation as also linked to how we think (meaning, ideology) and who we are (subjectivity, agency, self and collective identity) Feminist scholarship on globalisation through its focus on localised questions experience, culture, history and identity provides a position for comparative relational analysis. The concrete everyday experience of the global against abstractions of theory is not a feminist repudiation of theory, nor does the focus on sites mean an isolation from larger contexts in which they are located. In fact the focus on the lived experiences of globalisation in feminist scholarship helps historicise theory both in spatial and temporal senses and recognise its limitations in dealing with differences, It gives voice to those who inhabit these sites as compared to ‘purveyors of abstractions’ who claim omniscience by virtue of being outside these sites [Dirlik 2002].

Leading expositions of globalisation theory have offered powerful models of circuits of movements and social and economic changes encompassing our world. However, there is little specificity about how these are configured in particular places, for particular groups of people and to what particular ends [Freeman 2001]. The point, thus is not one of merely noting the absence of gender in the grand renderings of globalisation but of probing into the ways in which this sets limits on our overall understanding of globalisation. However, the challenge is to move to feminist reconceptualisations of globalisation whereby the local and the situated underlined by feminist analyses are not merely seen as ‘effects’ but as constitutive ingredients of the processes of globalisation. There have been some attempts to put forth such systemic analysis of the relations between patriarchies and global capital accumulation [Mies1986, Ward 1991].

Efforts at reconceptualisation require that the macro picture in which the producers, consumers and those bypassed come to be situated within social and cultural processes and meanings that are central to globalisation itself. Arguing for such efforts that underscore the significance of combined conceptual forces, feminists ask — would not beginning with the studies of the lives of those who provide the cheapest labour in the new technologies and clearly whose lives the technology does not permeate help to address the technological agency and inevitability that creeps into Castells’ gender-sensitive and historical analysis? How would global care networks be conceptualised when the crucial networks of personal dependencies of paid and unpaid services are considered? Would not feminist perspectives bring to Bauman’s conception of division of world into hierarchy of owners and non-owners of means and forces of information — concrete particulars of contextual difference? Does not the erasure of power/gender dimension from Beck’s frame of global inequalities of risk render it invisible and therefore vulnerable to exploitation? [Adam 2002:10]

There have been feminist projects explicitly committed to connecting the experiential and institutional processes of globalisation. Some projects have sought to draw upon feminist theories of difference to use techniques of feminist cultural theory to understand the reconfigurations of global culture and global nature. They have provided important insights into how nature figures in the production of global products, subjects, knowledges and communities [Franklin et al 2000]. A significant contribution has been made by feminist projects that ‘eek to address the space bias in globalisation discourse. Drawing upon feminist epistemology, the taken for granted time politics of globalisation is challenged and time based ontology is used to render visible the gender politics of globalisation. The time politics of globalisation is located in the 4Cs; the mutually supporting processes of creation, commodification, control and colonisation of time. The gender bias associated with the 4Cs, the devaluation of reproductive work while relying on this work in the shadowlands for profits, is underscored. Such analyses foreground the role of time in the legitimation of corporate imperialism, economic colonialism and creation of local inequalities and global socioenvironmental destruction [Adam 2002]. Recent works of feminists [Ong 1999; Chang and Ling 2000, Freeman 2001] have underscored the relationships between space, movement and gender in mapping globalisation. These works push us to challenge the dualism of local/global, ethnography/theory and to rethink macrostructural models that have limited explanatory and descriptive power.

The contributions of feminist perspectives to social science debates on globalisation, as outlined in the paper, make a case for combined conceptual forces. Similarly, several conceptually hazy areas in feminist globalisation Studies would also further support the need for combined conceptual forces. Consider for the area of growing literature on feminist resistance to globalisation with which this paper has not engaged at all. Much of this work ‘Fin women’s resistance to globalisation either celebrates the local — meshwork or politics of place [Hartcourt and Escobar 2002], often slipping conceptually from movements to NGOs to networks as if they were one and the same. Much is being said about the impact of feminist transnational networks and organising around reproductive rights, growth of religious fundamentalism and SAP Moghdam 1996c]. Feminist analysis needs to conceptualise more clearly, drawing upon sociological analysis — the differences between the transnational networks of NG0s, social movements, issues and identity and project coalitions. The linkages connected to flow of resources and discourses need interrogation [Basu 2000] as do the different contexts from which optimism and opposition to transnational networks surface [Alvarez 2000].

The ‘success’ of micro credit networks against relatively less successful networks needs comparison. Even as the impact of NGO advocacy networks, especially post-Beijing have been noted, several questions about the previous state centredness of the women’s movement and the engagement of its leadership with international policy-making institutions need to be explored. What decisions, choices strategies for resistance and identity formations do feminist subjectivities envision, especially in the context of the changing character of the nation state? Have feminists too adopted the ‘global imperative’ or ‘national management’ [Bergeron 2001] modes of conceptualising resistance which limit possibilities of resistance to reassertion of control over national economic space or globalised women’s movement The implications of movement dynamics, discourses and practices remain undertheorised suggesting — that there is more to do than simply tack women on to macrostructural models of globalisation.


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This article was earlier published in the Economic and Political Weekly, October 25, 2003.


SHARMILA REGE. Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Pune. Member of the Review Committee on Women’s Studies of the University Grants Commission. Formerly with the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre of the University. Her specialisations are sociology of Gender, Social Theory, Dalit Studies and Cultural Studies. Her book The Challenges of feminist Sociological Knowledge has won wide acclaim.

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Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Pune. Member of the Review Committee on Women’s Studies of the University Grants Commission. Formerly with the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre of the University. Her specialisations are sociology of Gender, Social Theory, Dalit Studies and Cultural Studies. Her book The Challenges of feminist Sociological Knowledge has won wide acclaim.

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