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A Workshop in Transnational Feminism/Atelier sur le féminisme transnational

As a field of study, transnational feminism emerged in the 1980s in response to a singular “global” feminism that erased differences and inequalities between women. Rather than adopting the paradigm of “global sisterhood,” indeed criticized as highly problematic due to its frequently imperializing and homogenizing forms of “knowing,” transnational feminist analyses more explicitly includes geopolitical considerations by situating women’s movements within particular political economies and political cultures. [1] As political scientist Leela Fernandes aptly put it, “The shift away from a global feminism to a more complex set of transnational processes pointed to the ways in which women were not simply were victims of their particular systems of patriarchy but also were placed in complex historical and material relationships with both men and women in other parts of the world.” [2]

Therefore, although it underscores the emancipatory potential of inter-national networks and alliances for activist women, this scholarship also addresses the challenges to solidarity that arose from, among others, economic globalization, (neo-)colonialism, and racism. In order to understand the complexity of women’s lives, politics, and cross-border connections, scholars of transnational feminism consequently engage with multiple frameworks of difference, epistemologies, and methodologies. [3] In the Canadian context, transnational feminism can particularly be used as a way to think about the country’s multinational and diverse realities. More specifically, Indigenous, Diasporic, Québécois, and Anglo-Canadian feminisms existed alongside each other. They also overlapped, fed off of one another, and competed for resources (for example, government funding or media attention). Indeed, a substantial scholarship exists with regards to conceptualizing differences and inequalities among women in Canada as well as divisions within the country’s women’s movements. [4]

A Workshop in Transnational Feminism/Atelier sur le féminisme transnational engages with, and contributes to, this literature and is part of a growing conversation in history and gender studies meant to think critically about transnationalizing the study of feminism. Broadly speaking, to cite sociologist Marilyn Porter, transnational feminism “refers to the coming together of non-governmental organizations to work across borders in coalitions and campaigns.” The term “transnational,” as opposed to “global,” “reflects a means of recognizing both the continued significance and particularity of nations andtheir transcendence by feminist movements.” [5]

By bringing together leading and emerging scholars from Canada and around the world (including the United States, South Africa, France, Belgium, and India), our event is meant to push the field of transnational feminism forward. Particularly, our event will chart a path towards a revitalized understanding of women’s activism writ large, in that, the sheer diversity of the gathering in terms of geographical focus will encourage scholars to rethink their approaches. Most importantly, it will do so in a manner attentive to differences among women within and between various countries of the world, and the ways in which these differences carried over into women’s political organizing.

It also hopes to revitalize the study of feminism in Canada by not only contrasting Indigenous, Diasporic, Québécois, and Anglo-Canadians feminisms with each other, teasing out the necessary linkages and divergences, but also by comparing the types of women’s activism that occurred within the country’s borders with those happening elsewhere. Our event hopes to achieve both of these goals at the same time, that is, never forgetting the complexity of Canada’s internal dynamics while grappling with socio-economic processes of transnational importance. In other words, the workshop has the potential to find entirely new ways to analyze feminism in Canada. Finally, we hope it will also create a platform for historians of Canada to showcase their work, as well as gain insights from scholars working in other geographical areas and disciplines. The field of transnational feminism, especially taken from an historical perspective, is still in its infancy in Canada, thus making this gathering a unique opportunity for Canadian gender studies specialists to convene with other social scientists in order to reinvigorate their analyzes.

Our workshop will take place on 11-12 May, 2018 and will comprise of a series of conference-style panels. In their papers, authors will focus on how their case studies push forward the subfield. Panels 1 and 2 will address, respectively, epistemological and methodological questions, getting to the heart of some of the issues that will come up over and over again over the course of the workshop. Panel 3 will help us understand the mechanics behind transnational feminism, that is, the everyday stories and factors that lead to cross-border solidarities through activist networks. Panel 4 will be geared specifically to historians who borrow from the “wave” metaphor of feminist activism to conceptualize the periodization of women’s activism in various contexts and across time. Finally, the last two panels will analyze the contexts behind transnational feminism, whether related to structural issues such as the international political economy, or with regards to the actual spaces of women’s activism.

All conference panels are open to the public, and will be held at L.R Wilson Hall, room 2001. You can find a full conference schedule below:


Friday, May 11, 2018

All Panels in McMaster University, L.R. Wilson Hall, LRW 2001

10:00 AM: Opening Remarks and Registration

10:15 AM: Panel 1 – Understanding gender oppression across borders and communities
Chair: TBA

12:30 PM: Panel 2 –Sources and self-representation in postcolonial, settler colonial, and imperial contexts
Chair: TBA

2:15 PM: Panel 3 – Creating transnational feminist networks
Chair: Joëlle Papillon, Department of French, McMaster University

4:00PM. Panel 4 –Thinking through the periodization of women’s movements
Chair: Karen Balcom, Department of History, McMaster University

Saturday, May 12, 2018 

All Panels in McMaster University, L.R. Wilson Hall, LRW 2001

9:00 AM: Panel 5 – Gender in the international political economy
Chair: Julien Mauduit, Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University

10:45 AM: Panel 6 – Transformative spaces and pedagogies
Chair: Jennifer Tunnicliffe, Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University

12.15: Closing Remarks


[1] Amrita Basu,“Globalization of the Local/Localization of the Global: Mapping Transnational Women’s Movements,” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, edited by Carole McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 68-77; Nancy Naples and Manisha Desai, eds., Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics(New York: Routledge, 2002); Carla Freeman, “Is Local: Global as Feminine: Masculine? Rethinking the Gender of Globalization,” Signs 26, 4 (2001), pp. 1007-1037.

[2] Leela Fernandes, Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, Power(New York: New York University Press, 2013), p. 13.

[3] Sylvanna Falcon, “Transnational Feminism as a Paradigm for Decolonizing the Practice of Research: Identifying Feminist Principles and Methodology Criteria for US-based Scholars,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 37, 1 (2016), pp. 174-194; Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Transnational Feminist Crossing: On Neoliberalism and Radical Critique,” Signs 38, 4 (2013), pp. 967-991; Leila Rupp, “Constructing Internationalism: The Case of Transnational Women’s Organizations,” Globalizing Feminisms: 1789-1945, edited by Karen Offen (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 139-152; Ella Shohat, “Areas Studies, Transnationalism, and the Feminist Production of Knowledge,” Signs 26, 4 (2001), pp. 1269-1772.

[4] Vijay Agnew, Resisting Discrimination: Women from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and the Women’s Movement in Canada(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996); Denyse Baillargeon, Brève histoire des femmes du Québec(Montreal: Boréal, 2012); Marlene Epp and Franca Iacovetta, eds., Sisters or Strangers? Immigrant, Ethnic, and Racialized Women in Canadian History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016); Joyce Green, ed., Making Space for Indigenous Feminism (Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, 2007); Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani, eds. States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century(Toronto: Between the Lines, 2010)

[5] Marilyn Porter, “Transnational Feminisms in a Globalized World: Challenges, Analysis, and Resistance,” Feminist Studies 33, 1 (2007), pp. 43-63.