Plural Global Perversions and Curious International Relations

Cynthia Weber in her important and imminently teachable ISQ article and book, has animated the project of resituating sexuality, particularly homosexuality, as a constitutive force of international and global regimes of regulation, recognition, and figuration. Weber boldly offers a new form of queer IR methodology that maps regimes of sovereignty, rights, and recognition in ways that underline their scripting of plural and contradictory figures of perversion.

Weber’s “queer curiosities” method challenges regimes of sexualized figuration without simply redeeming “perverse” figures as normal “minorities” domesticated within the “mancraft” of governance.  Thus the binary between perversion and normal – and between minority and sovereign -- is challenged.  (Homo) sexuality is moved to the center of IR theory. In this ISQ article, she draws upon Foucault to reanalyze Victorian regimes as they establish binary regimes of normalization through “discursively implanting the ‘perversion’ of ‘homosexuality’ into the bodies of individuals” (1) and draws upon Donna Haraway via Judith Butler to assess how processes of figuration and worlding constitute new meanings and temporalities. These figurations deploy homosexuality to prop up a new international order of normalization, as in Hillary Clinton’s (2011) speech that centers LGBT “love between partners” (not queer sex) as the new priority of Obama administration foreign policy. Or, conversely, they disrupt binary regimes, as in the case of 2014 Eurovision song contest winner Tom Neuwirth’s/Conchita Wurst’s performance, which can be read as articulating the European Union’s “new normal” of embracing gender queer “diversity” and ethnic pluralism and/or embodying the EU’s ultimate pervert, refusing identity and ethnic fixity and layering worlds, narratives, and modes of embodiment, pleasure and futurity. 

In this context, Weber’s interrogation, via Roland Barthes, of the pluralization dynamic of the “and/or” (which is not the same as “either/or”) stands as a particularly powerful and useful conceptual tool for interrogating the sexuality politics of today’s EU and US, which are torn by new waves of hypernormative and homophobic right-wing populist “sovereignty” obsessions.

Here, very briefly, I would like to suggest a couple of ways to extend Weber’s contributions and weave innovations in IR methods with conversations coming from studies of coloniality, global south “emergence,” and critical globalization studies.  In my work in The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics and the End of Neoliberalism (2013) and my forthcoming Thug Love: Authoritarian Populism and Global Counterrevolution (2017), I focus on the “securitization” of the figurations of the terrorist, trafficker, and rescuer/redeemer. I analyze how each of these three figurations emerges as a transnational regime relatively autonomously, as large-scale international formations of regulation, production and protection. These are shaped in specific ways in the semi-periphery and the global south, although they circulate through and from colonial and northern histories and nexes.  Each of these regimes is co-constitutive of the other, of course, but not simply artifacts or secondary effects or marginal “victims” of capitalism or neoliberalism. And each is driven by imbricated biomedical, penal, police, missionary, and military “implantations” of the perverse and the queer.

Thus, the politics of global rescue and protection regimes, and (anti) trafficking and terror systems are always/already sexuality politics. IR theory cannot assess them adequately without this engagement with the sexuality dynamics of producing, protecting and/or punishing perversion.   As I see it, security politics as sexuality politics is akin to sovereignty politics as mancraft or queer statecraft; but in my work I chose the terms security and securitization to underline exactly this plural dynamic of layered, contradictory figuration. These securitizing regimes flow between sites and hot spots, without necessarily being grounded in any one territorial reference or normative “culture” or strategic matrix.  For this reason I deploy the term “archipelago” to describe the interaction of parastatals with global security economies, transnational rescue missions, and protection rackets and/or as deployed by sovereign states and policy actors.

Returning to Weber’s wonderful essay, I wonder how we can further explore her example of the figuration of Eurovision song winner Neuwirth/Wurst, as Colombian/mestiza/Austrian/German and as both EU ideal and perversion.  I wonder what would have occurred, and if the response to this “and/or” performance of queer complexity would have triggered even more violent responses (or been utterly ignored) if Neuwirth/Wurst would have channeled “perversions” not just of Mestisaje, but of an abjected Muslim-as-terrorist and or Colombian-as-cocaine trafficker.  Would the debate around Neuwirth/Wurst and his/her/their status as EU representation, and as UN poster-child, have changed radically if such a performance had been staged by a Muslim in this time in which the “othering” of Europe, at least for right-wing populists and sovereigntists, is configured radically around perverse imaginaries of the Muslim as political extremist (terrorism) and as sexual threat (hypervisibility of street assaults)?  And it is interesting that the Colombianness of Neuwirth/Wurst was not brought into resonance with the global governance regimes and tabloid media imaginaries of the ‘War on Drugs’ in Colombia, along with Mexico, that continue to be articulated as dominant frameworks for international relations and transnational security politics more vividly than ever in 2015.  Was it the fact that Neuwirth/Wurst’s homosexuality could be bracketed off from Muslim-ness and drug-war resonance (and limited to a somewhat old-fashioned figure of rural, Latin American, tropical underdevelopment) that he/she/they were able to “work” this and/or dynamic in such a perversely productive way?

Weber’s methodological innovation centers the politics of homosexuality and challenges the production of the normal/perverse binary in the IR field as in global sovereignty regimes. Racial ‘drug war’ criminalization and gendered /militarized Islamophobia, and these processes’ essential co-constitution with other circulating regimes of securitization, protection, war, and development, are essential components of this global story of IR’s designation of perversions.  These global security regimes are sexuality politics and/or factories for normalization of ‘international communities.’ As Cynthia Weber suggests, pluralization of notions of sexuality politics must be centered in the intellectual curiosities and research agendas of International Relations if the field is to grapple with the power and perversion of these regimes, today and in the future. 

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