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Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs

, 320 pages
September 2001
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Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs

Gender Identity Politics in Nicaragua, 1979–1999

How did a group of overwhelmingly poor, older women in a third-world country emerge to become a powerful force in their country's politics? Founded during the Nicaraguan revolution, the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs of Matagalpa comprises women who supported the revolution but did not carry guns; who, in their words, gave up their loved ones to the struggle.

In this book Lorraine Bayard de Volo focuses on this group to reveal what she calls "the dominant but rarely examined maternal identity politics of revolution, war, and democratization." Dividing Nicaraguan politics (1979-99) into four periods, Bayard de Volo uses both macro- and micro-levels of analysis to capture the dialectical relationship between large-scale political processes and the "micropolitics" of collective action. She shows how Sandinistas and anti-Sandinistas mobilized both mothers and maternal imagery and in turn analyzes how this imagery was adopted and manipulated by the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs. Employing a feminist Gramscian approach to address the gendered nature of cultural politics and collective identity, the author shows how, in the battle to capture Nicaraguan hearts and minds, both sides relied primarily on maternal images of women. Such "mobilizing identities" propelled women into unprecedented levels of collective action, yet at the same time channeled them away from feminist priorities.

Lorraine Bayard de Volo is an assistant professor in the departments of political science and women's studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

"This is a wonderfully stimulating and rich book. It is well-organized and written in a clear and engaging style. Analysis and description are interwoven seamlessly and presented in a logical fashion. The language and ideas are accessible to a wide range of readers, including students. Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs makes an important contribution not only to the study of maternal politics but more generally to the existing literature on women, gender ideology, war, the state, nationalism, and social movements."

"[A]n extremely insightful and engaging book... an analysis of a rich case study that will be of interest to anyone working on social movements, identity politics, revolution, democratization, or war."

"Bayard de Volo's study is both an analysis of the symbolic and discursive deployment of motherhood, and a history of an organization's trajectory over almost two decades... In filling a gap in the literature on women and revolution, it will add to the ongoing debates over motherist movements and female collective action."

" Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs draws upon field research in Nicaragua during 1992-93 and extensive open-ended interviews with the most active members of the pro-Sandinista Committee of Mothers of heroes and Martyrs of Matagalpa... Bayard de Volo's research... fills an important void in the literature on women in politics."

"This book is rich in detail and description, making it one of the best analyses of maternal gender politics in Nicaragua to date."

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