feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, world history

Book Review: Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neolieralisms (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005), Pp.281.



Ways in which we perceive  nationalism, citizenship and consumerism can be understood through many different lenses. Those lenses mold our ideas and set standards in our day to day lives. Investigating what or where the lens is coming from can reveal  a great deal on the nation states’ intentions and motives. Inderpal Grewal calls these types of ideas into question by exploring transnationalism through a specific icon in a her text entitled, Transnational America. Grewal’s objective states, “this book is about the 1990s, when a new phase of neoliberalism brought together market logics with concerns for reducing welfare and poverty, and in the process rearticulated feminist and postcolonial subjects out of longer colonial histories and epistemologies” (15).

Grewal analyses specifically focuses on the methods of production, consumption and the process in which transnationalism takes place. The author notes the specific manifestations in American national ideals. Grewal states, “the American dream was a discourse of both whiteness and racism, in which a white identity coexisted in an unstable and changing relationship with heterogeneous notions of being American, within as well as being outside the United States” (7). Grewal brings up an important term that can be derived out of this understanding of American nationalism and its discourse— transnationalism.  Grewal articulates further on this term stating, “transnational practices incorporated struggles for liberal democratic rights as they inserted themselves into consumer culture” (9). This crucial point that Grewal discusses in the monograph becomes a signifier to the consumer culture as a thriving vehicle of nationalism. Grewal speaks to this important feature of nationalism and its ability to shift for more power stating, “nationalism’s ability to move, change, spread across different kinds of boundaries suggests that it remained a powerful imaginary which developed in tandem with changing modes of citizenship and consumer culture” (13). The significance of consumer culture and nationalism go hand in hand, creating power, and act as a power tool to implement more ideology that circulates national discourse.

Grewal discusses this further by looking at the Barbie doll. Grewal acknowledges why she uses Barbie and why it was essential to her text. Grewal states, “I use Barbie as the entry point into understanding the transnationalization of gender through consumer culture and thus to the ways in which multinational corporations participated in altering culture in India through the 1990s” (84). These processes of investigation on how Barbie not only signifies gender but simultaneously is a tool to propel American nationalist regimes. Barbie is used as an icon of the political economy and culture producing notions of citizenship, beauty, gender, and race. These notions of citizenship, in particular, can be traced to nation state values and how transnationsalism has used its ideology to produce commodified emblem of the citizen and consumer. The citizen and consumer become synonymous. Accordingly, Barbie then becomes a symbolic icon of citizenship and political economic function. As Grewal states, “I analyze how a multinational corporation was able to sell an American product and icon in a very different cultural context” (85). Through transnationalism and production, American values were able to be written on to the body of Barbie and on to the body of the consumer.

Barbie then had to attract a certain kind of audience— Barbie had to become transnational.  Hence, Barbie became a symbol of a specific ideology of citizenship and nationalism. Grewal goes on to state, “Barbie’s global marketing practices were linked to America as a symbol of freedom and rights, especially for women. The marketing strategies linked the product to discourses of powerful “Americanness” associated with race, class, and gender hierarchies. Relying on discourses of American nationalism that linked “choice” to “freedom,” Matel used race, gender, and nationalist discourse to sell its product” (98). This imperative statement by Grewal addresses the dangerous realities of these types of cultural appropriation and  production.

In closing, what can be clearly deduced about transnationalism, by Grewal, is the reality of America’s oppressive nationalist discourse. The use of intersection by looking at barbie, gender, nation, and the like places the iconic Barbie in a new light. Grewal closes her text with a invitation for the reader to re-conceptualize the global markets stating, “if we are to rethink consumer citizenship and multiculturalism through dynamic and changing racial and gendered formations we cannot assume that civil society and the state can be seen as separate from each other” (219). Rethinking of these discussions, in particular American discourse, is paramount in deconstruction and illumination of domination. The icon is exposed as something that  is not isolated from the style of nationalist ambition. Accordingly, the critique that America becomes an icon that can use instruments such as consumerism as a vehicle to transport ideology is the main argument of this monograph. This book would be of interest to a wide variety of publics including those who are interested in subjects such as the global economy to women’s studies. Fascinating read!