Until recently, few scholars outside of Ecuador studied the country’s history. In the past few years, however, its rising tide of indigenous activism has brought unprecedented attention to this small Andean nation. Even so, until now the significance of gender issues to the development of modern Indian-state relations has not often been addressed. As she digs through Ecuador’s past to find key events and developments that explain the simultaneous importance and marginalization of indigenous women in Ecuador today, Erin O’Connor usefully deploys gender analysis to illuminate broader relationships between nation-states and indigenous communities.
O’Connor begins her investigations by examining the multilayered links between gender and Indian-state relations in nineteenth-century Ecuador. Disentangling issues of class and culture from issues of gender, she uncovers overlapping, conflicting, and ever-evolving patriarchies within both indigenous communities and the nation’s governing bodies. She finds that gender influenced sociopolitical behavior in a variety of ways, mediating interethnic struggles and negotiations that ultimately created the modern nation. Her deep research into primary sources—including congressional debates, ministerial reports, court cases, and hacienda records—allows a richer, more complex, and better informed national history to emerge.
Examining gender during Ecuadorian state building from “above” and “below,” O’Connor uncovers significant processes of interaction and agency during a critical period in the nation’s history. On a larger scale, her work suggests the importance of gender as a shaping force in the formation of nation-states in general while it questions recountings of historical events that fail to demonstrate an awareness of the centrality of gender in the unfolding of those events.
Raw Material analyzes how Victorians used the pathology of disease to express deep-seated anxieties about a rapidly industrializing England’s relationship to the material world. Drawing on medicine, literature, political economy, sociology, anthropology, and popular advertising, Erin O’Connor explores “the industrial logic of disease,” the dynamic that coupled pathology and production in Victorian thinking about cultural processes in general, and about disease in particular. O’Connor focuses on how four particularly troubling physical conditions were represented in a variety of literature. She begins by exploring how Asiatic cholera, which reached epidemic proportions on four separate occasions between 1832 and 1865, was thought to represent the dangers of cultural contamination and dissolution. The next two chapters concentrate on the problems breast cancer and amputation posed for understanding gender. After discussing how breast cancer was believed to be caused by the female body’s intolerance to urban life, O'Connor turns to men’s bodies, examining how new prosthetic technology allowed dismembered soldiers and industrial workers to reconstruct themselves as productive members of society. The final chapter explores how freak shows displayed gross deformity as the stuff of a new and improved individuality. Complicating an understanding of the Victorian body as both a stable and stabilizing structure, she elaborates how Victorians used disease as a messy, often strategically unintelligible way of articulating the uncertainties of chaotic change. Over the course of the century, O’Connor shows, the disfiguring process of disease became a way of symbolically transfiguring the self. While cholera, cancer, limb loss, and deformity incapacitated and even killed people, their dramatic symptoms provided opportunities for imaginatively adapting to a world where it was increasingly difficult to determine not only what it meant to be human but also what it meant to be alive. Raw Material will interest an audience of students and scholars of Victorian literature, cultural history, and the history of medicine.