Decolonizing Gender/Gendering Decolonization

IRW Seminar Fellows

Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick
“Schooling Palestinian American Youth during the “War on Terror”: Gender, Sexuality, and the U.S. Neocolonial Imaginary”
This project examines how Palestinian American youth articulate a politics of belonging and citizenship in relation to two gendered national imaginaries: that of the U.S. neocolonial imagined community, and that of the Palestinian independence movement. As members of a transnational community who live at the intersection of the U.S. “war on terror”, and the anticolonial Palestinian independence movement, these youth produce multi-faceted, often contradictory narratives of belonging (and not belonging) that challenge and complicate dominant notions of gender and sexuality embedded in the different national imaginaries. This project is grounded in critical and feminist ethnographic research and focuses attention on the ways that the “war on terror” has implications for gender and sexuality that play out in the everyday experiences of Palestinian American youth, particularly in their schools.


Ashley Falzetti, WGS, New Brunswick
“Decolonizing Indigenous Difference: Place, Race, and Gender in Historical Narratives”
Reconstructing the development of the stories about Frances Slocum (1773-1848), a white woman captured by Indians at the age of four who becomes a Miami Indian matriarch, alongside Miami cultural history exposes the colonial nature of gender, race, and place in historical narratives of indigeneity.  Drawing on interviews and community work I show the epistemic violence of the gendered and raced rhetoric of indigeneity in the Slocum stories on Miami youth. I highlight the colonizing epistemes at play within tribal communities in order to open up space for a Miami discourse of decolonization that recognizes the racist-patriarchal forces of colonialism that shades even internal Miami narratives.


Chie Ikeya, History, New Brunswick
“Colonialism and Transcultural Intimacies: Managing Family Affairs, Affective Ties, and Cultural Difference in 19th & 20th Century Southeast Asia”
Since the pioneering work by Ann L. Stoler revealed that “matters of intimacy” were “matters of state,” there has been increased scholarly attention to colonial families, domesticities and sexualities. Yet, this flourishing area of inquiry remains limited by its preoccupation with relations between European men and “native” women and inattention to unions between locals and “Oriental” or “Asiatic” foreigners, mainly from China, Japan, and South Asia. This project examines comparatively what these prevalent yet neglected intimate encounters in colonial Southeast Asia reveal about the interplay between the macroeconomics of colonialism and the affective economy of the household. It explores the impact of European and Japanese colonial regimes of domesticity, sexuality, and morality on antecedent local and regional norms and practices of the familial and intimate, and tracks the uneven and shifting significance of race, religion, and class as categories of difference.


Ellen Malenas Ledoux, English/WGS - Camden
“Mothers of the Revolutions: Soldiering and the Fertile Body in 18th-century America and France”
“Mothers of the Revolutions” examines textual representations of cross-dressed female soldiers serving in the American and French Revolutions, arguing that these women serve as important symbolic figures in the imperial project.  Although important work has been done on military transvestism and gender performativity in the past ten years, these studies -- with their emphasis on the theories of Judith Butler and Judith Halberstam -- have often divorced the practice of female soldiering from its larger transatlantic context, sidelining how constructs of biological sex, nationalism, and race have historically interacted in creating these powerful images of extraordinary women.  My study aims to correct this imbalance by focusing on how female figures are often played off one another in the geographical and rhetorical “contact zone” to further the ideology of two emerging republics: the United States and France.


Preetha Mani, AMESALL, New Brunswick
Widows, Prostitutes, Virgins, and Goodwives: How Literature Imagined the Postcolonial Indian Nation
This project examines how postcolonial Hindi and Tamil literature mobilized and constructed gendered representations of the “Indian citizen” in the immediate aftermath of Indian Independence (1947), locating these representations within a regionally specific cultural context, as well as the broader imaginings of a modern India. It does so through an analysis of tropes of the feminine ideal in the state, public, and literary spheres in North and South India. These tropes—in particular, the widow, the prostitute, the virgin, and the goodwife—had been in widespread use in legal and social reform debates throughout the colonial period. My project explores their renewed significance in attempts to consolidate universal conceptions of modern and democratic identity after Independence and how Hindi and Tamil writers’ distinctly liberal humanist efforts to shape a pan-Indian postcolonial polity both limited and enabled expressions of feminine desire that would shape formations of gender in India in the following decades.


