Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women’s Pan-Pacific

Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women’s Pan-Pacific

University of Hawai’i Press
July 2009
304 pages
15 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8248-3342-8

Fiona Paisley, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities
Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia

Perspectives on the Global Past

Since its inception in 1928, the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association (PPWA) has witnessed and contributed to enormous changes in world and Pacific history. Operating out of Honolulu, this women’s network established a series of conferences that promoted social reform and an internationalist outlook through cultural exchange. For the many women attracted to the project—from China, Japan, the Pacific Islands, and the major settler colonies of the region—the association’s vision was enormously attractive, despite the fact that as individuals and national representatives they remained deeply divided by colonial histories.

Glamour in the Pacific tells this multifaceted story by bringing together critical scholarship from across a wide range of fields, including cultural history, international relations and globalization, gender and empire, postcolonial studies, population and world health studies, world history, and transnational history. Early chapters consider the first PPWA conferences and the decolonizing process undergone by the association. Following World War II, a new generation of nonwhite women from decolonized and settler colonial nations began to claim leadership roles in the Association, challenging the often Eurocentric assumptions of women’s internationalism. In 1955 the first African American delegate brought to the fore questions about the relationship of U.S. race relations with the Pan-Pacific cultural internationalist project. The effects of cold war geopolitics on the ideal of international cooperation in the era of decolonization were also considered. The work concludes with a discussion of the revival of “East meets West” as a basis for world cooperation endorsed by the United Nations in 1958 and the overall contributions of the PPWA to world culture politics.

Read the introduction here.

The limits of internationalist interventions into the politics of “race” and the historical legacies of imperialism, nationalism and colonialism familiar to much contemporary world history were fundamental questions preoccupying women at the PPWA also. As I argue in this book, the resilience of race thinking and the limits of the cross-cultural ethos within the PPWA should be read not as constituting the organization’s failure to somehow transcend history, but rather as a reminder of the inherence of racialism to modern feminism and liberal thought more generally. Wishing to be unbounded by territory yet inevitably preoccupied by territorial issues, the Pan-Pacific conferences discussed in the following chapters provide unique insight into the profoundly interconnected histories of race and gender that have shaped feminist internationalism, as well as other progressive politics, and illustrate their on-the-ground, embodied, and passionate contestations.  By viewing the interwar Pacific as a newly conceived territory of modernity in both spatial and temporal terms, this book sees the interwar period as a pivotal moment in the twentieth century, one in which new ways of thinking about the world opened up, however partially, to questions of diversity and difference at the global level that still occupy us today. Not least, these decades saw new accounts of the flow of populations across the Pacific, encouraging a generation of ethnographers, demographers, and anthropometrists to declare the similarities between the races and cultures and in the Pacific in particular, to announce the future intermixing of peoples and cultures as the Pacific solution to world affairs, and to predict the future advancement of world civilization. Warwick Anderson points out that racial intermixture was claimed by many of those undertaking studies in the Pacific such as Felix and Marie Keesing, who feature in this study, to announce the way forward for humankind, thus envisaging interracial relations in stark contrast to the disavowal of racial mixing in the United States and its anxious management in Australia and elsewhere. The Keesings were also critical of the mandate of their own country, New Zealand, in Samoa (alongside the United States), contrasting that regime with their ideal of advancement through dynamic racial and cultural flows.  As Tony Ballantyne explains, the region was conceptualized spatially and temporally as the product of waves of population linking more recent colonization to deep time.

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