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The Postcolonial State

Feminist Analyses Of The Postcolonial State

In contrast to the above approaches, a key debate among feminist analysts of the postcolonial state concerns the extent to which the state is able to act as a vehicle for social change aimed at increasing gender equality. For example, in Morocco in the early 1990s, the modernizing state drew women into the public arena through law and education. The other side of the debate concerns the state as a mechanism for male social control and the convergence between the state and patriarchal forces. Where politics becomes deeply communalized, particularly when it is supported by state-sponsored religious fundamentalism, the traditional control over women that rested with particular male individuals—such as fathers, brothers, husbands—soon shifts to all men. Sonia Alvarez argues that there is nothing essential about the state's ability to act in either direction—social change or social control—but that its trajectory is more likely to be determined by political regime and historical conjuncture.

The feminist analyst Shirin Rai conceptualizes the state as a network of power relations that are located in economic, political, legal, and cultural forms interacting with and against each other. This allows her to examine the state in the context of social relations shaped by systems of power, which are themselves affected by struggles against these systems. Rai points out that the state may take different forms in different historical, social, and economic contexts, as in the case of postcolonial states emerging from struggles against imperialism and colonial rule. The nationalist opposition to colonialism was itself located within the modernizing framework favored by colonialists. The prioritization of goals, first by the nationalist movement and then by the postcolonial state, erased issues that potentially challenged the modernist developmental conceptions of the new nation-state, such as women's interests and rights.

Rai highlights three features of postcolonial states that are significant for women's strategizing for social change. The first concerns the transformative role of the state: most nationalist elites saw themselves as agents for social and economic transformation, and state institutions were also relatively autonomous from dominant social classes. This allows space for institutional and political struggles. Second, the infrastructural capacity of the state is uneven, resulting in the possibility of activists targeting sympathetic institutions and individuals within the state. Third, the existing level of corruption is an important determinant of whether negotiation within the state is possible or not. Rai points out that one of the important implications of the poststructuralist conception of power as dispersed is the recognition that power takes diverse forms and can be used in varied ways. Simply taking an adversarial position against the state may be positively dangerous for women, given the deeply masculinist character of society, including civil society.

The gendered character of state formation, state practices, and militarism are analyzed by Amina Mama. In an earlier paper, Mama had argued that, in an international context highly influenced by women's movements, the military regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida (1985–1993) and Sani Abacha (1993–1998) were appropriating Nigerian women and their struggles whilst seeking legitimacy for their continued rule. Later, she refined this position by pointing out that the situation was more complex than this. This complexity included the fact that the politics of transition, and hence its gender politics, was more improvised than planned and took several turns in different and contradictory directions. Moreover, Nigerian women, in diverse and competing ways, were not passive pawns but actively engaged in the political maneuvers involved.

Drawing on Michel Foucault's theorization of power as dispersed, Mama theorizes power as dispersed across micropolitical, existential states of being as well as more macropolitical formations such as the nation-state. This allows her to consider ways in which these different levels of social reality come together to produce resonance and, potentially, dissonance. Mama also draws on the feminist philosopher Judith Butler's development of Foucault's theorization of power, arguing that being implicated or enabled by relations of power does not rule out the possibility of subversion. Mama examines the gender discourses articulated by the Heads of State and their wives in successive regimes, the programs and political practices articulated by these discourses, and the different structural changes made in efforts to institutionalize them. In the process, she highlights the interplay among power, knowledge, and practice that facilitated the manufacture of consent to the military regimes dominating the workings of the state.

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan delineates the changing, heterogeneous character of the postcolonial state in India in her exploration of the state's contradictory positions toward female citizens. In a feminist analysis of social realities textured by divisions of age, ethnicity, religion, and class, Sunder Rajan examines women's lives, needs, and struggles around issues such as child marriage, compulsory sterilization, female infanticide, and prostitution. She shows how the state is critical to an understanding of women's individual and group identities at the same time as women and their struggles affect the operations of the state.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Positive Number to Propaganda - World War IiThe Postcolonial State - From Structural Functionalism To Marxist Structuralism, Interweaving History, Politics, And Culture, Feminist Analyses Of The Postcolonial State