Transnational feminist media studies, an emergent area of scholarship, is both a critical intervention and a response to the challenges posed by globalization. The transborder movement of capital, commodities, images, and people has set in motion a range of social and political issues, affecting multiple aspects of lived experience. Globalization reproduces gender and sexuality in ways that demand academic attention. Media systems, forms of representation, and communication practices serve as key points from which to unravel the complexity of global configurations. The rubric of the transnational enables feminist scholars to revise and rethink theoretical frames in media studies and produce critical, alternative accounts of globalization. Key aspects of globalization, detailed below, serve as impetus and set the agenda for transnational feminist media scholarship.
Defying any singular form of definition, globalization is being heralded, celebrated, and deplored simultaneously by different constituencies. The contemporary landscape is characterized by social and political formations that have reconstituted the relationships between the national, local, and global. Technology and corporate expansion have popularized the global discourse of connectivity. Reality on the ground, however, speaks to great disparity in terms of media access and distortions. While most mainstream accounts of globalization emphasize the inevitability and speed of transformations, far less attention is paid to the gendered contradictions that are inherent in these processes.
The rapid transformations engendered by the new technologies and the hypermobility of capital create new forms of inequity in the global landscapes and at the same time reinforce existing schisms by spatially extending old logics of domination in global guises. Lines of power are constituted, consolidated, and deployed in highly interconnected circuits that cross borders, resulting in what feminist scholars Grewal and Kaplan (1994) term “scattered hegemonies.” New technologies, systems of media representation, and information networks serve as crucial nodes in the transport and circulation of these modalities of power. The issues here demand innovative theoretical responses, paying nuanced attention to the inequalities and asymmetries inimical to the global scene.
Enmeshed in these changes are various regulatory regimes that remain deeply classed, raced, and gendered. Transnational critical practice works against models that privilege binary cultural critique based on universalism, essentialization of cultures, and an unquestioned Eurocentrism. In addition, the emphasis on the transnational locates and identifies culture and cultural politics as traversing borders and hence exceeding the boundaries of nation. As Appadurai (1996) argues, globalization constitutes a “complex overlapping, disjunctive order that cannot any longer be understood in terms of existing center-periphery models.”
The demands of the global economy and colonial legacies have led to vast demographic movements of people. These new patterns of migration have stirred debates on borders and national identity in various corners. Inflected by the nuance of local politics, the subject of immigration is inevitably compounded by larger discourses of nationalism, “race,” religion, and community. It is important to note that this economic expansion has set in motion alternate circuits that travel through shadow economies and invisible pathways, constituting counter-geographies of globalization. With the shift of dominant structures of capitalism to flexible modes of production and accumulation, there is a significant feminization and transnationalization of labor. New actors enter the global stage, calling into question conventional assumptions about agency, choice, travel, and mobility. The free flow and mobility of some is predicated on the fixity and status quo of others. For example, women from the global south are increasingly occupying low-paid jobs created by the fast-growing global service economies. This range of new global actors typically falls outside the frame of dominant accounts of globalization that, as Sassen (1998, 82) describes, read like “narratives of eviction.” Hence Sassen argues for a feminist analytic that allows a reconceptualization of globalization capturing “strategic instantiations of gendering.”
Modernities And Neo-Liberal Translations
Along with deregulation and privatization, a pervasive neo-liberal worldview is taking shape, privileging consumerism and individuality. Packaging market-driven interests as social values, neo-liberalism reshuffles the meaning of public responsibility and citizenship into the language of private choices and entitlements. Spurred by a consumer economy, this ethic is rapidly reshaping social formations and cultural practices in its transnational travels, with gendered consequences.
Discourses of consumption working with global popular culture and new technology script global identities based on strategic models of cultural homogeneity. In the deterritorialized world of free-floating commodities, local desires and cosmopolitan desires are connected. However, the networks of global consumer culture, in their commodification of difference, erase the complicity of interconnected historical forces in the production of global hierarchies that are both gendered and racialized. Simultaneously, the enduring power of western modernity continues to exert its hold globally, reproducing old colonial hierarchies in new sites as exemplified in the hegemony of the Eurocentric gaze in popular media.
At the same time, competing with the dominance of western popular culture, there is an emerging global presence of images and media products from the global south (for e.g., Hong Kong and Indian films), shaping local understandings of gendered categories. Mediated and technological regimes connect the diasporic and national spaces and also form the backdrop for distinctive types of transnational affiliations and gendered identities. There is increasing attention being paid to how issues concerning gender and sexuality are being drafted into the transnational public sphere, and whether new media flows are interrupting or restaging the hegemonic ordering of cultures.
The landscape of global cultural production underscores the need for discursive definitions and material constructions of gender to be situated within the complex intertwining of local and global fields – a rich and important site of investigation for transnational feminist media scholarship.
Mapping The Transnational
These issues require media scholars to engage with globalization in new and revised terms that necessitate going beyond the familiar binaries of local/global, east/west, private/ public or civilized/oppressed. The objective is to open up the terms of analysis and expand the ways in which media scholars conceptualize the material and concrete conditions within which cultural practices are constituted. The production, circulation, and consumption of cultural products have to be situated against the flow of migrants, transnational communities, and the neo-liberal worldview that is re-articulating difference and inequality on a larger global stage. Feminist scholars begin with the assumption that to evoke the transnational is not merely to aggregate different cultures. The transnational serves as an analytical frame to interpret the contested relational structures between cultures situated within a complex field of power relations. The transnational framework enables a rethinking of the categories of the nation-state, culture, identity, and modernity.
