Kia Lilly Caldwell, Kathleen Coll, Tracy Fisher, Renya Ramirez, and Lok Siu, editors

New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2009.

Reviewed by Erica Lorraine Williams

Gendered Citizenships is an excellent example of cutting-edge scholarship that makes significant contributions to citizenship and women’s studies. Published as a part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Comparative Feminist Studies (CFS) series, this book was selected by the National Women’s Studies Association for an Author Meets Critics session at the 2011 conference. Nancy Naples and I served as the “critics” for this session. The selection of this book for this special session is notable due to the emphasis on single authorship in the social sciences. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, CFS Series Editor, praises this volume as unique in its “praxis of collective work” and in its conceptualization of an “‘ethnography of intersectionality’ anchored in geographically situated questions of experience, subjectivity, and citizenship of marginalized communities of women” (ix).

This book is a product of the Gender and Cultural Citizenship Working Group, a group of mostly women of color cultural anthropologists in early stages of their careers. The Working Group offers a model of an enriching, supportive, intellectual community of women rooted in feminist principles and invested in an ethic of care. Participants described it as an “intellectual home and a lifeline” that fueled their individual work and offered them “a way to become full citizens in the academy” as they progressed in their careers (xiv). Over a period of nine years, they exchanged countless email exchanges, participated in weekend retreats, held conference calls, and organized symposia.

Gendered Citizenships focuses on arenas that are usually considered outside of the domain of citizenship, such as kinship, sexuality, spirituality, emotion, family, intimate relationships, and domestic/sexual violence (7). The authors draw upon “feminist theories of citizenship and ethnographic approaches to cultural citizenship to understand women’s (and men’s) subjective experiences of citizenship in diverse national and transnational contexts” (xvi). The concept of “gendered citizenships” furthers prevailing approaches to citizenship and creates a framework that allows the authors to better understand the ethnographic realities that they encountered in their fieldwork. For the contributors, it is important to pay attention to the relationship between gender and citizenship both as a scholarly and a social justice concern.

The areas of expertise presented in the book are broad, wide-ranging, and geographically diverse. Yet, all of the essays include common themes of social activism, exclusion, resistance, and struggles for belonging in the everyday lives of women. Guided by a commitment to feminist collaboration and ethics, the contributors explore the complex relationships among gender, culture, and citizenship in the lives of marginalized women. The “ethnography of intersectionality” serves as an “analytical tool and methodological common ground” for the essays (10), which range from focusing on indigenous women’s organizing in Mexico to migrant Filipina domestic workers, from black women’s social activism in Brazil, to the diasporic identifications of Chinese in Central America, and more.

This book makes important theoretical, ethnographic, and methodological contributions by offering access to grounded, ethnographic examples of “gendered citizenships” and providing a methodological rubric for future research on this topic. The contributors also highlight the value of ethnography to the study of citizenship, which emphasizes the “nuanced and highly personal ways” that members of marginalized groups “experience citizenship in everyday life” (4). In this sense, the theoretical and methodological project of Gendered Citizenships shares characteristics with emergent scholarship in the anthropology of globalization, which focuses on how people are negotiating with processes of globalization in their everyday lives (Padilla, et al. 2007).

The book is divided into three sections: Part I focuses on political activism and organizing, Part II focuses on Gender, Diaspora and Transnationalism, and Part III focuses on Narratives of Belonging. I will provide a brief overview of some of the essays. Kathleen Coll’s chapter theorizes autoestima (self-esteem) as a mode of cultural citizenship in Latina immigrants’ community organizing (Naples 2011). Kia Lilly Caldwell’s essay highlights the personal and political reflections of two black Brazilian women’s struggles for full citizenship. Caldwell uses the life experiences and social activism of everyday Afro-Brazilian women – a black domestic worker and a favelada (slum resident) – as sites to highlight “the importance of exploring the informal and everyday dimensions of citizenship in Brazil” (59).

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas’ essay discusses how Filipina migrant workers are denied full citizenship in their countries of settlement. She articulates the concept of “partial citizenship” (89) to account for the ways in which migrant women are routinely denied their reproductive rights in host countries that benefit from their labor. In other words, “only the production of their labor is desired and not the reproduction of their lineage” (94). Lok Siu uses beauty contests as a site to examine diasporic citizenship of Chinese in Central American countries. She illustrates that “gender is a critical site through which Chinese in Central America and Panama contest, forge, and reaffirm or challenge diasporic identifications” (111).

Rina Benmayor’s essay articulates how gender informs claims for cultural citizenship both within the university and within the family and culture. Renya Ramirez’s essay applies cultural citizenship to indigenous experience highlighting how two indigenous women activists (Cecilia Fire Thunder and Sara Deer) articulate sovereignty in terms of women’s bodies and tribal nations. Tracy Fisher’s chapter explores issues of “racial literacy” (Twine 2010) and racial belonging in Britain.  She contends that white mothers of interracial children work against racist practices and racial hierarchies and negotiate belonging in the process.

Ultimately, this book is a great resource for undergraduate and graduate courses in anthropology and women’s studies. My students have benefited greatly from the selected essays that I have used in my Introduction to Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality courses. Chandra Talpade Mohanty points out that even though collaborative scholarship is often devalued in the academy, “it remains a desired hallmark of feminist praxis committed to the production of knowledge” (x). The editors also boldly reject notions of individualism and hierarchy in the academy by listing the editors’ names alphabetically rather than according to rank. As feminist anthropologists, it is crucial that we support this courageous collaborative effort, particularly since the book is currently only available in hardback format. If we ask our institutional libraries to purchase this book, it may be released in paperback, which will make it more accessible to a larger audience.




Caldwell, Kia Lilly. Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007.


Padilla, Mark, Jennifer Hirsch, Miguel Munoz-Laboy, Robert Sember, and Richard Parker, eds. Love and Globalization: Transformations of Intimacy in the Contemporary World. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2007.


Winddance Twine, Frances. A White Side of Black Britain: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.



Erica Lorraine Williams is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her Ph.D in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University. She has conducted ethnographic research on the cultural and sexual politics of the transnational tourism industry in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She is currently a Mellon HBCU Faculty Fellow at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, where she is completing revisions for her forthcoming book manuscript, Ambiguous Entanglements: Sex, Race, and Tourism in Salvador, Brazil, winner of the 2011 NWSA/University of Illinois Press First Book Prize.





Comments are closed.