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A vivid and detailed ethnographic account of the problems of professionalization and feminism in a community center project in one of Medellín, Colombia's most embattled working class districts

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Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.


In When Women Have Wings, Donna F. Murdock provides an insightful and detailed look at the tensions, contradictions, and positive moments apparent in a women's development project in Medellín, Colombia. Based on sixteen months of ethnographic field research in a working-class women's community center run by a local feminist NGO, this in-depth account illuminates both working- and middle-class women's perspectives on the professionalization of feminist NGOs and provides an unusual ethnographic lens on the process as it unfolds. Using detailed descriptions of the encounters between working- and middle-class women to highlight how the women's center attempts to negotiate the pressures of feminism and professionalization, Murdock depicts the frailty and complexity of cross-class organizing and the ways that this process may be threatened by professionalized NGO styles. Poignant accounts of women's attempts to navigate these challenges amid poverty and civil war show how changing political and economic demands may ultimately compromise feminist NGOs' long-held commitments to sustainable development practice focused on grassroots empowerment. With its clear and vivid style, When Women Have Wings fills a gap for scholars of feminist development, professionalized feminist NGOs, grassroots democracy, and Latin American women's movements and will contribute much-needed insight into the everyday workings of the problems of professionalization and democratic development.

"By offering a fine-grained, engaging and provocative account of the workings of feminist nongovernmental organizations and their working-class women constituencies, When Women Have Wings fills a gaping lacuna in the now expansive literature on women's movements in the Global South."
---Sonia E. Alvarez, Department of Political Sciences, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"Donna Murdock's in-depth ethnographic account will be an important contribution to the literature on women's movements, Latin American feminisms, and gender identity politics in the context of neoliberalism and political violence."
---Amy Lind, Department of Women's Studies, University of Cincinnati

"This remarkable book, full of ethnographic detail and lucid analysis, tells a compelling story of feminist struggles with neoliberalism in Latin America. Murdock takes us into the lives and struggles of working-class women and their feminist allies, illustrating how class divides are painfully exacerbated by shrinking state budgets, rising requirements for citizenship, and the professionalization of social movements. She nonetheless leaves us with the 'fragile wings of hope,' grounded in women's ongoing efforts to confront violence and make their voices heard in the face of difficult odds. This is important reading for feminists, scholars of development, and those concerned with global justice."
---Millie Thayer, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Donna F. Murdock is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Sewanee: The University of the South.