Let’s Talk about Sex: Thinking about Queer IR Research Agendas

Cynthia Weber’s latest ISQ article calls for the use of queer IR methods across IR inquiry in a way that “enriches how we analyze core IR concerns … [and] broaden[s] our thinking about how to study a wide array of IR mobilizations of normality, perversion, and stigma.” The piece is an ambitious, well-argued, and insightful argument both for the establishment of a Queer IR research agenda and for the utility of Queer IR methods across the discipline. The call for more work in Queer IR builds on recent scholarship exploring queer theories’ contributions (Weber 2014;  Lind 2014; Sjoberg 2014; Wilcox 2014), and extends and makes explicit the queer IR methodology in Weber’s earlier work (Weber 1999; 2002). 

In my view, there are a number of key lessons that IR can take from Weber’s suggestion that a queer intellectual curiosity inform IR method, including but not limited to the study of plural figurations in global politics and attention to the persistence of the dichotomy between the normal and the perverse. I think that Weber’s layout of methods, as well as the example that she provides applying her method to Ashley’s contention that statecraft is mancraft, could be and is likely to be used by many who are interested in developing queer research in IR and promoting queer contributions to IR research.

To me, one of the best parts of Weber’s essay is the application of the roadmap from Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume I to doing the work of (queer) IR. Weber (p.4) suggests that it is important to “1. Analyze how sex is put into discourse; 2. Analyze the functions and effects of productive power; 3. Understand productive power as working through networks of powerknowledge/pleasure, and 4. Analyze how understanding of ‘the normal’ and ‘the perverse’ are frozen, without assuming that they are either true or forever fixed.” Weber’s piece then follows all four of those suggestions to provide insight into figurations of “the homosexual,” “homosexuality,” and “the LGBT” in global politics, as well as the broader political sphere that those figurations both reflect and produce.

Recently, I have been interested in the first and the fourth of these ideas in studying global politics – where sex is in the discourses of global politics (but often ignored or invisible), and where the taboo of sex and sexuality reifies a dichotomy between the normal and the perverse. I have just begun a project on the role of sex acts in the constitution of territorial borders in global politics, and the role of territorial borders in the constitution of possible sex acts. In my early research, I have found a taboo that sex acts still are not discussed explicitly in most references to their existence in global politics. Instead, sanitized language like MSM (men who have sex with men) and partnership or marriage are used not only when referring to people or relationships but also when referring to the performance of sexual acts.

As Weber notes in her piece, the “normal” sexuality in global politics is expanding to include “the homosexual” – at least “the homosexual” who becomes “LGBT” and is seen as if in a heteronormative, monogamous, loving and/or familial relationship. As Weber connotes on p.2, however, this “LGBT” is framed as asexual, a move away from the term “homosexual” which was often used in a way that connoted perversion. Within the “either normal or perverse” framework that Weber puts forth, I argue that the “normal” is connoted as asexual and the “perverse” is connoted as unmentionable sexuality.

An implication of this that I would like to explore more is that the normal/perverse dichotomy makes sexuality unmentionable in important ways – where, even as the LGBT becomes more normal in global politics and in IR discourses, and even as sexuality comes to be referred to in a wide variety of ways (from human rights discourses to health care debates), the normalization of the LGBT comes with the desexualization of “the homosexual” instead of just his/her movement into the realm of normal sexuality.  This is because “normal” sexuality is rarely if ever referred to in sexual terms – usually, it is only perceived-deviant sexuality that is talked about as sexuality in IR analyses (and, perhaps, even more generally).

So, reading Weber’s take on Foucault, I want to talk about sex. I want to talk about the way that sex is in discourses of global politics (particularly the use of rape metaphors to talk about territorial invasions or compromises). But I also want to talk about the ways that sex is invisible in, but constitutive of, discourse in global politics. How were the territorial borders of some states constituted by conjugal relationships among leaders or monarchs (e.g., Nexon 2009)? How do state borders constitute or truncate sexual relationships (e.g., Palriwala and Uberoi 2008; Human Rights Watch 2006)? What could be learned by applying the methodology in Weber’s piece directly to the relationship between states and sexualities? How are states configured by sexuality, and how is sexuality configured by the institution of the state?

I think that there is much more to Weber’s argument than my extrapolation of attention to sex. But I think attention to sex as sex in global politics is one of the many research directions suggested, and made possible, by Weber’s article. I look forward to doing, and seeing, research inspired by it for years to come. 

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