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Brenna Bhandar & Rafeef Ziadah, Revolutionary Feminisms (2020).

This edited collection came to press as many of us around the world “went home”. Spring (Canadian spring, at least) 2020 had become unfamiliarly quiet. There was so little traffic on the streets that I could hear the ice-maker in our fridge on the main floor producing ice even though my bedroom (on the second floor) door was closed.

Despite the quiet, those work-from-home days were chaotic and exhausting. My days were filled with one zoom meeting after another. As the Dean of a Faculty, I found myself making endless and ostensibly urgent and important decisions, only to change those decisions the next day. I imagined someone watching me “at work”. They would have watched a middle-aged woman, hunched over a small Ikea desk in the corner of her bedroom sitting quietly, but staring intensely, at a laptop screen for hours, periodically yelling loudly at the screen. My days were both filled with others and yet isolating and alienating.

Revolutionary Feminisms arrived in my regular mail slot at home in those (now obviously) early days. It shot through the mail slot in a moment when I badly needed something beyond the seeming urgency of the daily. Although it was almost impossible to shift gears in the dramatic way the book demands, it asked me (and us) to consider “the belief that freedom requires revolutionary transformation in the organisation of the economy, social relations, political structures, and psychic and symbolic worlds, and that this must take place across multiple scales—from intimate relations between individuals to those among individuals, communities and the state.” (P. 1.) That orientation was profoundly unfamiliar in those early days of the pandemic, and I think in spite of some sense of “opening up” in at least some regions around the world, it remains so.

There are so many things I want to tell you about this edited collection that reveal its subtle magic. Things that if not stated explicitly, can slide by you as a reader. I’ve noted the first, which was the timing of its publication. That was unintentional, but fortunate. How badly we needed work with long-term vision in this era of short-term urgency.

Second, the chapters in the work offer interviews with fascinating thinkers and scholars: Avtar Brah, Gail Lewis, Vron Ware, Himani Bannerji, Gary Kinsman, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Silvia Federici, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Avery Gordon, and Angela Y. Davis. In reading the book, we are offered access to a series of related conversations—personal and intimate, political and reflective. The conversational format interrupts the inevitable self-involvement of this past year (Am I safe? Is my family safe?), and it invites us into something tentative and exploratory, rooted in experience and expertise. Conversations are such regular features of daily life, and yet the kinds of conversations reflected in this collection might remind you (as they reminded me) that the last 18 months has left us more desperate than we might yet know for conversations that ask us to think beyond ourselves and to engage with the potential for revolution that this era might offer.

Third, the edited collection offers a web of connections. I love when I’m reading something and the authors are linking people, places, and ideas that to me seem disparate and disconnected. Here the editors bring scholars, activists, social, political and economic movements, and critical theories and methods, into dialogue with each other. When authors do an artful job of creating webs of connections you don’t notice it’s happening—something that could easily be the case here. The editors have enough of a shared vision of the potential for revolutionary feminisms that they create a context for the interviews that feels like it makes perfect sense. But, of course, if someone asked me to connect Ella Baker (a figure in the US civil rights movement) with solidarity with Palestine, I would have more-than-paused. Or if they had asked me to link the defeat of fascism in Italy in the 1970s and 2020 framings of the unaddressed threat of climate change the kind of quiet that descended on my house (when I could hear the ice being made) would have been the result.

The interview portion of the work is divided into three broad themes: diaspora/migration/empire, colonialism/capitalism/resistance, and abolition feminism. Three or four interviews comprise each division. The interview-style makes the work both highly accessible and (perhaps contradicting that) unexpectedly dense. When you read each interview, you are diving into the pool of the knowledges of the interview and interviewee. At times, I was swimming in an ocean without reference points. But the conversation continues and if you can tolerate that sometimes those orienting reference points are gone (because at least speaking for myself, I entered these conversations without the same depth as the editors and interviewee), then you are in for a delight.

This is a book that went to press as many of us “went home”. It is perfectly crafted for this moment as we contemplate our re-emergence. And the contribution it makes—bold in its framing and focus—will shift how we understand feminisms and call on us to contemplate what our freedom entails.

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Cite as: Kim Brooks, The Timing is Perfect for Revolutionary Feminisms, JOTWELL (November 8, 2021) (reviewing Brenna Bhandar & Rafeef Ziadah, Revolutionary Feminisms (2020)),