The Gender/Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy

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The Gender/Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy. Ed. Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo. New York: Routledge, 1997. x + 574 pages. $27.95 paper.

Robert Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo's compilation of essays for The Gender/Sexuality reader is nothing short of an accomplishment. They have gathered thirty-seven essays from various disciplines related to gender, sexuality, race, and culture and have organized them into groups that highlight both their differences and similarities. The commonalities among the essays include their high quality, their concern with the "complicated intersections of race, gender, power, and nation," and the fact that these essays reveal "the current intellectual endpoints of these late twentieth-century transformative movements." This anthology, a locus for the diverse considerations of identity politics, draws from and informs anthropology, history, politics, literature, and science. Its contributors represent the best in their fields currently engaging in the dialogue of considerations of the body, and the result is a book that is essential for anyone's library.

The editors explain in the introduction their careful method of grouping the essays. They have arranged the works into nine thematic sections under three larger headings, which they call frames. Although a bit tedious, a brief description of the organizational pattern, the names of the essays's authors, and a suggestion of the essays's concerns may assist readers in making personal decisions about the book's worth.

The first larger frame is "Embodiments of History: Local Meanings, Global Economies," and it deals generally with the "placement of culture in time." Part One within the first frame is "Moving Borders: Genders, Sexualities, Histories," and it contains three essays: one by Ann Laura Stoler on gender and race in colonial Asia, one by Siobhan Somerville that traces the "invention" of the homosexual body, and a particularly engaging piece by co-editor Micaela di Leonardo. Part Two in the first frame is called "Modes of Reproduction: Kinship, Parenthood, States." The six essays in this section all deal with families or the body politic in some way: Jane Collier, Michelle Z. Rosaldo, and Sylvia Yanagisako question the idea of the family, Nancy Scheper-Hughes presents a situation of child death in Brazil, and Amartya Sen examines the problem of population increases. Geraldine Heng and Janadas Deven explore Singapore's national sexual identity as "fatherland," and two essays deal with abortion: Susan Gal looks at abortion in Hungary, and Rosalind Pollack Petchesky talks about the use of the visual in the abortion debate (especially the movie documentary "Silent Scream"). The final part of the first grouping is called "The Social Construction of Identities: Comparative Sexualities." Its four essays discuss sexual identities in various contexts: Ellen Ross and Rayna Rapp look at sex, society, and how "understanding sexuality requires critical attention to the idea that sex is a lived and changing relationship"; John D'Emilio's essays "Capitalism and Gay Identity" argues that gay men and lesbians "are a product of history"; David F. Greenberg reminds us in his essay that "categorical schemes differ not only between cultures; but that they also vary within the cultures of complex societies, and can be the site of political contest" in his essay "Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications," and Matthew C. Gutmann offers an interesting look at "Seed of the Nation: Men's Sex and Potency in Mexico."

The second large frame around which this book is organized is called "Making Marks and Drawing Boundaries: Corporeal Practices." Part Four (the first section of this frame.) "Bodies of Knowledge and the Politics of Representation," presents seven essays that discuss everything from photography to orgasm to rhetoric as a way to help readers see the importance that representation makes on our identities. …