Finding no solace in the fortress

April 23, 2004

Feminist Review , which first appeared in 1979, describes itself as a socialist and feminist publication that acts as a "vehicle to unite research and theory with political practice and to contribute to the development of both". These commitments have always been kept by this interdisciplinary journal, which seeks to emphasise the interrelationships between gender, ethnicity, race, class and sexuality.

The themed issues of the new-look Palgrave Macmillan-published Feminist Review for 2002 and 2003 offer some fascinating reading, especially on the contested topics of globalisation, exile and asylum. It is argued by many commentators that the spread of global capitalism has constituted a major historical transition from industrial capitalism to informational capitalism, bringing about a new emphasis on global networks and flows, on new technologies and on the reconfiguration of the local, the national and the global. Such changes, it is suggested, have also brought about new politics of exploitation so that many people take to the streets to make their protest heard. But what role has feminism played in all these debates?

The issue on globalisation attempts to explore this question by including articles about the international dimensions of the sex trade and domestic service, as well as the media response to the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11 2001. A key question that runs throughout many of the contributions relates to the global feminisation and racialisation of poverty.

Globalisation is, of course, not unrelated to the plight of refugees and "Exile and asylum: women seeking refuge in 'Fortress Europe'" offers some harrowing reading on the subject. The editors point out that while women probably form the largest group of people living in exile, the European Union and the national asylum systems largely construct the "refugee" as male and identify "persecution" with public-sphere politics. Yet feminists have long questioned such a definition of the political and pointed to the gendered nature of much poverty and dislocation.

The cruel way in which refugee women are treated is highlighted in a powerful autobiographical piece by Nasrin Parvaz, a political activist who was tortured during her eight years in Iranian prisons. Three years after her release, she reluctantly left her country and was granted asylum in Britain. But here she found racist systems and relations that sapped her already deeply scarred self-esteem.

After reading such distressing stories it seems trivial to glance at the other themed issues reviewed here on drugs, fiction and theory and fashion and beauty. But Feminist Review has always been diverse in its coverage and it is good to be reminded that our complex theorisations about femininity today offer more playful spaces for feminists, including the beauty parlour.

Feminist Review , at the cutting edge of contemporary debates, is a lively and informative resource for students and academics in higher education across a range of disciplines. I strongly recommend it.

June Purvis is professor of women's and gender history, Portsmouth University.

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