Uma Narayan,
Dislocating Cultures:
Identities, Traditions &
Third World Feminism

(Routledge, 1997)

In Dislocating Cultures, Uma Narayan disputes feminism as a solely Western notion, while also challenging assumptions that East Indian feminism is based on a Western model of feminism. Additionally, Narayan holds that the charges of what constitutes "Westernization" need to be radically re-examined.

At the time this book was written, Narayan had been living in the United States for well over a decade. Writing from an Indian feminist position, she attempts to clarify misconceptions that she believes have resulted in a false perception of Indian values, how Indian women live and religious constructions of Indian culture, law and society. Narayan defines and addresses the roots of sati, dowry and dowry-murder -- terms that are often confused or jointly defined. She also moves any critical reader to rethink and redefine the notion of "tradition" and resituate the roles Hinduism and other religions have played in establishing and propelling sati, dowry and dowry-murder in some pockets of Indian history and regions.

Narayan also does a proficient job discussing cross-cultural comparisons between domestic violence and dowry-murders while requiring the reader to consider whether dowry-murder exemplifies culture or religion -- or if it is another example of violence against women that happens around the globe every day. In the last chapter, Narayan takes a multi-sensory approach and explains what it is to "eat a culture," giving examples of what I call "cultural culinary usurping," which involve colonial economic interests at the heart of this consumption and thievery.

Narayan addresses concerns that have been situated within the borders of India and the U.S. that have been drawn from, but not limited to, newspaper articles, conversations and other publications. Narayan also dedicates an entire chapter in response to "Indian Suttee: The Ultimate Consummation of Marriage," a chapter from Mary Daly's book Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978). I assume Narayan dedicated a chapter to Daly because of the feminist influence this piece has had on how Indian women are perceived. Also, I have no doubt that this piece, for some, is still considered a reliable source of cross-cultural information about Indian women's lives; hence, the importance to directly address Daly's criticisms, sources and Euro-centrality.

I think Narayan's analyses in this book are brilliant. The only glitch for me is that in the first chapter -- after explaining complications with this definition -- she narrows Third World feminism "to refer to feminists who acquired feminist views and engaged in feminist politics in Third World countries, and those who continue to do so." This definition leaves out scores of women who work for liberation otherwise, and those who do not relate to the concept of feminism (the reasons are too deep to cover here). Such a narrow definition also excludes women who live out working for women's liberation, including equal opportunities, through their daily efforts to survive and maybe raise children. Many women who "live liberation" through the daily mundane do not necessarily have extra time to engage in political activism.

In efforts to keep this review brief, I feel I may not have been able to accurately communicate the cross-national and international complexities and inconsistencies that Narayan so eloquently explains through a mere 188 pages. The importance of this book can not be underestimated, particularly for those looking to strengthen their liberatory interests and open communications between those of varying homelands.

- Rambles
written by Fern Gilkerson
published 5 June 2004

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