Using Millie Thayer's Making Transnational Feminism to Connect Transnational Feminist Theories to Transnational Feminist Practices

By Sutton-Brown, Camille | The Qualitative Report, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Using Millie Thayer's Making Transnational Feminism to Connect Transnational Feminist Theories to Transnational Feminist Practices


Sutton-Brown, Camille, The Qualitative Report


I have recently gained interest in transnational feminism due to its explicit foregrounding of the junctures at which identities intersect, overlap, and diverge (Mohanty, 2003). Analyzing power relations from these points of collision situates gender in a tightly interconnected web that also includes sexism, racism, and heterosexism (Moallem, 1999). Drawing upon post-colonialist ideologies, transnational feminists attempt to gain contextualized understandings of the power dynamics that are embedded in the interplay of gender, economic, racial, class, and historical conditions (Alexander & Mohanty, 1997).

I have been reading texts and articles from the seminal theorists to deepen my understanding of the main theoretical bases of transnational feminism, yet there still was a gap in my understanding of the practical implementation of strategies in transnational feminist advocacy movements. Transnational feminism is at once a theory and a practice. In addition to theorizing about how gender relations are situated within other forms of political and social relations, transnational feminists also proclaim a commitment to activism. They attempt to create "new sites for action at the local, national, transnational levels in which to enact new political, economic, and cultural practices" (Desai, 2002, p. 16). Transnational feminist activism is comprised of many smaller social movements that are culturally, historical, and geographically grounded, rather than being a single mass movement. In this way, transnational feminism incorporates place-based political activism (Osterweil, 2005) as well as transnational political practices.

As a doctoral candidate with a strong interest in methodology, I was seeking a text that illustrated the decisions, negotiations, and activities at the individual and organizational level to show how the theory is enacted in practice. I found what I was looking for in Millie Thayer's 2010 book, Making Transnational Feminism. This text, which was born out of Thayer's dissertation research, does a wonderful job of showcasing the interwoven fabric that is created with threads of both theory and practice.

In Making Transnational Feminism: Rural Women, NGO Activists, and Northern Donors in Brazil Millie Thayer (2010) offers a poignant behind-the-scenes look at transnational feminist organizing and social movements. She uses ethnographic techniques to observe the processes that occur within and among several feminist organizations in North East Brazil. Through her participant observation, she highlights the ways in which they work cooperatively in their struggles to achieve common goals. She does not present the transnational networks as a utopia, but rather, exposes some of the tensions that arise from linking and forming partnerships between various feminist organizations.

Thayer (2010) problematizes the analyses of transnational feminist activism in academic literature. She asserts that it foregoes analyses of the processes of organizing in favor of a perspective in which "movements appear as pre-constituted. The focus is on how already existing entities respond to opportunities and obstacles in a globalizing context, rather than on the processes by which movements come into being and sustain alliances" (p. 5). Thayer justifies using an ethnographic approach to examine culture as a way to understand the "fluid sets of meanings that tacitly shape movement practices and discourses" (p. 5).

Thayer (2010) has structured her book in a very reader-friendly manner. She outlines the structure of her book in the preface, preparing the reader for each chapter. The introductory chapter presents a brief overview of feminism in Brazil, her theoretical position, and the methodology that she uses to conduct this study. In chapter two, Thayer traces the development of feminism and, more specifically, transnational feminism in Latin America beginning in the 19th century. She uses examples of Latin American feminists advocating for social and economic issues to show that they had feminist movements that were different and independent from the movements that occurred in the United States and Europe at the same times, which primarily focused on political rights. …

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