The Role of Queer Studies in IR

In her latest ISQ article, Cynthia Weber has nudged, pushed, and lured us all to think more creatively and more candidly about sexuality as a potentially key dynamic shaping political relationships within and between (alleged) nation-states and their officials. Furthermore, she will not let us stick to what many of us imagine are the principal arenas of sexualized politics.

True, prostitution (as an institution, an industry, and a site for power relations, fantasies and anxieties) still receives stunningly little attention from most students of IR. True, the specific dynamics of sexualized intimidation and rape inside militaries of all sorts and by (chiefly) male members of armed groups in their encounters with civilians are still off the intellectual agendas of most IR specialists. True, efforts to ideologically sexualize the ethnic or racialized Other are so far principally investigated by anthropologists, Women’s and Gender Studies specialists, cultural historians, and a handful of non-feminist IR researchers. True. True. True.

So Weber’s call to queer IR by following her lead in investigating the typically ignored wieldings of sexualized codes in an even wider range of international arenas at first may seem premature: how can we follow these clues when we’ve scarcely scratched the surface of seemingly more obvious areas of internationalized sexualized politics?

But, of course, it is not a matter of either/or. It never is. Start some place and then make sure you (we) continue into the realms adjacent, the realms mutually supportive.

A feminist analyst of international politics never loses sight of women – women in all their diversities, in all their complexities, in all their fluidities. Thus when one, for instance, interrogates sovereignty as expressed and performed sexually in any international relationship, one brings up to the surface the long and cross-national presumptions (translated into state laws and policies) about women’s sexuality never having a status that is sovereign. Sexual sovereignty is reserved conventionally and solely for the state-recognized masculine person.       

The works of Carol Pateman, Anne Phillips and, of course, Ann Tickner have taught us to employ a feminist lens when we interrogate all claims of sovereignty – personal, national and statist. The histories of women’s campaigns for suffrage, for instance, are histories of collective struggles against precisely this deeply held notion that no woman (or girl) can embody or claim sovereignty. She is – in cultural understanding, in the law – merely an appendage, a dependent, a vessel.

Consequently, as Cynthia Weber’s work reveals, Queer IR is not a substitute for Feminist IR. Rather, the queering of IR analysis is an added string to the bow of feminist interrogation of international politics.

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