Kate Driscoll Derickson, Lorraine Dowler, and Nicole Laliberte
Geography and international studies are both deeply rooted in masculinist, imperialist, and patriarchal ways of viewing the world. However, over the past 20 years, the increase in the number of women within these fields has planted the seeds for the introduction of feminist intervention. Feminist geography is primarily concerned with the real experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities. It can be viewed as the study of "situated knowledges derived from the lives and experiences of women in different social and geographic locations." Feminist geographers consistently seek out techniques which are in line with their feminist philosophies. Although much of the work will be categorized as qualitative, such as ethnographic fieldwork, feminist geographers recognize the need for feminist approaches in quantitative analysis, and techniques alone do not render the project feminist. Rather, feminists in geography argue that all types of data collection must recognize the power relationship between the researcher and the researched. Feminist geography also operates at the local scale and crosses to the global. This is illustrated by geographers who not only study the daily lives of women in a refugee camp but also construct theoretical arguments focused on global forces such as climate change or war in relation to the international migration of women.
The academic study of conflict resolution was born as as a critique of mainstream International Relations (IR), which explains why feminist theory and conflict resolution share many things in common. For example, both feminists and conflict resolution scholars challenge traditional power politics grounded in realist or neorealists analyses of conflict. They also share the core belief that war is not inevitable and that human beings have the capacity to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means. In the past two decades, with the expansion of feminist scholarship in IR, feminist interventions in conflict resolution have gained more currency. This essay reviews feminist scholarship in conflict resolution, with particular emphasis on five elements: critiques of the absence and/or marginalization of women in the field and an effort to include women and to make women visible and heard; articulation of a unique feminist standpoint for approaching peacemaking and conflict resolution, which is essentially different to, and qualitatively better than, mainstream (or male-stream) perspectives; feminist theorization of difference in conflict resolution theory and practice (challenges to essentialism, intersections, power and privilege, culture); feminist redefinition of central concepts in the field, especially violence, power, peace, and security; and original feminist research and theorizing, including field research in conflict areas, designed to transform rather than just reform the field. This essay argues that in order to further expand and institutionalize conflict resolution studies, mainstream scholars must be willing to engage seriously the contributions and critiques of feminists.
Democracies and the processes surrounding recent transitions to democracy are gendered in a variety of ways. Recently, feminist scholars have questioned the exclusionary ways in which democracy is both theorized and operationalized and how these have resulted in women and men being incorporated into democratic polities. They have demonstrated how processes of democratization, particularly the third wave of democratization that has taken place over the last three decades, are gendered. They have also shown that women’s movements were key actors in the broad opposition coalitions against many nondemocratic regimes. In order both to understand the differing role of organized women in the subsequent transitions to democracy and the ways in which transition paths affect gender outcomes, feminist scholars have begun to focus on the complex and sometimes contradictory interaction of four variables: the transition; women activists; political parties and politicians involved in the transition; and the institutional legacy of the nondemocratic regime. Two main areas that have been explored in relation to the political outcomes of transitions to democracy are women’s participation in competitive electoral politics and major changes in gender policy. In order to expand one important emerging area of research that is looking at how attempts to establish democracy in post-conflict settings are gendered, feminist scholars with expertise in third wave transitions to democracy need to analyze not only women’s roles in post-conflict institution building but also the ways that the outcomes have gendered implications more systematically.
Nikki McGary and Nancy A. Naples
The histories of women’s studies and feminist scholarship reveal the lack of distinction between feminist activism and feminist scholarship. The term “feminism” consists of multiple theories and agendas depending on regional, historical, and individual contexts. Broadly speaking, feminism includes theoretical and practical challenges to gender inequality and multiple forms of systemic oppression. However, the political projects that make women their objects are not always feminist; and political projects that address women’s issues are not always framed around the concept of feminism. Women activists and organizations do not always explicitly identify as feminist, although they might be participants in struggles aligned with broad feminist goals, including women’s empowerment, autonomy, human rights, and economic justice. A major theme that runs through feminist scholarship on women’s activism relates to the question of what difference women’s participation and feminist analyses make for progressive struggles. Feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser argues that there are “gender dimensions” to all struggles for social justice, and “feminists better be in these struggles and bring out those dimensions because certainly nobody else will.” Feminist scholars have also long debated what counts as a women’s movement. Revisioning women’s movements to include the diversity of women’s political analyses and strategies requires rethinking the labels used to categorize feminisms more generally.
Feminist theories of international relations have thrived over the past decade as evidenced by the many and varied feminist contributions to the international relations field. At the same time, international relations feminists have had rich theoretical debates among themselves over critical questions about epistemology, ontology, methodology, and ethics.
Feminist theories of international relations are distinguished by their ethical commitments to inclusivity and self-reflexivity, and attentiveness to relationships and power in relationships. These norms implicitly guide feminists to put into practice their own critical theories, epistemologies, and explicit normative commitments. Thus, rather than a source of division, the contestations among international relations feminisms about the epistemological grounds for feminist knowledge, the ontology of gender, and the appropriate ethical stance in a globalizing albeit grossly unequal world are a source of their strength. With a shared normative commitment to global social change, feminist scholarship and social movements can appreciate and even celebrate internal diversities and multidimensional identities. In this respect, feminist international relations can be described as a movement that shows what is to come and that offers innovative methods to get there. In the context of current United Nations reform, feminist movements have cited the need for a global institutional powerhouse to promote the rights of women and girls worldwide, rather than a system where everyone is responsible for integrating gender perspectives.
