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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Gender and Nation
Nira Yuval-Davis

(London: Sage, 1997)
157pp., index,
bibl. ISBN 0-8039-8663-7.
Pb.: 13.99. 0-8039-8664-5.

One cannot - should not - ever underestimate the importance of women. Perhaps this is the over-riding message in Nira Yuval-Davis' perusal of the links between gender and nation.

In this book, the author traces and documents the way gender relations affect and are affected by national projects and processes. She does this by primarily concentrating on the position and positioning of women while at the same time stressing that this necessarily implies that men and masculinity are centrally implicated in these processes. Yuval-Davis addresses both theory and practice starting out with a discussion of theorising about gender, women, ethnicity and nation, moving on to a more sustained analysis of how these discourses have impacted upon women. The analysis then widens as Yuval-Davis looks at cultural reproduction and gender, citizenship, the military and war before ending up with a final discussion on women, ethnicity and empowerment.

An issue of major concern to Nira Yuval-Davis is how to 'construct feminist political mobilization (p.11) in the context of knowing there are major differences between women. This question of 'difference' is one that has been important within much of western feminist theorising over the last couple of decades. As Yuval-Davis rightly points out, it is an issue which was first pursued by 'mostly black and ethnic minority women' which later 'became incorporated into feminist deconstructive postmodernist analyses' (p.5). The author argues that one of the most important differences among women is their membership of ethnic and national collectivities. One manifestation of differential membership is that in some situations women may be 'encouraged' to have fewer children - and in other situations be 'encouraged' to have more children. A clear point she wishes to emphasise is that women frequently become biological and cultural reproducers of the nation although women will be differently affected by these demands dependent on their ethnic, racial, class, age, ability, and sexual social placings. A key strength of this book is the way Yuval Davis documents how these differential uses of women plays out in different settings. One example of this is the issue of women becoming 'symbolic bearers of modernity' (p.98) - whether this implies wearing the veil (or not) or becoming an integral part of the country's military (or not).

This is an interesting, readable and thoughtful book and despite a slight tendency to caricature postmodernism, it should be read by everyone interested in nation and ethnicities.

Marysia Zalewski, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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