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Pots, pens and 'eating out the body': Cuisine and the gendering of African nations

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Abstract

Whether cooking in a pot in the back yard, or in a modern kitchen, African women have generally prepared food for their men. More recently, they have collated and written cookery books both in the West and in Africa so that the ruling elites, mostly all men, have been able to display their new ‘national cuisines’ on their states’ official websites. This article reviews how ‘national cuisines’ have emerged recently in parts of Africa and then examines how these emerging cuisines might contribute to the gendering of African nations. It will also contrast Western notions of ‘the slender body’ with some African notions, of ‘eating out the body’, building a respectable but large body to construct an ‘authentic physical masculinity’ on the one hand, and a healthy and fertile wife and mother on the other. The article investigates how this might be reflected in African national cuisines.

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This article considers how nations are imagined and characterised in relation to the national roles allocated to women, with particular reference to the early Irish state. It examines two related dichotomies, that between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ nationalisms, and the concept of the nation itself as ‘Janus-faced’, simultaneously looking ahead to the future and back to the past. It has been suggested that women bore the burden of the nation's ‘backward look’ towards a putative traditional rural past and an organic community, while men appropriated the nation's present and future. This thesis is examined with reference to Ireland and the representation of women in visual imagery and travel writing.
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Editor's Note: R. Charli Carpenter's (2002) essay review titled "Gender Theory in World Politics: Contributions of a Non-Feminist Standpoint?" in a recent issue of the International Studies Review (ISR) was bound to spark debate. The title was well chosen and instantly provocative. Many readers would assume that gender is a synonym for women, that those concerned with gender would be women, and that they would perforce be feminists. How, then, could there be a "non-feminist" view of gender and, from such a perspective, what could gender possibly be? Moreover, feminism in international relations (IR)--whether or not coincident with 'feminist IR"-has itself been controversial from the beginning. The intense mix of political, methodological, and substantive debates that has resulted has led to productive relationships between IR and other disciplines, inward migrations into IR of scholars anxious to engage with international politics, and intellectually exciting rethinking within IR and its subfields. The ISR editors have kindly provided space, not for replies and responses to Carpenter's piece as such, but for a Forum that examines the issues that her essay review raised "out there" in the readership. Carpenter herself has been very engaged in debating the issues since publication and deserves an opportunity to report back about what she has heard and what she thinks now. Indeed, the ISR editors encouraged contributors to the Forum to circulate drafts among themselves, and readers will find that the contributors have taken the opportunity to agree and disagree with each other in ways that further deepen the discussion. To frame the agenda for the Forum, contributors were given a set of questions to consider These issues helped us get started; beyond that, we have all been free to take our thoughts where we like and where we variously think that readers should go. The questions are listed below. We urge readers to think about what their own views are and to reflect on the answers offered here and elsewhere as well as in their own work.
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This study considers the central place occupied by food in Nigeria, using Igbo language and culture as focal point.
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The "woman question," this book asserts, is a Western one, and not a proper lens for viewing African society. A work that rethinks gender as a Western construction, The Invention of Women offers a new way of understanding both Yoruban and Western cultures. Author Oyeronke Oyewumi reveals an ideology of biological determinism at the heart of Western social categories--the idea that biology provides the rationale for organizing the social world. And yet, she writes, the concept of "woman," central to this ideology and to Western gender discourses, simply did not exist in Yorubaland, where the body was not the basis of social roles. Oyewumi traces the misapplication of Western, body-oriented concepts of gender through the history of gender discourses in Yoruba studies. Her analysis shows the paradoxical nature of two fundamental assumptions of feminist theory: that gender is socially constructed and that the subordination of women is universal. The Invention of Women demonstrates, to the contrary, that gender was not constructed in old Yoruba society, and that social organization was determined by relative age. A meticulous historical and epistemological account of an African culture on its own terms, this book makes a persuasive argument for a cultural, context-dependent interpretation of social reality. It calls for a reconception of gender discourse and the categories on which such study relies. More than that, the book lays bare the hidden assumptions in the ways these different cultures think. A truly comparative sociology of an African culture and the Western tradition, it will change the way African studies and gender studies proceed. "OyewÃÂ&sup1;mi's book is a departure from the majority of feminist writers on Africa. She goes further to show a society almost unintelligible using the common set of presumptions in feminist literature about how society is organized. Her indignation is real and forceful and her research and lucid presentation admirable." Modern African Studies "Oyewumi's work is an extremely interesting study that forces readers to rethink some of the accepted notions of colonialism." National Women's Studies Association Journal Oyeronke Oyewumi is assistant professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara
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All nationalisms are gendered, all are invented, snd all are dangerousdangerous, not in Eric Hobsbawm's sense as having to be opposed, but in the sense of representing relations to political power and to the technologies of violence. Nationalism, as Ernest Gellner notes, invents nations where they do not exist, and most modern nations, despite their appeal to an august and immemorial past, are of recent invention (Gellner, 1964). Benedict Anderson warns, however, that Gellner tends to assimilate 'invention' to 'falsity' rather than to 'imagining' and 'creation'. Anderson, by contrast, views nations as 'imagined communities' in the sense that they are systems of cultural representation whereby people come to imagine a shared experience of identification with an extended community (Anderson, 1991: 6). As such, nations are not simply phantasmagoria of the mind, but are historical and institutional practices through which social difference is invented and performed. Nationalism becomes, as a result, radically constitutive of people's identities, through social contests that are frequently violent and always gendered. But if the invented nature of nationalism has found wide theoretical currency, explorations of the gendering of the national imaginary have been conspicuously paltry. All nations depend on powerful constructions of gender. Despite nationalisms' ideological investment in the idea of popular unity, nations have historically amounted to the sanctioned institutionalization of gender difference. No nation in the world gives women and men the same access to the rights and resources of the nation-state. Rather than expressing the flowering into time of the organic essence of a timeless people, nations are contested systems of cultural representation that limit and legitimize peoples' access to the resources of the nation-state. Yet with the notable exception of Frantz Fanon, male theorists have seldom felt moved to explore how nationalism is
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