Feminist scholars and practitioners have challenged—and sought to overcome—gendered forms of inequality, subordination, or oppression within a variety of political, economic, and social contexts. However, feminists have been embroiled in profound theoretical disagreements over a variety of issues, including the nature and significance of the relationship between culture and the production of gendered social life, as well as the implications of cultural location for women’s agency, feminist knowledge production, and the possibilities of building cross-cultural feminist coalitions and agendas. Many of the approaches that emerged in the “first” and “second waves” of feminist scholarship and activism were not able to effectively engage with questions of culture. Women of color and ethnicity, postcolonial feminists and poststructural feminists, in addition to the questions and debates raised by liberal feminists (and their critics) on the implications of multiculturalism for feminist goals, have produced scholarship that highlights issues of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation. Their critiques of the “universalism” and “culture-blindness” of second wave theories and practices exposed the hegemonic and exclusionary tendencies of the feminist movement in the global North, and opened up the opportunity to develop intersectional analyses and feminist identity politics, thereby shifting issues of cultural diversity and difference from the margins to the center of international feminism. The debates on cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation have enriched feminist scholarship within the discipline of international relations, particularly after 9/11.
A constant source of concern for feminists working in International Relations (IR) has been the field’s implied or stated boundaries. During the first ten years of its existence (roughly covering the years 1985–1995), the main goal of feminist IR was to challenge a caged-in knowledge realm that excluded more phenomena than it promised to seek. By the early twenty-first century, IR had devolved into a camp structure that was able to accommodate on the inside all manner of theories, people, and places. Yet while feminism contributed to troubled boundaries of IR, it did so against the backdrop of internal boundary dilemmas of inside and outside, good women/bad women, authentic versus dominant voice, gender versus feminism, and so on. Today, feminist IR is somewhat different from its earlier orientations. It now draws heavily on postmodern thinking about margins, multiple truths, subjugated identities and discourses, and power in general, and takes on IR theory and methodology using insights from postmodern thinking and other disciplines such as anthropology and geography. Feminist IR continues to bring new locations of the international and relations to the fore. Two such areas deal with the subject of violent women in international relations and the urgencies of development around the world.
Catia Cecilia Confortini
Many women across the world have addressed issues of peace and war since antiquity, from Christine de Pizan and Jane Addams to Betty Reardon and Elise Boulding. Although a few feminist scholars in the social sciences consider themselves “peace studies” (PS) scholars, other feminists contribute to PS by tackling peace and violence issues. PS comprises peace research, peace education, and peace activism. Feminists improve on and challenge these fields by insisting on expanded definitions of peace that suggest continuity between different forms of violence; highlighting the diverse roles played by women and other marginalized groups in violent conflicts and in peace processes; complicating our understanding of peace and violence while foregrounding gender as a social and symbolic construct involving relations of power; and proposing transformative ways of conceptualizing peace, war, and postconflict transitions. By seeing all forms of violence along a continuum, feminists transform PS’ understandings of peace. Furthermore, feminism brings women to the center of PS by making them visible as actors in both peace and conflict. Finally, feminism envisions a peaceful future that take into consideration women, other marginalized people, and gender. A number of themes continue to emerge from feminist engagement with PS, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and transitional justice—themes situated at the intersection of peace/violence and religion.
Brooke Ackerly and Ying Zhang
The study of feminist ethics in international relations (IR) is the study of three topics. The first is the feminist contributions to key topics in international ethics and the research agenda that continues to further that enterprise. Feminists have made important contributions to IR thought on central ethical concepts. They rethink these concepts from the perspective of their impact on women, deconstruct the dichotomies of the concepts and their constituent parts, and reconsider how the field should be studied. Next, there is the feminist engagement with the epistemological construction of the discipline of IR itself, by which feminists make the construction of the field itself a normative subject. Finally, there is the feminist methodological contribution of a “meta-methodology”—a research ethic applicable in the research of all questions and able to improve the research practice of all methodologists. The contention here is that ethical IR research must be responsive to the injustices of the world, hence feminists have also explored the connections between scholarship and activism. And this in turn has meant exploring methodologies such as participatory action research that engages one with the political impact of research and methods. Furthermore, contemporary challenges related to climate, globalization, shifts in people, and shifts in global governance are encouraging feminists to work from multiple theoretical perspectives and to triangulate across multiple methods and questions, in order to contribute to our understanding of global problems and the politics of addressing them.
Foreign policy analysis (FPA) deals with the decision-making processes involved in foreign policy-making. As a field of study, FPA overlaps international relations (IR) theory and comparative politics. Studies that take into account either sex, women, or gender contribute to the development of knowledge on and about women in IR, which is in itself one of the goals of feminist scholarship. There are two main spheres of feminist inquiries when it comes to foreign policy: the role of women as sexed power holders involved in decision-making processes and power-sharing in the realm of foreign policy-making, and the role of gendered norms in the conduct and adoption of foreign policies. Many observers insist that feminism and foreign policy are linked only by a marriage of convenience, designed to either acknowledge the political accomplishments of women in the sphere of foreign policy such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi, or bring attention to so-called “women’s issues,” such as reproduction rights and population control. Scholarship on women and/or gender in relation to foreign policy covers a wide range of themes, such as the role of women as political actors in decision-making processes and organizational structures; women’s human rights and gender mainstreaming; the impact of various foreign policies on women’s lives; and the concept of human security and the idea of women’s rights as a valid foreign policy objective. Three paradigms that have been explored as part of the study of women in comparative politics and IR are behavioralism, functionalism, and rational choice theory.