Sunday, September 07, 2008

Unequal Freedom by Evelyn Nakano Glenn

David R. Roediger of the University of Illinois says this about Unequal Freedom on the back cover of my hardcover edition, “Unequal Freedom delivers the goods on scholars’ longstanding promises to study race, class, and gender as they were actually experienced in the U.S. past, in all of their dynamic interplay and regional particularity. It is a work of breathtaking synthesis and deep originality.”

Breathtaking synthesis is how I would describe this book. Evelyn Nakano Glenn has organized the book into seven chapters. The first three chapters outline the terms of engagement for her study. The first chapter, titled “Integrating Race and Gender,” serves as the theoretical basis for the book. In the chapter she outlines her integrated framework for thinking about race and gender as “mutually constituted systems of relationships--including norms, symbols, and practices--organized around perceived differences.” She argues that these processes take place at multiple levels including, 1. representation, 2. micro-interaction, and 3. social structure.

The second chapter takes up one of the central points of examination for her, citizenship. Glenn defines citizenship through a review of the existing scholarship on it and explores ways that it has been conceptualized as universal and where it has been exclusive. This chapter, like the next one, really falls into relief when reviewed again after reading and understanding her three chapter case studies.

The third chapter, “Labor Freedom and Coercion,” similar to the second chapter provides the reader with the groundwork and terms of engagement in thinking about labor systems to engage with Glenn fully in the subsequent three chapters. It is a thorough review of how Glenn wants us to think about and understanding existing historical, political science, and sociological research on labor issues to apprehend her analysis of the South, the Southwest, and Hawaii.

The three chapters that are the core of this book, in that Glenn demonstrates her integrative analysis of race and gender, each focus on a different region. In each of the chapters, Glenn is not conducting original archival research, rather she is synthesizing and analyzing research from others and applying her theoretical framework to existing work in order to produce a text that fully excavates and explores race and gender in three regions with regard to labor and citizenship. Chapter four covers Blacks and whites in the South; chapter five, Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest; chapter six, Japanese and Haoles (a racial category of English and Anglo Americans from the Hawaiian word meaning “stranger,” “someone without family and therefore without ties to the land” (p. 207).) The final chapter of the book is an integration to understand race and gender in American inequality.

As I began, this is a work of breathtaking synthesis, so it is difficult for me to pull out specific items to think about. A part of my brain after completing it is simply reeling from the power of the book. Things that interested me in it included the ways that Glenn excavates the relationships between and among people of different “races” in each of the areas. I am interested in how people living in the various locations personally negotiated the emerging and changing restrictions on citizenship and labor participation, especially at points where white/Anglo/Haole people were responsible for enforcing the divisions.

I was also enchanted by Glenn’s review of the resistance structures that were developed in each community: community groups, newspapers, schools. It seems to me that there is a system of thinking and doing comparative work there that could be very useful for GLBT studies. There are similarities and differences that are interesting to explore. I’m sure that I will have more, but for now, these are my notes and thoughts prior to class discussion.

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