On Nira Yuval-Davis’ The Politics of Belonging

Reviewed Work: The Politics of Belonging: Intersectional Contestations by Nira Yuval-Davis
Review by: Ben Gidley
Vol. 48, No. 3 (JUNE 2014), pp. 627-629

Part of a dual book review symposium on Nira’s book and on Belonging: Solidarity and Division in Modern Societies by Montserrat Guibernau – details at the bottom of this post.


This book exemplifies a particular mode of doing sociology that Yuval-Davis has developed. This is firstly collaborative. The discussion here draws on and generously acknowledges a series of collective scholarly efforts, most notably with Floya Anthias but also with Erene Kaptani, Marcel Stoetzler and others. This collaborative approach to research is threatened by a political economy in the academy which promotes the deepening individualism of our research culture. Second, it is engaged. Yuval-Davis’ scholarship is always concerned with understanding the social world in order to change it – in a more meaningful way than that captured by the now ubiquitous term ‘impact’. Third, it is genuinely interdisciplinary, drawing on and contributing to ethnic and racial studies, feminism and gender studies, political theories of nationalism and fundamentalism, and the core of sociology itself, to name just some.

And, fourth, it is a global sociology. For example, in the chapter on the national question, the analysis moves from the English Defence League, Kurdish youth in East London and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India to First Nation movements in Canada to make a case about the relationship between a politics of ‘indigeneity’ and the neo-liberal order. This mobile perspective powerfully reveals the parochialism, exceptionalism and ethnocentrism which dominate both social theory and much activism.

Yuval-Davis’ insistence that politics is always intersectional and always locational is an important corrective to the modes of reasoning which have come to dominate our geopolitical imaginary, both the hegemonic vision of a clash of civilizations and the ‘anti-imperialist’ mirroring of that vision in ahistorical, simplistic accounts of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘clash of fundamentalisms’. The intersectional and locational imaginary instead opens up the possibility both of more nuanced understanding and of more meaningful solidarities. On the other hand, many more fashionable contemporary articulations of intersectionality rely too heavily on identitarian forms of standpoint epistemology, retreating into a sternly moralistic and close-minded political practice; Yuval-Davis’ expansive and restlessly questioning approach – always pushing towards more complex forms of analysis and more concrete forms of praxis – offers an important corrective to this too.

Dual Book Review Symposium

About bengidley

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Science, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. View all posts by bengidley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: