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LGD 2002 (1) - Reena Patel

Gender and the Political Economy of Development:
From Nationalism to Globalization

by Shirin M. Rai

Polity Press, Cambridge,
ISBN 0-7456-1491-4

Reveiwed by:
Reena Patel
Law Lecturer
University of Warwick


In this book, Rai presents her readers with a critical discussion of the political economy of development, viewed through a gendered lens on a truly wide-ranging and panoramic scale. It is a book that enables the reader to think of gender and development from a global perspective, across a number of levels. It draws out the thread of gendered perspectives across local and global processes, within the historical processes of colonialism, post-colonialism and globalization. Through this, Rai highlights the differential locations of men and women with regard to the access, participation and ultimately, empowerment. The wealth of factual and intellectual material analyzed from a variety of geographical and cultural contexts across the globe makes this book thoroughly engaging, as well as highly pertinent to all concerned with gender and development processes. In every respect, this is a book that will truly enrich the reader's own understanding of the issues, dealt with so comprehensively in the various chapters.

In the first chapter Gender, Nationalism and 'Nation-Building': Discourses on Development, Rai grounds the concept of development in the historical context of nation-building, and draws out the manner and extent to which nationalism informed and constructed the normative content of 'development' for emerging nation states. The discussion of colonialism, nationalism and decolonisation highlights the gendered nature of these processes, whereby men and women in the society and nation state are differently situated. The following chapter Gender and Development: Theoretical Perspectives in Context leads on from this to show that this differential positioning of men and women in the context of the nation-state also provides a critical standpoint for the analysis of development within international contexts. From this standpoint, Rai draws the links between development discourse in the context of the nation-state and internationally such that there is a mutual recognition and a certain shaping of one in response to the other. The critical insight gained from this analysis is that interventions regarding gender within the development framework both at national and international contexts may be seen as responses to the wider developmental framework of the time. Of the developmental framework within the specific context of a post-World War II world, the Cold War and emerging nation-states, Rai discusses the concepts embodied within, challenges by feminists and responses to these challenges in the evolving discourses of development.

The impact of globalization upon gender relations forms the focus of the next chapter, where Rai examines the reshaping of material, cultural and social worlds within which such relations are framed. Through a comprehensive survey of the debates around what globalization has been argued to mean by various scholars, the chapter Globalization: New Agendas for Gender and Development? looks critically at gendered power relations in three contexts; markets, nation-state and governance. In particular, this chapter draws out the enhanced role of feminist social movements in articulating concerns and challenges for realizing women's identity, material security and social and cultural empowerment at the local level as it is being reshaped by the global.

The tensions within women's movements in articulating concerns, resulting from structural constraints that inhibit women's agency are discussed further in the chapter on Gender and Multi-Level Governance; Feasible and Transformative Politics? Rai argues here that a recognition of both women's interests as well as differences, combined with the need for redistribution, is essential for women's empowerment.

The contours of women's material insecurity are explored further in the chapter on Global Restructuring and Restructuring Gender Relations: The Politics of Structural Adjustment. Through a critical assessment of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs), this chapter raises some of the main critiques posed by feminists to the theoretical basis of SAPs. The concluding chapter on Critical Engagements: From Nationalism to Globalization brings a note of caution against underestimating the continuing importance of the nation-state in many current imaginings of the threatened state in this globalized age. This leads to a further point of the necessity of continued, critical engagement within the state, rather than seeking to influence its agendas from the outside, including a critical stance on what constituted the 'local' for such engagement.

Throughout its engagement with development, gender and empowerment at various levels and historical, geographical and cultural contexts, this book provides the reader with a wealth of material, debates and scholarly positions. It is as enriching for the knowledge one gains of the subject as for the concerns and issues for gender, development and empowerment that are raised and addressed throughout.


This is a book review published on 8 November 2002.

Citation: Patel R, 'Gender and the Political Economy of Development:
From Nationalism to Globalization by Shirin M. Rai, Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD) 2002 (1) <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/global/02-1/smith.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/lgd/2002_1/patel/>


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