The Politics of Purchasing Power: Feminist Tourism and Women's Development in Nepal

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My purpose in this essay is to explore how ideas about women and development are created and circulated at the moment of consumption of wares produced at a women's development project in Nepal. I analyze the project as an example of the ways that women's development is an object of material and discursive consumption. Artifacts produced and sold by Nepali women, and purchased by tourists from the "first world," become part of an international exchange of power, money, and meaning. Based on a survey of consumers and ethnographic observations, I conclude that feminist tourists forge relations with disempowered "Others" through the pleasurable activity of an alienated market transaction. Consumers of crafts produced at a women's development project assume a position of empowerment and enlightenment, ready to help out their "women" counterparts through their support of an enterprise with circular logic: within the industry of development (although not necessarily for feminist tourists themselves), at least one of the central projects of development is the development project itself. At the same time, feminist tourists locate themselves outside the oppressive structures and ideologies affecting their "third-world sisters." This is a relation of sympathy and imagined empathy, with no sense of differential location within systems of oppression. They fail to examine or articulate the global link between their own purchasing power and local living conditions of Maithil women; the connection is effectively built out of the discourse.


Michigan Feminist Studies



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Women's & Gender Studies

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