Rebecca M. Klenk’s “Who Is the Developed Woman?

Klenk, Rebecca M. “Who Is the Developed Woman? Women As a Category of Development Discourse, Kumaon, India.” Development and Change. 35. 1 (2004): 57-78.


In Rebecca Klenk’s article “Who is the Developed Woman?,” Klenk observes that among the women volunteers from roadside villages in Uttarakhand, “calling someone [developed]—especially a woman or girl—was a common form of praise,” regardless whether or not there was “substantial change” in that person]s life  (59). Yet this praise in accord with a developed person does not quite function as an ego-ideal, rather it is a complex notion that adjusts to the particular aspects of village life. When the co-ordinators of the camp addressed to women]s development asks “Whom do we call a developed woman?” the responses are unexpectedly complex and reminiscent of the development context: the developed woman is “intellectual,” does not waste time in gossip, “she will be able to take time for herself to do sewing, knitting, and embroidery,” “she will have a greater desire to learn more,” and finally, “for all of this the husband will have to be awakened” (66). Rather than reproduce an imposed binary of village women and developed women, the answers to the question “Whom do we call a developed woman?” are strangely consistent with village life, as subjectivity for village women could be shifted towards a development ethos without substantially changing quality of life, rather, to be developed is not entirely substantiated in shifting class structures nor is it a superficial ego-ideal at the center of a growing ideological structure, where the women only believe that they can become developed as the conditions for their exploitation. Development is rather seen as a relationship of subjects to an community bound by affect, sharing new subjectivities through the romance of development.

By “romance of development” I do not mean an ego-ideal of “civilization”, an instance of colonial mimicry where the Other is inclined to act “like us, but not quite”. The responses to the questions “Who is the Developed Woman” show the limits of this analysis. Rather, I use the term romance to mean a psychic economy that functions through symbols and language, a concept never stable among a community because of its dependence upon shared subjectivities, a sense of belonging that arises from affect rather than discourse, that suspends individualism, that is always at the risk of change and therefore is easily malleable, and yet, ultimately, romance must never be separated from the neurosis of romantic divulgence, from a performativity of production. The romance of a type of belonging (i.e. developed woman) thus produces and affective regime that one can use to understand connections between communities and subjectivities that seem unrelated: solidarity movements within the global south, diasporic subjectivities, the allegiance of NGOs and non-profits with third world women, yet it also helps in understanding nation-building—for instance, the romance of liberty and freedom in a time of American hegemony and war. Finally, understanding development as romantic may also shed light on the answers to “Who is the Developed Woman”? It is not that there is a concrete reliance upon the term developed that the women in the group share, rather, the idea of the developed woman is cumulative rather than limited within boundaries, malleable rather than rigid, as every member of the group adds something new to the concept, none of which are negated, no matter how counter-intuitive the rearticulations of “developed woman” tend to become.

In Joan Scott’s essay on experience, “The Evidence of Experience,” Scott begins with Delany’s portrayal of a gay bathhouse, where heterosexual normativity is contested by the visibility of the bathhouse, as she says: “By writing about the bathhouse Delany seeks not, he says, “to roman-ticize that time into some cornucopia of sexual plenty,” but rather to break an “absolutely sanctioned public silence” on questions of sexual practice, to reveal something that existed but that had been suppressed.” And yet Delany cannot help but romanticize the community of gays in the bathhouse, in the way I understand romance here. In fact, it is the very disinterestedness of the gays in the bathhouse in their being gay that makes their community questionable—where gayness plays a congregational role, one must ask “what other subjectivities are being elided in exchange for the romance of the bathhouse?” I ask this question not to point out the crucial immediacy and sense of belonging that arises through censorship and oppression, but to explore the production of affected communities arising from the romance of the bathhouse, which puts gayness at the forefront of identity. Can this sense of romanticization be seen as an effective affectual solidarity that functions through all identity politics, and in that sense, through notions of experience as a category of authority, which “authorizes the historian who has access to it” to whatever identity they embody (female, black, lower class, etc.)? In other words, if experience embodied within an identity is useful to us only as a political gesture—as Joan Scott sees experience—then why not exemplify the romance of the bathhouse as an affectual—albeit irrational—symbol of belonging, since such immaterial romanticization can lead to political empowerment against real oppressive forces?

The critique of identity politics as a concept that frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences is also emphasized by Kimberle Crinshaw in her article “Mapping the Margins.” Crinshaw maps identity politics through a highlighting the intersectionality of women of color, who are marginalized in two forms, are subject to experiences “qualitatively different from white women.” Women of color then, due to their intersectionality, cannot be conflated into a feminist critique, since their experiences of witnessing patriarchy on multiple levels cannot be understood in the terms of white women. Yet Crinshaw’s dissection of women of color, while appropriating the complexity of this double-marginalization, conflates women of color with immigrants, with non-native speakers, with lower-class women of color, and at times seem to be nearly synonymous with black women specifically. In other words, in the attempt to de-conflate women of color with women in general, Crinshaw herself performs conflation of a different kind, for the purposes of stressing an alignment among women of color through common political interests, which happen to have drifted too far from the interests of white women. My aim here is not to point out a disjuncture in Crinshaw’s text, nor to posit that as a black woman writing, her experience is used as an authority on a subject that cannot be understood by white women for lack of experience, but rather to state the Crinshaw’s aims are distinctly political, and that her insistence on the dangers of conflating identities seems useful insofar as it functions politically, rather than essentializing identity by claiming women of color to be absent of intragroup differences. Crinshaw romanticizes not the notion of women of color as a sustainable communal identity through its shared experiences, but the idea of women of color as embodying a further intragroup difference in feminism, as an identity that forms a “hard kernel” of group identity that must be freed from the conflation of feminism that sees all women as under the same patriarchy.

Finally, Deborah Thien’s “After or Beyond Feeling?” argues against a totally transhuman approach to emotion and affect, but, like Scott, argues for its political relevance in group formation: “placing emotion in the context of our always intersubjective relations offers more promise for politically relevant, emphatically human, geographies.” In the philosophical (and Spinozian) sense of affect as a way of engaging with the world, of a phenomenon functioning alongside and integral to rational thought, Thein contends that “distances between ‘us’ are always relational, and indeed that we are intimately subjected by emotion.” The romance of development then can be seen as a interpellative gesture, marking third world women (at least in small villages in Uttarakhand as new subjects through affectual relations). Yet, as Ben Anderson and Paul Harrison argue in their response to Thein’s article, if the social-subject positions of affect are grounded in the individual, then “what about idiomatic emotional categories which resist translation?” Here finally we can turn back to the cumulative logic of romance, which readily absorbs idiomatic readings of a concept—development, liberty—for the sake of fostering intersubjective relations.

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