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World, Class, Women: Global Literature, Education, and Feminism

reviewed by Sarah M. McGough - 2004

coverTitle: World, Class, Women: Global Literature, Education, and Feminism
Author(s): Robin Truth Goodman
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415944910, Pages: 200, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

In response to many recent books in the area of gender studies and feminist pedagogy that call for the privileging of women’s experiences, celebration of caring, and respect for the nurturing life of the private home, Robin Truth Goodman issues a timely warning.  She cautions her educationist audience of the many problems that result from upholding the private at the expense of the public.  Unlike others who discuss privatization, she centers the conversation in the context of global capital and couches her reply in terms of critical pedagogy and Marxist analysis, revealing that the public is currently viewed as a “competitive private-business model” (p. 3) and calling for a re-envisioning.

Goodman encourages feminist and educational theorists to conceive the private as integrated with the public, yet, perhaps fitting for the challenge she issues, she never fully spells out how this integrated public might look.  Problematically, this can leave the average reader operating under traditional notions of both the private and the public and seeing them as directly opposed, rather than integrated, in her work.  The integration she proposes, however, should not be seen as a simple compromise between the public and private, but rather a strengthened and refashioned sense of the public that incorporates certain aspects of the private even as it serves to work against privatization.

Goodman locates schools as a chief platform where public/private debates are playing out and as a key place where a new public sphere can be shaped and exercised.  Drawing heavily on first wave feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Virginia Woolf, Goodman reclaims education as a public good.  And, by accentuating early feminism’s focus on civic political participation in light of contemporary Third World literature, Goodman reveals problems with forsaking civic activity.  Here, she portrays empowerment as the ability to publicly engage in sophisticated political activity, a marked opposition to other current feminists who describe empowerment in terms of private accumulation, identity construction, and self-esteem.


Goodman makes a stimulating argument against theorists of care and feminist epistemologists who privilege emotional knowledge.  She claims that these views, which promote the immediate and emotive, fail to analyze or challenge the public.  I anticipate that these scholars would counter argue that better understandings of emotions which arise in specific social situations and provoke certain actions may offer insight into intersubjectivity and, therefore, the public, as well as our own embodied experience of the oppression resulting from the current political and economic push toward privatization.  Rightly, however, Goodman goes on to argue that teaching conceived as emotion-guided nurturing or familial caring renders education a private responsibility and a private event accountable to private interests.  Furthermore, feminization of the teaching profession as well as other entry level service jobs is shown to justify and perpetuate inadequate labor conditions.  Contra psychological educational theorists who claim women’s experiences and ways of acting are not being recognized, Goodman counters that they are and, moreover, to such an extent that they have become the “central rationality of the new economy” (p. 161).  The crux of this most intriguing argument lies in her explanation, via analysis of global literature and current labor statistics, that global capitalism depends on women performing unprotected and underpaid labor from home—a practice of privatization that further exploits rather than promotes the well being of women.

Goodman engages in a particularly noteworthy analysis of the Harry Potter series in the second chapter.  Here, drawing on the sensitivities of critical theory for detecting the privileging of the private within media and for providing a materialist account of the gender struggle therein, Goodman exposes corporatist privatization and endangerment of a genuine public in a book series that I suspect many readers have uncritically celebrated.  In particular, she perceptively analyzes the use of magic in the books, likening it to the magic of capital which evokes joy through private consumption, creates the illusion that it can heal social problems, conceives freedom as absence of state repression, and promotes competition.  Disagreeing with postmodern cultural critics who uphold magic as revelatory of the contingency of living and of problems with Enlightenment reason, Goodman warns that magic is a hegemonic tool, maliciously shaping modern ideology.  She points toward George W. Bush’s ‘magical’ arguments for preemptive strikes and the capitalistic success of the author of Harry Potter as examples.  Rather than a fruitful alternative discourse, then, magic for Goodman is a central tenet of aggressive, autonomous, privatization ideology.

Within her discussion of the Harry Potter series as well as two other books written by Third World authors, Goodman subtly introduces educational theorists to the insightful work of media critic, Robert McChesney and more directly calls attention to the work of Henry Giroux whose name appears both on the back cover and many times throughout World, Class, Women.  Goodman points toward media and cultural studies as key fields for educational theorists to explore when analyzing the current state of education.  Their work in achieving her central goal of re-envisioning and fashioning a new public is less clear, however.

The influence of media and cultural studies is evident in her account of the Pegasus novels honored yearly by the Mobil Corporation.  Against multiculturalists who have celebrated one novel in particular, The Bone People, she suggests that this and other Pegasus novels should more appropriately be interpreted as affirming the values of large global corporations and as portraying small Third World cultures as unaffected by the economic and environmental struggles such companies cause.  She suggests that these novels are selected because they present their characters as free and self-determined individuals whose pursuits are hindered by public institutions.  Moreover, they make global capitalism appear natural, inevitable, and good even as it dictates individuals’ desires and narrows notions of politics, including a virtual deleting of the public sphere.  The books encourage minority ethnic groups to take up pastoral images of their heritage combined with contemporary political-economic values to live contently under the oppressive system of global capitalism, rather than asking, as Goodman and Nancy Fraser (1997) suggest, how pursing an identity politics via public debate might alleviate oppression and change the system imposing it.  She effectively encourages readers to consider multiculturalism as itself a product of globalization, which must actually work against global capitalism if it is to be counter hegemonic.  As a product, various cultural groups are actually being constructed as market cultures who are targeted consumers as well as producers of goods that are labeled ethnic and exotic.


These provocative and interdisciplinary arguments make a noteworthy contribution to the study of globalization, privatization, and the future of education.  They issue an important call for feminists and educational theorists to rework the public within schools in ways that account for and counteract the privatization of global capitalism.  Despite the call, Goodman devotes most of the book to pointing out instances of privatization and their problems, leaving the reader who is looking for direction in how to re-envision the public largely unfulfilled and with a good deal of work to do—certainly not a bad thing given the heralding intention of the book, but a potential frustration for some.


Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the ‘postsocialist’ condition. New York: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2290-2293
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11321, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 12:59:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Sarah McGough
    University of Illinois
    E-mail Author
    SARAH M. McGOUGH is a doctoral student in Philosophy of Education and Womenís Studies at the University of Illinois. Her primary areas of scholarship include educational theory and pragmatism. Her most recent work investigates how flexible corporeal habits may assist students in fruitfully changing the ways they enact and respond to race and gender.
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