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Comptes rendus

Ioana Cîrstocea, La fin de la femme rouge ? Fabriques transnationales du genre après la chute du Mur

Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2019
Chiara Bonfiglioli
Référence(s) :

Cîrstocea, Ioana, 2019, La fin de la femme rouge ? Fabriques transnationales du genre après la chute du Mur, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 306 p., ISBN : 2753577439.

Texte intégral

1This volume investigates the geopolitical mechanisms of knowledge production after 1989, retracing the emergence of the concept of gender and of its diffusion at the international level in the 1990s and 2000s. It also looks at the local application of the concept of gender to the post-socialist context of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, where it took a “life of its own” during the processes of internationalization, democratization and transition to a market economy. Of Romanian origin, Cîrstocea is a sociologist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Her sociological approach is reflected both in the study of the spaces and institutions of knowledge production where the category of gender emerges (the Network of East-West Women [NEWW] and the Open Society Institute [OSI]), as well as in the prosopographic analysis that she applies to 86 feminist “pioneers” in the different post-socialist countries. She selected the profiled women because they participated in three or more of the twenty events organized by NEWW and OSI in the 1990s; her analysis concentrates on their expertise in gender and women’s studies, at the intersection between activist and institutional spaces. Given that the emergence of feminism in the post-socialist period is often studied through memoirs and activist texts from that time, Cîrstocea’s approach highlighting institutional, sociological and philanthropic entanglements is most refreshing, as it points at the importance of international mechanisms of governance in the professionalization and institutionalization of local feminist knowledges. The book is extremely innovative in providing empirical grounding to the existing literature on the “NGOization” of feminism and in focusing on the role of “gender experts” within processes of democratization in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

2The book is organized into three parts, each comprising several chapters. The first part reconstructs the activities of NEWW, a transnational organization which connected U.S. feminist activists and academics with feminist activists in Eastern Europe. Cîrstocea retraces the history of this overlooked organization through archival research into NEWW conferences and institutional history, as well as oral history interviews with some of its founders, including the late Ann Snitow, who is recognized widely as the moving force behind the initiative. Beginning as an informal transnational project shortly after 1989 by radical second-wave feminists with a personal or professional interest in Eastern Europe, NEWW evolved towards an NGO by the end of the 1990s, with a first permanent bureau in Washington D.C. and a Polish headquarters from 1998. The organization and its activists, therefore, underwent a process of professionalization, which corresponded chronologically with the transnational demand for gender-based expertise on Eastern Europe from the 1990s. Already in this first part, the author underlines the contradiction between the radicalism of NEWW founders and the inevitable power differentials that exist when it comes to their encounters with Eastern European women.

3The second part of the book addresses another fundamental actor behind the diffusion of gender-based expertise in Eastern Europe, namely the OSI, initiated by George Soros. The OSI had national branches in most countries in Eastern Europe and was among the funders of the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik and the main funding source of the Central European University (CEU). The chapters in this part reconstruct the gradual emergence of seminars and conferences related to women’s and gender studies which culminated in the creation of the Gender Studies Department at CEU. It also discusses the regional Network Women’s Program funded by OSI, which relied on local critical knowledges while reproducing a hegemonic view of post-socialist countries and of gender relations in the region before and after the end of the Cold War. The references to the gender politics of former socialist regimes, notably, were abandoned in favour of Western and liberal conceptualizations of democracy and gender mainstreaming. The professionalization of feminist activists from former socialist countries happened through OSI and NEWW circuits – most of these activists attended the same conferences and summer schools, and were in contact with each other – resulting in the creation of the figure of the “Eastern European feminist.” These new transnational networks add to the professionalization of feminist activists and scholars at the local level, leading some to an international career within global think-tanks and foundations, and helping others to strengthen their position as leading figures of women’s and gender studies in their respective countries.

4This aspect is explored in the first two parts of the book, but most in depth in the third part, which addresses in detail the biographies of the “pioneers” of gender research in the post-socialist region. In the 1990s, these women were usually in their thirties, highly educated, with a predominant background in the humanities, and already established as scholars and activists in their respective national settings. Many of them had graduated in English literature, and had studied abroad, which gave them a significant advantage in the so-called transition. Some could also count on a dissident background, for instance in the case of Poland, or on a second-wave feminist background, as in the case of women from former Yugoslavia. In this part too, Cîrstocea shows how the critical stance of some of these pioneers underwent a process of institutionalization and bureaucratization, turning them into sought-after experts for national governments and international organizations due to the increasing importance of gender-based expertise. The case studies of Romania and Serbia are addressed in this third section to highlight the contradictions and the ambivalences of such processes, particularly when it comes to the encounter and conflict between activist and academic agendas in the process of institutionalization of women’s and gender studies.

5Cîrstocea’s contribution to the study of transnational women’s networks and feminist activism is significant, particularly when it comes to her methodology, which productively reveals the underlying mechanisms of institutionalization and professionalization of gender expertise in the 1990s to different geographical and geopolitical contexts. The prosopographic approach is also very productive when it comes to West-East connections – a neglected area when it comes to global studies of transnational feminism, which has tended in recent years to concentrate on North-South conflicts and encounters. The oral history narratives add further richness and texture to the volume, and I would have liked to read more of these. Understandably, the focus on prosopography and on collective processes of knowledge production meant that the author had to give less prominence to individual women’s subjective narratives and experiences. This does not detract from the relevance and interest of the volume, but rather makes us want to know more about the different key figures who advanced the transnational circulation of gender expertise in post-socialist Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The monograph will be of interest to scholars working in the fields of sociology, comparative politics and gender studies.

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Chiara Bonfiglioli, « Ioana Cîrstocea, La fin de la femme rouge ? Fabriques transnationales du genre après la chute du Mur »Balkanologie [En ligne], Vol. 16 n° 2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2021, consulté le 27 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Chiara Bonfiglioli

University College Cork

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