Queer and/or International Relations…or not?

It is exciting to be in conversation about queer IR theories and methods with such outstanding Mainstream IR, Critical IR, Feminist IR, Queer IR and Queer Studies scholars.  It is gratifying to see how they take up queer intellectual curiosity as IR method, not only to further work in what is being called Queer IR but also to make connections with mainstream IR role theory, ancient Asian thought, feminism, and Queer Security Studies.

Reading their contributions to this forum, I am intrigued by their arguments and by the claims they make regarding what a queer intellectual curiosity makes possible. 

For Cameron Thies, queer intellectual curiosity offers not only “a contribution to queer theory or to work that grounds international order in gender, but…a method that can inform a variety of theoretical and empirical research traditions.”  For Laura Sjoberg, it not only provides “the roadmap from Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 1 to doing the work of (queer) IR,” but it also makes it possible to think “sex as sex in global politics.”  For Cynthia Enloe, it demonstrates how “[s]exual sovereignty is reserved conventionally and solely for the state-recognized masculine person.”  For Lauren Wilcox, it “makes the case that IR has always already been ‘queer’ in the sense of its dependence on unstable logics of gender and sexuality.”  For Paul Amar, it “animate[s] the project of resituating sexuality, particularly homosexuality, as a constitutive force in international and global regimes of regulation, recognition, and figuration.”  And for LHM Ling, it both “seeks to overcome binaries” and “has the potential to de-center IR from its hegemonic perch of Hypermasculine-Eurocentric Whiteness.”  These are very generous claims.

I also appreciate how the contributors challenge me to take my thinking on these issues further.  Amar, for example, challenges me to think more about how logics of international security interact with logics of sovereignties and sexualities.  Ling challenges me to think more widely beyond the Western canon.  And Enloe challenges me to make more connections to the feminist canon.  They are all right to do so. 

Just as the contributors to this forum push me to think further, I would like to push them to think further as well. 

On the one hand, I like Wilcox’s construction of Queer and/or IR.  But as what is being called Queer IR work gets taken up by some of those in this forum and in IR more generally, I wonder whether or not ‘queer’ will be made to fit into something called ‘IR’ or ‘Feminism’ or ‘Role Theory’, for example, without being allowed to challenge or to change what these IRs understand ‘IR’ to be and do. 

This concern stems from my understanding of queer and its relationship to IR theories and practices.  Following Eve Sedgwick, I understand queer as “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”  My suggestion is that if IRs entangle themselves in this open mesh of possibilities, IRs will no longer (only) mean what they formerly meant or (only) conduct inquiry as they formerly did.  This is because encounters with non-monolithic sexes, genders and sexualities (what I call in this ISQ article pluralized and/or sexes, genders and sexualities and what I have previously also written about as neither/nor sexes, genders and sexualities here, here, here, and here) do not only transform what we know; they also transform how we know.  At the heart of that transformation are IRs that necessarily think about how non-monolithic sexes, genders and sexualities (read intersectionally through races, classes, abilities, religions, colonialities, etc.) function in and through international theories and global politics.

This leads me to pose a range of questions to variously positioned IR scholars.

To mainstream IR scholars, I wonder:

-          Is there anything ‘queer’ about multiply-contingent roles (Figurations, Roles and the Possibilities of Weber’s Queer Method) if a rethinking of role theory is informed only by plural logics of sovereignty and not also by the plural logics of sexes, genders and/or sexualities (what I call queer logics of statecraft) that are produced by and are productive of these sovereignties?

To feminist IR scholars, I wonder: 

-          While a queer intellectual curiosity can never be – nor should it be – a substitute for a feminist curiosity, does a queer intellectual curiosity merely  ‘add’ a ‘string to the bow of feminist interrogation[s] of international politics’ (The Role of Queer Studies in IR)?  Or does a queer intellectual curiosity (also) radically contest where some feminisms draw their ontological limits (at women and later men), their epistemological limits (at knowledge about only some kinds of sexes, genders, and sexualities), and their methodological limits (at techniques that inquire only about either/or logics and subjectivities while generally excluding and/or and neither/nor logics and subjectivities)?

And to critical IR scholars more generally, I wonder:

-          Might critical IR scholars merely practice “unthinking inclusiveness [of queer IRs that tend] to reinforce…binaries” (QUEER IR AND ANCIENT ASIA: An Intellectual, Normative, and Political Alignment) between some critical IRs and some critically queer IRs?   Or will critical IR engagements with queer IRs also take seriously, for example, how non-monolithic sexes, genders and sexualities (read intersectionally through races, abilities, classes and their sovereignties and colonialities, for example) multiply and contest things like Westphalian notions of sovereignty as well as conventional modalities for practicing some critical IRs?

From my perspective, if well-meaning IR embraces of ‘queer’ do not insist upon putting non-monolithic sexes, genders and sexualities and their transformative potentials for how we know as well as what we know at their core, then they are more likely to maintain IRs as usual than they are to produce what Wilcox calls Queer and/or IRs. 

What the discussions in this forum suggest is that getting to these Queer and/or IRs theoretically and methodologically requires IR scholars to do more than eschew the discredited claim that there is no queer international theory (as all of the contributors to this forum have done).  It also requires all of us (myself included) to be attentive to how – even against our intentions – we may constrain IRs in the name of expanding theoretical and methodological investigations of international politics.  This is as true for how we engage with so-called Queer IRs as it is for how we engage with IRs being generated from and in relation to Black and Anti-Blackness Studies, Indigenous Studies, (Dis)Ability Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Studies, and other intersectional Orientalisms, for example.

Figuring out how to embrace these and/or IRs without squeezing out their transformative potential for IRs will be no easy task.  This forum is a bold step in that direction.



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