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Book Review: Maria Lugones’ Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes – A Personal Journey of Resistance

Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions by Maria Lugones (2003). Oxford: Rowman & Little Field Publishers, Inc. 240 pp. ISBN-10: 0742514595

Reviewed by Laura Murphy, University of Alberta

Connecting theory with lived experience can be challenging – especially when writing in resistance to hegemony. However, by drawing upon her own embodied and marginalized struggles, Maria Lugones negotiates this tension through relation to social spaces in her collection “Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes.” Lugones’ book is a compilation of her own essays, each of which are located on a continuum of theory and practical resistances. By example, her first few essays hinge on the theoretical with the latter reaching toward to discourse on concrete coalition building and purposeful transgression of spaces in the periphery. By employing a strategy of praxis throughout many of her writings, Lugones avoids “[thinking] what I won’t practice” while maintaining a “commitment against utopianism” (p. 5). Specifically, by embracing a poststructuralist-feminist lens, Lugones enables a decontexualization of hegemonic power by focusing on the following key themes: Trespassing, Traveling, Worlds and Playfulness (pgs. 8-30).

The political act of Trespassing provokes a visibility of dominant structures, which can then be mapped onto social spaces and spheres. This subversive transgression disrupts binaries of privilege and oppression, thus providing an alternative space where “we can sense each other as possible companions in resistance, where company goes against the grain of sameness as it goes against the grain of power” (p. 11). Further, this leaves room for collaborative resistance in the form of coalition building.

Traveling, as in ‘world’-traveling within Lugones’ context alludes to limited locations and mobilities as “all people who have been subordinated, exploited and enslaved have been forced to travel to “worlds” in which they animate subordinate beings” (p. 17). Borrowing from Marilyn Frye’s theory of “interlocking oppressions” Lugones’ encourages us as social theorists to attain “fluency in the mechanisms of oppression and insight in resisting those mechanisms” in traveling to spaces absent from the everyday experience (pgs. 18-19). Her concept of Traveling particularly resonates in Chapter 4.

Further, Lugones builds upon Danto’s theory of the relationship between symbolism and communication (p.21) and Guha’s “Prose of Counter-Insurgency” whereby revolutionary theories arise as a response to dominant hegemonies (p.23). She marries then challenges these two perspectives by developing an analysis of the complex and nuanced realities of different Worlds which “stand in relations of power to other worlds” (p. 21). Moreover, the creation of these worlds is born of “oppressions; unilinear, univocal, unilogical understandings of history; and abstract understandings of space” (p. 26). Lugones explicitly illustrates this by interrogating language – a particular feature of Chapter 1.

Finally, Lugones’ theme of Playfulness allows a consideration of crossings or boundaries as sites of play, which provide “openness to uncertainty” (p. 27). This poststructural tool opens up possibilities for resistance with a deconstruction of inequality within social spaces. Additionally, maintaining a sense of play is a powerful tool as it “keeps one focused on the crossing, on the process of metamorphosis” (p. 27).

Maria Lugones’ book is a thoughtful and productive reflection of the dominant discourses etched into our social spaces and movements. Her ability to ground theory through personal experiences, and contextually rich storylines, provides her arguments with an integral strength. She provides opportunistic spaces of resistance for marginalized and forgotten subjects to work through their erasures and counteract their own marginalized spaces. However, she focuses upon a resistance primarily from the oppressed. I think her call to action could be increasingly provocative if subjects from privileged positions outside of academia were also included in hegemonic resistances. Opening up such additional spaces would allow for a fuller, more complicated, yet multiplicitious resistance against structural and institutional inequalities within our communities.