Multicultural Neoliberalism, Global Textiles, and the Making of the Indebted Female Entrepreneur in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane
This chapter considers how Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane inadvertently normalizes homeworking and the entrepreneurial as the horizon of freedom and assimilation for the gendered postcolonial migrant in neoliberal Britain. In so doing, I argue that the novel raises wider questions about the ways in which neoliberal discourses of self-management, personal responsibility, and the entrepreneurial cut across the gendered international division of labour between the core and the periphery. In what ways might Nazneen’s socio-economic and geographical trajectory from the relatively impoverished peripheral space of a village in Bangladesh to the ostensibly prosperous core space of a public housing estate in East London shed light on the ways in which liberal discourses of women’s empowerment have been increasingly subordinated to the economic rationality of neoliberalism? And how might the novel’s references to textile manufacturing in Bangladesh and London be read as a trope for the global connections between the ostensibly disparate experiences of poverty, debt, South Asian women’s labour, and the socio-economic empowerment of the multicultural entrepreneur? The narrative trajectories of Nazneen and Hasina may appear to be discontinuous with the rhetoric of female self-empowerment in discourses of microfinance in South Asia. However, if Nazneen’s narrative of assimilation to the entrepreneurial culture of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century London is compared to the emancipatory rhetoric of the indebted female entrepreneur in narratives of the Grameen Bank, the socio-economic differences between the plight of South Asian women textile workers in the core and the periphery of the contemporary world economic system start to seem less clear. Against the promise of happiness associated with the lures of diaspora, this essay suggests that a consideration of the genre and form of contemporary novels such as Brick Lane helps to illuminate the ways in which late liberal discourses of multiculturalism (Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) are increasingly subordinated to the economic norms and values of neoliberalism.
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