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A Jumble of Needs

Women’s Activism and Neoliberalism in the Colonias of the Southwest

2010
Author:

Rebecca Dolhinow

A Jumble of Needs

Why is it so difficult for NGOs to successfully bring about social transformation?

A Jumble of Needs examines the leadership of Mexican women immigrants in three colonias in New Mexico, documenting the role of NGOs in shaping women’s activism in these communities. Ethnographer Rebecca Dolhinow uncovers why such attempts to exercise political agency are so rarely successful, revealing that many NGOs promote neoliberal ideals, resulting in continued disenfranchisement, despite the women’s activism.

Theoretically acute and ethnographically evocative, this book deepens our understanding of the national disgrace called colonias; yielding analysis that indicts the system while challenging the conventional wisdom surrounding such indictments, it leaves all who care to listen with a clearheaded call to action.

Charles R. Hale, University of Texas at Austin

Many immigrant communities along the U.S. border with Mexico are colonias, border settlements lacking infrastructure or safe housing. A Jumble of Needs examines the leadership of Mexican women immigrants in three colonias in New Mexico, documenting the role of NGOs in shaping women’s activism in these communities. Ethnographer Rebecca Dolhinow, who worked in the colonias, uncovers why such attempts to exercise political agency are so rarely successful.

Central to the relationship between NGOs and women activists in colonias, Dolhinow argues, is the looming presence of the neoliberal political project. In particular, the discourses of caretaking that NGOs use to recruit women into leadership positions simultaneously naturalize and depoliticize the activist work that these women do in their communities. Dolhinow discovers the connections between colonias as isolated communities and colonia leaders as political subjects who unintentionally reinforce neoliberal policy. In the long run, she finds, any politicization that might take place is limited to the women leaders and seldom involves the community as a whole.

Surprisingly, Dolhinow reveals, many NGOs promote neoliberal ideals, resulting in continued disenfranchisement, despite the women’s activism to better their lives, families, and communities.

A Jumble of Needs

Rebecca Dolhinow is assistant professor of women’s studies at California State University, Fullerton.

A Jumble of Needs

Theoretically acute and ethnographically evocative, this book deepens our understanding of the national disgrace called colonias; yielding analysis that indicts the system while challenging the conventional wisdom surrounding such indictments, it leaves all who care to listen with a clearheaded call to action.

Charles R. Hale, University of Texas at Austin

A Jumble of Needs is a must-read for scholars and activists of the U.S.-Mexico border. Rebecca Dolhinow tells an important story of the complex relationship among border residents, NGOs, and activists as they face the relentless exigencies of neoliberalism. At the heart of her account are the women activists in border colonias as they navigate these tricky relationships with the aim of shaping their communities around more hopeful futures.

Melissa W. Wright, Penn State