Introducing Gender, Development and Social Change

Series Editor Wendy Harcourt on her Palgrave series Gender, Development and Social Change

No-one would ever question that gender equality is key to development. As well as being Goal 3 of the new development framework - the Sustainable Development Goals - it has been since the Beijing Fourth UN World Conference on Women in 1995 a mandatory approach of global and national development policies and projects. Gender and development then, is the given background to this book series and one of the defining points of all of the books - 11 to date. But what is unique to the series is that all of the books focus on social change moments, events and ideas. Development is seen as a process of transformation and innovation and the series strives to pinpoint where gender and development analysis and practice create major ‘change moments’.  The Gender, Development and Social Change series, then, brings together path-breaking writing from scholars and activist researchers who are engaged in development as a process of transformation and change.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

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The series has a very distinctive cover designed by Serena Dinelli, an Italian psychologist and feminist turned artist in her retirement. She put together the collage after joining the workshop that led to the first book of the series which I edited on Women Reclaiming Sustainable Livelihoods (2012). Her image reflects the passionate debates that were held at the workshop. The women struggle determinedly to keep their world grounded and not taken from them by capitalism, represented by the ominous dark bird. The picture illustrates women’s strength - they will not let go - and how their struggles are intertwined with nature represented by the tree flourishing at the centre of the picture. It is a powerful image for the series with its distinct vision that speaks of both hope and struggle, replicated on the covers of each book in a multiplicity of colours.

Why put a series of books together?

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When I received the invitation from Palgrave I had just decided after 23 years to resign as Editor of Development, a journal also published by Palgrave. I had always brought to the general debates the gender issue. What could be more exciting than to focus on my deep concern on gender and development with a series of books. I saw the series as document where transformation happens and where young women, and engaged scholars as well as those working on policy could contribute their knowledge. It was time for a series where the knowledge and experience of gender and development experts could publish their reflections and analysis on how they have made change happen, below the rhetorical and policy goals.

Today’s gender and development hot topics

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An excellent group of gender and development practitioners and academics have contributed to the series bringing their passion and insight as well as erudite scholarship.  Some of them have responded directly to our invitation to write on topics that we knew were cutting edge in terms of gender, development and social change. For example, Anita Lacey, a young Pacific scholar was invited to expand an article she had written on urbanisation  with the resulting edited book Women, Urbanization and Sustainability (2017). This international collection that looks at the city as a gendered space and examines how women make change happen for their community with a focus on local alternatives and resistances to dominant modes of addressing urbanization challenges.  Another direct response to publish in the series is the collection by Bina Fernandez and her colleagues who have put together an in-depth study on Land, Labour and Livelihoods (2016). The book documents the impact of economic liberalizaion on women as they negotiate shifts in their livelihood options in contemporary India - the change moments happening in many diverse sectors. Similarly Zohra Khan on our prompting, has put together an excellent edited book with her colleagues at UN Women on Financing for Gender Equality (2017). The book spotlights how  gender-responsive budgeting in public budgetary policies, systems and processes has made a difference to realizing women's rights with very explicit policy, strategy and technical change moments.

Inter-generational debates

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Change happens in particular moments in time, and different generations of women have different experiences and insights. Three of the books look intergenerational and change. The second of my two edited books Bodies in Resistance (2017) is the product of several years of discussion among young and old feminists engaged in a complex struggle for democratic power in a neoliberal age and at how resistance is integral to possibilities for change. Under Development: Gender (2014) edited by Christine Verschuur et al looks at key issues in development studies through the prisms of gender and feminism, with both young and older engaged scholars demonstrating that gender is an indispensable tool for social change. A Journey into Women’s Studies (2014)  Rheka Pande is a fascinating journey of many women across the world who have struggled to give women's studies visibility.

In-depth regional studies

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Context is all important in development. The series also features in-depth studies in particular countries and regions. Gender, Sexuality and Power in Chinese Companies (2017) by Jieyu Liu  is the first ethnographic account of highly educated young professional women, hailed by the Chinese media as ‘white-collar beauties’ and their subversion to familial patriarchal objectification and commodification of women. Rural Women’s Power in South Asia (2014) by Pashington Obeng investigates caste/tribe, gender, age, class and religion in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Katherine Ranharter looks at gender inclusive policies in Kurdistan Regional Government in her Gender Equality and Development after Violent Conflict (2015). And the edited book by Margaret Alston looks at how a brutal rape of a young woman was a change moment that put gender based violence as key to women’s political position South Asia in relation in Women, Political Struggles and Gender Equality in South Asia (2014).

Plans for the series

The series shows how women have engaged in change with these studies on cities, agriculture, conflict, education, environment and social movements. To date we have many studies from a global perspective as well as South Asian and European authors, we are looking forward to more studies from Africa and the Middle East as well as more in depth understanding of the sustainable development and gender and development. And, we are well aware that the series has focused mostly on women - we are hoping to have contributions on men and masculinities in the future.

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 Dr Wendy Harcourt is Associate Professor in Critical Development and Feminist Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University, The Netherlands. Wendy joined ISS in November 2011 after 23 years working at the Society for International Development, International Secretariat in Rome as Editor of the journal Development and Director of Programmes. At SID she led global research projects in her areas of interest and expertise: gender, development alternatives and global health. In her current position at ISS she is leader of the Research Programme  ‘civic in innovation research initiative’ a new research initiative that looks at civil society’s contribution to development processes from a business, gender and political perspective. During her long career in development she has edited 12 books covering topics ranging from sustainable development to sexual health and rights, always applying a gender lens. 

See the full Gender, Development and Social Change series here.