Anel Méndez Velázquez, WGS, New Brunswick
“The Nature of the Caribbean: Scientific Knowledge, Gender, and Coloniality in 16th and 17th Century Américas”
The project discusses how the colonial history of ideas about science and nature is implicated in rendering gender and racial constructs as natural. It examines the place of the Américas in the relationship between Nature, knowledge, science, and colonialism.  I analyze 16th and 17th century natural histories and exploration narratives to show how the materiality and specificity of the Americas - territories, biology, and ecology- provoked discontinuities in proto-scientific understandings of the world in the wake of transatlantic coloniality.  I show they are a constitutive element of the notions of Nature and scientific knowledge mobilized today. This project highlights (1) how the history of coloniality in the Américas is inextricably linked to the history of modern science and to contemporary dominant forms of producing knowledge about Nature, and, (2) the uses of this knowledge as technologies for validating truths about sexed and racialized bodies within scientific, cultural, and (de)colonial paradigms.


Ghassan Moussawi, Sociology, New Brunswick
“Queering 'Progress,' Interrogating the “Modern:” the Construction and Narration of Lebanese Sexual Subjectivities”
In this research, I use a feminist postcolonial approach to interrogate the links between gender, sexuality and discourses of modernity and progress by examining queer subjectivities in Beirut since the year 2005. First, I analyze the ways in which queer life in Beirut has been represented in both contemporary academic and journalistic articles, and argue that they produce and rely on what I term “fractal Orientalism,” or Orientalisms within the “Orient”. Second, I examine how notions of progress and modernity are employed in Lebanese non-heterosexual’s narratives around sexual identification, visibilities and queer organizing. Third, I look at the forms of LGBTQ organizing by analyzing two Lebanese LGBTQ organizations’ online identity deployment and organizing strategies. I analyze the ways in which linear narratives of progress are utilized in the above three spheres and question what formations of modernities and understandings of progress are employed in explaining and framing sexual subjectivities in contemporary Beirut.


Nova Robinson, History, New Brunswick
“Syrian Women and Global Pan-Arab Activism, 1900-1948”
Women in early twentieth century Syria—Syria and Lebanon today—internationalized pan-Arab awareness by activating the Syrian diaspora in Cairo, Boston, and Rio de Janeiro to lobby the League of Nations on behalf of Arab independence and women’s rights. Syrian women forged transnational activist connections with other Syrians and with indigenous women’s organizations in Egypt, the United States, and Brazil, among other countries. Knowledge of the global reach of gendered pan-Arab activism and transnational women’s activism disrupts persistent notions that Arab women were closed off from the world around them, historically and presently. This project disrupts the established belief that women from formerly colonized regions first forged transnational allegiances and started participating in discussions of international women’s rights during the UN’s Decade for Women, 1975-1985. The project explores the colonization of women’s rights at the League of Nations; colonized women who lobbied for representation were excluded from discussions of women’s rights just as those rights were endowed with international political power.


Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, WGS, New Brunswick
“Remapping Land-Ownership Structures in Decolonizing Economies: Women’s Land Rights and Economic Security”
Improving women’s control over assets such as land may have powerful consequences for women’s autonomy and economic security. Greater control over land has come primarily through land titling programs which, in turn, have resulted from redistributive land reforms in numerous decolonizing economies. Vietnam, a former French colony, constitutes an ideal test case for examining how women’s economic security was affected by a major land titling program. This research examines whether land-use rights held by women, either exclusively or jointly, result in beneficial effects for women as compared with land-use rights held by men only. The study uses Vietnamese household survey data and interview information to demonstrate how increased formalization of land ownership affects women’s participation and remuneration from farm and off-farm activities. The project also contextualizes these results by highlighting the key themes from other studies on the remapping of land-ownership structures in decolonizing economies.


Additional Seminar Participants

  • Ronald Cummings (Postdoctoral Fellow in Critical Caribbean Studies)
  • Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir IRW Global Fellow)
  • Annie Fukushima (IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow)
  • Nadia Guessous (IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow)
  • Tenisha Howard (IRW Undergraduate Learning Community Coordinator)
  • Rheana Salazar Parrenas (RCHA Postdoctoral Fellow)
  • Katrina Thompson (Postdoctoral Fellow in Race and Gender History)



  • Nicole Fleetwood
    Director, Institute for Research on Women
  • Sarah Tobias
    Associate Director, Institute for Research on Women