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An Alliance of Women

Immigration and the Politics of Race

2006
Author:

Heather Merrill

An Alliance of Women

An innovative exploration of urban Italian politics, immigration, and European identity

Heather Merrill investigates how migrants and Northern Italians struggle over meanings and negotiate social and cultural identities. Using rich ethnographic material, Merrill traces the emergence of Alma Mater—an anti-racist organization formed to address problems encountered by migrant women. Through this analysis, she reveals the dynamics of an alliance consisting of women from many countries of origin and religious and class backgrounds.

An Alliance of Women is simply engrossing. Heather Merrill scrupulously balances ethnographic material with theoretical insight.

Mia Fuller, University of California, Berkeley

In the 1980s, Italy transformed from a country of emigration to one of immigration. Italians are now faced daily with the presence of migrants from all over Africa, parts of South and Central America, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. While much attention has been paid to the impact on Italians, few studies have focused on the agency of migrants themselves. In An Alliance of Women, Heather Merrill investigates how migrants and Italians struggle over meanings and negotiate social and cultural identities.

Taking as a starting point the Italian crisis over immigration in the early 1990s, Merrill examines grassroots interethnic spatial politics among female migrants and Turin feminists in Northern Italy. Using rich ethnographic material, she traces the emergence of Alma Mater—an anti-racist organization formed to address problems encountered by migrant women. Through this analysis, Merrill reveals the dynamics of an alliance consisting of women from many countries of origin and religious and class backgrounds.

Highlighting an interdisciplinary approach to migration and the instability of group identities in contemporary Italy, An Alliance of Women presents migrants grappling with spatialized boundaries amid growing nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment in Western Europe.

An Alliance of Women

Heather Merrill is assistant professor of geography and anthropology at Dickinson College.

An Alliance of Women

An Alliance of Women is simply engrossing. Heather Merrill scrupulously balances ethnographic material with theoretical insight.

Mia Fuller, University of California, Berkeley

An engaging and a ‘hopeful’ narrative about an important anti-racist women’s alliance.

Canadian Journal of Sociology Online

A rigorous examination rich in the narrative of migrant women.

Reference & Research Book News

An Alliance of Women details the challenges the members of an immigrant women’s organization face in negotiating their social and cultural identities in late 20th century Italy. Anyone seeking to learn more about immigrants, immigrant organizations, labor movements, and gender politic in Turin specifically will rejoice in this book’s richness.

Urban Geography

Heather Merrill’s scrupulous and at the same time passionate ethnographic approach offers a research methodology that allows her to explore, analyze and discuss in detail the limits and the potentials of this experience of inter-ethnic women’s alliance in contemporary Italy. Moreover, the narrative style adopted by the author makes the book enjoyable to read not only to academics but also to a wider public of readers, including pro-immigrants activists, feminists and policy-makers alike. Highly recommended reading to all those interested in understanding the complex intersection of gender, class, cultural-ethnic and also spatial senses of belonging in the shaping of contemporary forms of international migration.

Social and Cultural Geography

Merrill’s methodological approach makes her research project broadly informative as well as historically deep, as if it grew horizontally and vertically at once. Designated as a book of anthropology and geography, the two fields in which Merrill has been active as a scholar, this volume has potentials for larger applications. It is a valid contribution to the topic of immigration within a global perspective in such diverse fields as ethnic studies, cultural studies, women’s studies, as well as Italian studies. The book offers a precise look at an inspiring Italian case that provides the opportunity to productively explore the complexities of contemporary Italy in its struggle between intractable self-forged myths of homogeneity and always new and challenging forms of internal difference.

Italian Culture

Merrill richly describes the sometimes successful, but often volatile and painful, working relations of an organization defined by the needs and goals of women with distinct national, religious, class, political, and generational backgrounds. Alliance of Women offers a compelling account of the constant struggle to find a common ground amongst women who identify with distinct national, ethnic, racialized, and gendered roles in local and diasporic settings.

Gender, Place, & Culture

Heather Merrill makes several important contributions to our understanding of diasporas and race, the feminization of migration, and the politics of immigrant incorporation into contemporary Europe.

Patricia Ehrkamp, Gender, Place, & Culture

A sensitive analysis and empirical demonstration of intersectionality. This is what most feminist geographers hope to achieve in their research.

Linda McDowell, Gender, Place, & Culture

Alliance of Women is provocative, beautifully written, and adept at elaborating the dilemmas of counter-hegemonic organizing in a world rife with contradictions.

Heidi J. Nast, Gender, Place, & Culture

Heather Merrill’s An Alliance of Women does the important work of carefully documenting a local history of feminist organizing across racialized, classed, and post-colonial fault lines. Over time this will prove an important historical text for its effective documentation of economic, cultural, and political postcolonial subjects. Merrill provides a rich sense of place alongside the practice and praxis of organizing among feminist, immigrant women. It is clear that Merrill spent years in the field and these years of friendship, participation, and presence infuse her writing with a depth of knowledge and compassion. By writing well, Merrill not only communicates a wealth of information, she also narrates, embodies, shares stories, and historicizes with empirical detail. Merrill’s text is an important contribution.

Alison Mountz, Gender, Place, & Culture

The book is an engaging and interesting account of the politics of race and migration in Italy. Merrill has a particular talent for describing places and giving the reader a feel for place.

The Geographical Review

This book will certainly be of great interest not only to feminists and to Italianists but also to anyone trying to understand the effects on the ground of shifting global economic policies, of labor movements, and of political organizing within NGOs.

American Ethnologist

An Alliance of Women

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Immigration and the Spatial Politics of Scale

1. The Spatial Politics of Race and Gender
2. Alma Mater: The Architecture of an Interethnic Social Politics
3. Limiting the Laboring: Industrial Restructuring and the New Migration
4. Extracomunitari in Post- Fordist Turin
5. Race, Politics, and Protest in the Casbah, or San Salvario, Africa
6. Turin Feminism: From Workerism to Interethnic Gender Alliance
7. Making Alma Mater: Gender, Race, and Other Differences

Conclusion: Speaking Subject

Epilogue: Gender and Globalization at the G8 in Genoa, July 2001
Notes
Bibliography

Index