Domesticating Spaces in Transition: Politics and Practices in the Gender and Development Literature, 1970-99

By Phillips, Lynne; Ilcan, Suzan M. | Anthropologica, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Domesticating Spaces in Transition: Politics and Practices in the Gender and Development Literature, 1970-99


Phillips, Lynne, Ilcan, Suzan M., Anthropologica


Abstract: Much of how we understand cultural transformation in local and global economies is influenced by a spatiality that directs or governs people's lives and their places of transition. In this article, we employ the concept of "spatial domestication" to interrogate notions of gender and development as they have been predominantly conceptualized in the gender and development literature over the last 30 years. While we argue that this literature contains unexamined spatial dimensions and assumptions, we demonstrate that notions of space are, and have been, crucial to the construction of both "gender" and "development" in particular modernization, dependency, and knowledge/power approaches. Our examination of this literature suggests that the question of how space is, and has been, domesticated may constitute an essential future direction for the discipline of anthropology.

Resume: La transformation culturelle a laquelle nous assistons dans les economies locales et globales se deroule en grande partie sous l'influence d'une dimension spatiale qui dirige ou gouverne la vie des gens et la place qu'ils occupent dans cette transition. Dans cet article, nous utilisons le concept de "domestication spatiale" pour interroger les categories de rapports entre les sexes et de developpement afin de faire ressortir les principales facons dont elles ont ete conceptualisees dans ce type de litterature au cours des 30 dernieres annees. Meme si nous soutenons que cette litterature contient des dimensions spatiales et des postulats acceptes sans critique, nous pouvons demontrer que les notions d'espace sont, et ont ete, cruciales pour la construction tant de l'etude des rapports entre les sexes que du developpement dans certaines approches de la modernisation, de la dependance et du savoir/pouvoir. Notre examen de cette litterature montre que la maniere dont l'espace est, et a ete, domestique peut constituer une orientation essentielle pour l'avenir de la discipline anthropologique.

With international capital and global organizations actively seeking to transform political boundaries in the world, urgent concerns have emerged regarding the occupation, surveillance, and meaning of space. In this article we underscore the significance of a spatially-informed understanding of people and places in transition through a rereading of key texts in the women/gender and development literature. This review permits us to address the broader question that has increasingly come to resonate in local and global environments: How is space imagined, represented, and domesticated, and what are the political consequences of these configurations?

Anthropologists have long been aware of how space contributes to an understanding of field sites, but it is only recently that scholars have unearthed the considerable significance of space to the construction of anthropological knowledge itself (Appadurai, 1996; Moore, 1996; Pellow, 1996; Pigg, 1992). Though we still require a fullscale spatial critique of the discipline that meets the benchmark provided by Fabian (1983) on the importance of time to anthropology, it has now become evident that anthropological approaches to such central topics as ethnography, imperialism, and cultural translation (to name only three) contain crucial spatial dimensions that remain underexplored. The aim of this paper is to provide an initial contribution to such explorations by pointing to some of the ways in which spatial thinking inhabits anthropological conceptions of people, places, and change.(f.2)

In contrast to the anthropological proclivity for analyzing the symbolic meanings of space at the "micro" or experiential level (Moore, 1996), in this paper we focus on texts that elaborate analyses of people and places in transition from the perspective of development. In our view, a spatial inquiry into such texts is a required component of both anthropological knowledge and development processes. Far too important to leave to others to undertake, such analyses provide new insights into anthropological frameworks for organizing cultural data, the effects of these frameworks and the boundaries and limitations that they establish. …

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