Unsettling the Discipline: Rethinking Transnational Feminism

By Laut, Julie | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Unsettling the Discipline: Rethinking Transnational Feminism


Laut, Julie, Women's Studies Quarterly


Unsettling the Discipline: Rethinking Transnational Feminism Leela Fernandes's Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, Power, New York: New York University Press, 2013

Transnational feminism has had a significant intellectual impact on interdisciplinary fields such as critical race studies and postcolonial studies, challenging the hegemony of the nation, expanding cultural archives, and emphasizing the intersectional analysis of sites that move across borders. But, as Leela Fernandes cautions in her introduction to the collected essays in Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, Power, the nonreflexive use of the category of "transnational feminism" as it has developed in womens studies in the United States risks reproducing the same structures of power it seeks to challenge if the production and dissemination of that scholarship becomes a "normative paradigm" that sediments particular forms of theory and method (9-10). Situated in the tradition of Chandra Mohanty, Joan Scott, and others who have incited change from within the field, Fernandes expressly intends to "unsettle" the "disciplining of the discipline" by encouraging debate and discussion on issues that face contemporary transnational feminism, including an increased focus on visible knowledge, favoring questions of knowledge and power over empirical knowledge, and the relationship between knowledge production and ethical practice. Through this collections five loosely connected essays, uneven in style and content but full of provocative arguments, Fernandes offers a cautionary analysis of the trajectory of "transnational feminism" in womens studies in the U.S. academy.

An overarching theme in the collection is caution against the tendency to exclude "older" paradigms in theory and methodology by allowing the allure of "newness" to take over the field. The "transnational," as demonstrated in chapter 2, on U.S. state policies after 9/11, can also be implicated in a national imperial project, reminding us that "transnationalism is not a neutral epistemological term but a specific conception of feminism that is produced within a particular context that is partly defined by the ontology of the U.S. nation-state" (123). In chapter 3, Fernandes considers the production and circulation of two films depicting Indian subalterns: Bandit Queen (1994) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The significance of these cultural products can best be understood through transnational feminism's "new" theories of discursive analysis and textual representation combined with social science's "old" quantitative analysis and engagement with structures of political economies. …

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