Queer IR

"Define your terms" is one of those seemingly-innocuous pieces of advice readily dispensed all the time by professors to their students, especially in introductory courses. Be clear and consistent in your use of words. Have a precise way of elaborating what each part of your argument means: when you say "state" or "war" or "woman," for instance, those signifiers ought to have clear and stable signifieds to which they correspond. After all, if we don't all agree on the meanings of our terms, how can we even communicate our claims, let alone assess them in pursuit of a progressive cumulation of knowledge?

Cindy Weber's call for a "queer intellectual curiosity" (direct link to article) makes this seemingly innocuous move appear not so innocent. By urging us to examine how the boundaries between the normal and the perverse break down and are incompletely reinscribed at a variety of "international" sites, including in the very writing of "IR scholarship" as an exercise in clearly stating what is and is not going on in the world, Weber raises some challenging questions about both the theories and the methodologies through which we generate knowledge. Normalization and domestication, she suggests, are at work all up and down the "levels of analysis" and at all stages of the research process, and hence -- much as Foucault suggested -- what appears to be liberation might in fact be a renewed and more subtle form of imprisonment.

The alternative that Weber proposes, and that the contributors to this Forum take up, is challenging indeed for those accustomed to looking for consistency -- if "queer" isn't any one thing, and can't be coded in any reliable manner, how could there even *be* theoretical claims about queerness in the international realm? Weber's extended example of Conchita Wurst/Tom Neuwirth, touched on by almost all of the contributors, illustrates one answer: theoretical claims about what Weber calls "non-monolithic genders" can help us to identify those places where the *cultural politics* directed against such plurivocality comes into play. Another of Weber's examples, involving how the ambiguous figure of "the homosexual" becomes normalized as "the LGBT" in a particular kind of liberal politics, makes a similar point: if we begin with stable categories and firm definitions, we cannot hope to explain how those categories and definitions come to acquire their apparent stability and solidity.

The contributors to this Forum take up a variety of issues raised in Weber's provocative intervention. Cynthia Enloe considers the relationship between  queer IR and feminist IR, both of which are propelled by a "curiosity" that remains outside of mainstream scholarly structures. Laura Sjoberg muses on IR's uncomfortability with sex, and looks to a queer sensibility as a way to overcome that. Paul Amar takes up connections between queer IR and the study of securitization, while L.H.M. Ling looks at parallels between the "non-dual thinking" of Asian traditions and the rejection of stable gender binaries by a queer sensibility. Cameron Thies ponders the implications of queer IR for role theory. And Lauren Wilcox wonders how queer IR might *itself* be queered, precisely so that it does not simply become a minor coloration added to the same established way of doing IR scholarship: perhaps we need Queer "and/or" IR, a plurality of pluralisms, rather than yet another reinscription of the distinction between the normal and the perverse. Weber concludes with a brief reply.

This Forum raises important questions for what we as IR scholars do both theoretically and methodologically. How we deal with the undecidable, the ambiguous, and the singular are especially profound challenges in this day and age, when politics is so often the domain of momentarily compelling spectacle rather than sober deliberation. Could a queer intellectual curiosity help us navigate a diverse and plural world in a more authentic way? The question is at least worth asking, and the contributors to this Forum have, by their participation, helped to make that possible.

Discuss this Article
There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.
Start the Discussion...
Only registered users may post comments.
ISQ On Twitter