Inderpal Grewal’s Transnational America takes up the complicated relationships between global capitalism, race, diaspora, gender, and class, specifically examining the “production of middle-class Asian Indian and American subjects in the 1990s” as well as the “connections between feminism, new social movements, consumer culture, citizenship, and knowledge formation” (1). As you can guess, it’s complicated. It’s also beautifully written.
Grewal argues that rather than/above a nation with set borders, America is “a nationalist discourse that produced many kinds of agency and diverse subjects. American functioned as a discourse of neoliberalism making possible struggles for rights through consumerist practices and imaginaries that come to be used both inside and outside the territorial boundaries of the United States” (2). Thus, the American Dream which continues to draw immigrants to the U.S. functions within the complicated discourses of global capitalism and class imagination.
Grewal questions definitions of citizenship, laying out different possibilities for universal and human rights depending on sexual citizenship, diasporic citizenship, cosmopolitan citizenship, and flexible citizenship (12) as well as how narratives in marketing, novels, and other cultural forms create binaries of placement/displacement or mobility/immobility (36).
My favorite chapter was “Traveling Barbie: Indian Transnationalities and the Global Consumer” in which Grewal examines the development of Mattel factories and the marketing of Barbie in India in the 1980s-1990s. She describes the Barbie that gained traction in the Indian markets, a white Barbie “traveling” wearing a Sari and a bindi: “As a white female tourist in an India opening itself to investment from abroad, Barbie, an icon of white, heterosexual American femininity, was able to put on a sari, a signifier of Indianness, and be ‘at home'” (82). She further discusses how “traveling Barbie” represents contemporary changes in multiculturalism and global commerce: “Multiculturalism, as it was understood in the U.S. was no longer solely a claim on civil rights but now a neoliberal corporate project of selling goods to a transnational consumer culture connecting many national identities” (91).
I also found her chapter “Women’s Rights as Human Rights” helpful for thinking about my project on the UN’s Girl Up Initiative and the current girl movement in NGOs. In the chapter, Grewal provides a brief history of the connection between transnational feminism and human rights initiatives, exploring the connections between race, class, and different cultural understandings of human rights issues, specifically domestic violence:
“It is unfortunate but unavoidable that the ‘moral superiority’ of American geopolitical discourse should have become part of the new global feminism in the United States (and worldwide, although for diverse agendas), constructing ‘American’ feminists as saviors and rescuers of ‘oppressed women’ elsewhere within a ‘global’ economy run by a few powerful states” (152).
Because of this book I am adding Selling Suffrage, Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes, and Women, Gender, and Human Rights to my to-read list.
Grewal, Inderpal. Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Print.