The mediascapes of globalization create transnational public space and accentuate the deterritorialization of culture and community. These new types of global communities are the focal point of contemporary discussions regarding inclusion, modernity, citizenship, and the policing of borders. Feminist media scholars working on transnational issues are paying critical attention to the racialized and gendered discourses and routes through which people are drafted into global processes. These varying levels of interconnections require a shift in theoretical approaches that work from the premise of the bounded, homogeneous nation-state. Contemporary global processes cannot be captured by resorting to models employed in communication and media studies that are entrenched in Enlightenment paradigms and the normative privileging of the west. Feminist research in transnational media studies assumes an interdisciplinary stance in order to make visible the interrelated issues of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, mindful of their historical and political specificity.
In this endeavor, the intellectual contributions of postcolonial theories have been influential, particularly the focus on addressing the problematics of western modernity with reference to race, gender, nation citizenship, and sexuality. Postcolonial critique of universalism and theoretical attention to colonial power and its discursive translations have made a significant impact on feminist critical practices and theorization of global syncretisms, contradictions, and heterogeneities (Hegde 2006). This is the challenge, as Mohanty (2003, 229) poses it: “How we think of the local in/of the global and vice versa without falling into colonizing or cultural relativist platitudes about difference is crucial in this intellectual and political landscape.”
Media practices provide the standpoint from which we can understand globalization, as it is scripted and enacted. It is through communication and media practices that we apprehend the dynamics and everyday translations of globality. We need to think about media culture and practices in more expansive ways and revive an analytical interest in the intersections of media practices and everyday life, and in the connections between representation and experience in various global locales. Herein we see the power of mediated images as they mobilize global versions of modernity. New forms of sociality and cultural practices are currently emerging, constructed through the coming together of media, migration, mobility, and the flow of capital. These formations, exploding traditional categories of space and time, also forge new relationships between the national and the global, crafting new conceptualizations of belonging, national community, and citizenship.
Feminist Transnational Interventions
Globalization has seized the imagination of scholars from many disciplines. To feminist scholars, however, the goal is to bring into focus the multiple ways in which gender is defined, reworked, and deployed in the global context. Producing a gendered understanding of globality is not only about pointing to the absences but also showing through systematic analysis how these invisibilities are produced and sustained through discursive reiterations that resonate across borders and communities. The term “transnational” offers conceptual pliability and enables a theoretical framework that can account for various types of economic, political, and cultural interconnections. The transnational provides an analytical rubric for feminist scholars to move beyond modes of liberal multiculturalism and produce politically and intellectually incisive scholarship.
These theoretical moves also reflect the shifts within feminism and the trajectory of feminist scholarship within the field of communication and media studies. Transnational scholarship continues to build on the third wave feminist insistence on historical and geographical particularities in the construction of gendered systems of power and social relations. The focus on the transnational forces a rethinking of stable, bounded definitions surrounding categories such as gender, identity, nation, and community (Shome 2006). Transnational feminist scholarship does not claim allegiance to a particular method or approach that privileges political economy over cultural approaches. Instead, the transnational directs our scholarly response to the cross-cutting issues of “race,” class, and gender that intersect and travel across geographic and political landscapes.
Sreberny (2001) asserts that feminist media studies in the twenty-first century should be global in purview and should not become overly media-centric. A transnational focus together with a commitment to feminist politics furthers the contemporary study of media and media forms as it relates to wider social, historical, and cultural practices. Feminist scholars have answered this call by addressing both the need to globalize and pay attention through a gendered lens to emerging issues related to the global public sphere, media systems, emerging technologies, “race,” gender, and modalities of representation (Gajjala 2002; Valdivia 2003; Lemish 2005).
Current geopolitical conditions have created the need to conceptualize issues that often exceed national borders (for e.g., militarization, immigration, and labor flows). The terrain is bristling with questions for scholars, demanding the provision of alternative feminist accounts of global geographies as they intersect with the transnational constitution and complexities of gender and sexuality.
- Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Gajjala, R. (2002). An interrupted postcolonial/feminist cyberethnography: Complicity and resistance in the “Cyberfield.” Feminist Media Studies, 2, 177–193.
- Grewal, I., & Kaplan, C. (eds.) (1994). Scattered hegemonies: Postmodernity and transnational feminist practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Hegde, R. (2006). Globalizing gender studies in communication. In J. Wood & B. Dow (eds.), Handbook on gender studies in communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 433 – 449.
- Lemish, D. (2005). The media gendering of war and conflict. Feminist Media Studies, 5(3), 275 –280.
- Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
- Sassen, S. (1998). Globalization and its discontents. New York: New Press.
- Shome, R. (2006). Transnational feminism and communication studies. The Communication Review, 9, 255 –267.
- Sreberny, A. (2001). Gender, globalization, and communications: Women and the transnational. Feminist Media Studies, 1, 61– 65.
- Valdivia, A. (2003). Salsa as popular culture: Ethnic audiences constructing an identity. In A. Valdivia (ed.), A companion to media studies. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 399 – 418.