IR's Queer Presence and Queer Potentials

My main reaction to the publication of Cynthia Weber’s piece is that this has been long over-due. For years, as Weber noted in her earlier work (Weber 2014), queer studies has become ‘Global Queer Studies,’ in which queer theories and queer theorists engaged with central concepts to IR theory such as political violence, sovereignty, identity, race, terrorism, migration, and emotion (as in well regarded works such as Jasbir Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages and Sara Ahmed’s Cultural Politics of Emotion, among many others). On the other hand, one could only point to a few works that are unambiguously regarded as ‘queer’ within the disciplinary spaces of IR (inter alia Weber 1999, Peterson 2014a, Rao 2014 and a recent forum in ISR)

Weber’s piece does more than ‘bring queer work’ into the field of International Relations; in my view it makes the case that IR has always already been ‘queer’ in the sense of its dependence on unstable logics of gender and sexuality. Weber’s piece complements work such as V. Spike Peterson, who points out how IR’s founding assumptions are not only gendered but institute a heteronormative international order (Peterson 1999, 2014a, 2014b). For example, Peterson has argued that the development of states has instituted and normalized the heteronormative basis of families and intimate life and contributes to global inequalities, while contemporary social and economic trends disrupt normalized assumptions about intimate family life. She writes, “Queering the family/kinship rules that constitute birthright citizenship ultimately queers both the inherited basis of national in/exclusions and the bounding of states/nations themselves” (Peterson 2014b).  Peterson has investigated gendered and heterosexual norms at the roots of international society, revealing IR’s past and enabling conditions to be deeply implicated in gendered and heteronormative politics.  Weber’s framing of a methodological framework for queer IR in terms of Foucault’ History of Sexuality Part 1 (one of the most frequently cited works in the social sciences and in the humanities), as well as the insistence on framing ‘queer IR’ in terms of an open-ended methodological framework, suggests not only a kind of Foucauldian ‘history of the present’ in terms of queering IR’s past, but its present and future as well. It suggests, in one sense, a deep familiarity in terms of ‘the queer’ in such a foundational work, and a deep sense of possibility and the unexpected—not the least of which is the figure(s) of Conchita Wurst/Tom Neuwirth.

By making the move to theorize “homosexuality” and “the homosexual” as a figuration rather than an essential characteristic of certain subjects, Weber is attentive to a key theme in queer theory, which is the instability of locating certain bodies as ‘queer’ as well as an attentiveness to how such categories travel and the uses to which such designations are put: in this piece alone (and further elaborated in Weber 2016), Weber traces figurations ‘homosexual’ and the ways in which it becomes attached or detached to material bodies: from the linkages of ‘the homosexual’  to discourses of the underdeveloped, the colonized and the savage, to the unwanted migrant and to the terrorist, as well as to a  ‘normal’ subject in need of the protection of human rights. The figuration of ‘the homosexual’ through a queer methodological framework is read, as in Sedgewick’s influential formulation of queer, as when the constituent elements of gender and sexuality “aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (1993). It can therefore be read through a lens of ‘and/or’: plural rather than fixed meanings. Importantly, this formulation of ‘and/or’ avoids the reifying of a ‘queer’ subject as necessarily excluded or ‘other’: as Weber points out, the figuration of ‘the homosexual’ also includes ‘the normal (rather than perverse) homosexual’ whose rights are not recognized and who serves as the impetus for neocolonial and violent policies toward some states who refuse to recognize these rights as part of IR’s ‘modern man’, and instead need to violently oppose its others. In addition, this formulation may be a means to avoid the ‘gentrification’ of queer—the replacement with a ‘queer variable’ in the way that feminist approaches are replaced by ‘gender as variable’. Weber has argued against this for decades.

By positing ‘queer’ not as an object to be studied as in a ‘queer’ or ‘sexuality’ variable but a practice of thinking and doing IR, Weber simultaneously posits queer as IR’s structural impossibility, as something IR always already is, and, as methodology, something IR could be and do in the future. Queer IR is itself plural and undecided.  In other words, Weber’s ‘and/or’ formulation of plural logics could be said to hold for the relationship between ‘queer’ and ‘IR’ as well. IR is both queer and not queer, and it is either queer or not queer.  The development of ‘international relations’ in terms of its foundational political logics can be ‘queered’ in terms of revealing how gender and sexuality were regulated in the past.  Queerness can also/or be a future-oriented imperative, as a methodological framework aimed at opening up space for future investigations of plural figurations of sexuality and gender. Queer work can be a constitutive failure in IR as Weber (2014) has argued, and/or appear on the pages of some of its most prominent journals.

Such a formulation of what a queer ‘orientation’ to the field of IR recalls Jose Estaban Muñoz’s statement that begins his Cruising Utopia:

Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. 

In his invocation of queerness as a horizon, as a utopia to imagine other lives, other ways of being, Muñoz posits ‘queer’ not as unstable signifier of sexual difference, as a past to be recovered, but as a way of giving life to projects yet unimagined or unimaginable. This can be a dangerous proposition, as this kind of curiosity—Weber’s ‘queer intellectual curiosity’—has always been dangerous for ‘women’ and others who might upset certain hierarchies by seeking knowledge. But queer intellectual curiosities inspire us to read such pronouncements of the dangers of queer approaches to IR in terms of a desire to enforce singular logics in the paradigm of ‘sovereign man’ at the expense of considering the possibilities of plural logics.  And in so doing, Weber points out, we remain open to the unknown future: “Unlike heteronormativities and homonormativities… we cannot name in advance what these institutions structures of understanding and practice (dis)/(re)orientations will be” (2015:11).


Munoz, Jose Esteban (2009). Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press.

Peterson, V. Spike (1999). “Political Identities/Nationalism as Heterosexism.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 1(1): 34–65..

Peterson, V. Spike (2014b). “Family Matters: How Queering the Intimate Queers the International.” International Studies Review 16(4): 604–8.

Peterson, V. Spike (2014a). “Sex Matters: A QUEER HISTORY OF HIERARCHIES.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 16(3): 389–409.

Puar, Jasbir K. (2007). Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Next Wave. Durham: Duke University Press.

Rao, Rahul (2014). “Queer Questions.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 16(2): 199–217.

Sedgwick, Eve K. (1993). Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press.

Weber, Cynthia (2016). Queer International Relations: Sovereignty, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Cynthia (2014). “Why Is There No Queer International Theory?” European Journal of International Relations 21(1): 27–51.

Weber, Cynthia (1999). Faking It: U.S. Hegemony in a “Post-Phallic” Era. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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