Tanjeem, Nafisa

Job Placement: Assistant Professor, Global Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Webpage: https://www.lesley.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/nafisa-tanjeem
Committee: Hawkesworth, Mary (chair), Decena, Carlos; Rodgers, Yana; Brooks, Ethel; Dissiqi, Dina (outside member).
Dissertation: “Can Workers of the World Unite?” A multi-sited ethnography of transnational labor organizing across the apparel commodity network.

Bio

Nafisa Tanjeem is an Assistant Professor in Global Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Lesley University. She holds a Ph.D. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University in the USA, an M.A. in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto in Canada, and a B.S.S in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Nafisa’s research and teaching interests include transnational feminist theories, transnational social justice movements, globalization and feminist politics, and South Asia Studies. Her current book project examines transnational labor activism and activist discourses developed in relation to the deadliest garment industrial disaster in the human history - the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a factory building housing five garment factories in Savar, Bangladesh. Drawing on two-year-long physical and digital ethnographic observations, her project reveals how creative transnational feminist praxis in virtual and physical organizing spaces can uncover histories and struggles of women workers and grass root labor organizers, thereby transcending benevolent regimes of neoliberal transnational labor organizing.

Before joining Lesley, Nafisa taught at Rutgers University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. She has been actively involved in community organizing and social justice activism. As Community Organizer of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), she designed and implemented local campaigns aimed at promoting poverty reduction, gender equity, and youth engagement among South Asian immigrant communities in Toronto, Canada. She was also an organizer of United Students Against Sweatshops in the USA and “Meye” (Women) network in Bangladesh.

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes transnational labor activism and activist discourses developed in relation to the deadliest garment industrial disaster in the human history - the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a factory building housing five garment factories in Savar, Bangladesh. The project takes an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach, involving two-year-long physical and digital ethnographic observation and interviews with Bangladeshi women garment workers, labor rights activists, researchers, and policymakers in Bangladesh and the United States. The research asks what it means for grassroots labor organizers in the Global South, who are often restricted by national borders and neoliberal socio-economic-political forces, to engage in transnational solidarity building. It specifically examines why some grassroots organizing initiatives in the Global South can engage in solidarity building with transnational allies while others do not gain such access. Drawing on the case study of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh - a transnational governance structure that aspired to ensure safety and security for Bangladeshi garment workers after the Rana Plaza collapse, the dissertation argues that the post-Rana Plaza transnational collaboration between workers and labor organizers in the Global North and the South reproduces a neoliberal attention economy where gendered and racialized Southern workers receive attention from their Northern allies only if they speak the preferred language, subscribe for a preferred politics, and mobilize donor funds in a preferred way. The ethnographic fieldwork documents how attention from the Northern allies often comes at the cost of losing attention from Southern workers and activists. Therefore, the neoliberal attention economy offers the impossible choice between engaging in transnational collaboration while losing material impact on the ground and focusing on grounded struggles while losing transnational allies.