Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Inhabitants of Interstices? Feminist Analysis at the Intersection of Peace Studies, Critical Security Studies and Human Security

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Inhabitants of Interstices? Feminist Analysis at the Intersection of Peace Studies, Critical Security Studies and Human Security

Article excerpt


The article places Feminist Security Studies at the centre of the analysis. The aim is to underline the unsettling yet crucial role Feminist Security Studies plays in the theorising of security. While it operates on the margins of mainstream International Relations, Feminist Security Studies (as a way of studying International Relations rather than a field of study) is uniquely placed in the intellectual interstices of several critical epistemological streams, such as Peace Studies, Critical Security Studies, and various human security discourses. Through an analysis of shared assumptions and also where Feminist Security Studies deviates, the article illustrates the way in which its outsider-insider status makes it ideally suited to both deepen and open up seemingly emancipatory fields without enforcing theory consensus. The article concludes by outlining how a specifically feminist gender approach that links everyday and global security theorising and activism, not only deepens critical discourses, but also encourages an opening up of security discourses through exposing the gender silences and co-option of critical discourses into the mainstream. By insisting that the various security discourses become more reflective of their own normative assumptions and political commitments, Feminist Security Studies thus promotes more responsible and responsive scholarship.


International Relations (IR) textbooks usually summarise feminist motivations for bringing gender into the study of security as firstly, that new issues and alternative perspectives will be added to the security agenda, and secondly, that the result will be a totally reconstructed notion of international security. Correct as it may be, this is a somewhat simplistic depiction which does not capture the actual 'how' of the process and also gives the impression that intellectual shifts are smooth, uncontested processes where theory drives or precedes history. However, intellectual shifts in the discipline of IR did not come about as a result of scholars' rigorous engagement with theory. The dramatic changes were mainly the result of broader historical forces which made the existing order unsustainable anyway. IR and its various sub-disciplines have been profoundly affected by the end of the Cold War. (iii)) The subsequent reshaping of academic agenda was inevitable. On the one hand, Strategic Studies was less prepared for the changes but nevertheless shed some of the militarist inclinations in favour of a more utilitarian threat analysis. On the other hand, Peace Studies (PS) softened its radicalism. Consequently both camps found a home within the realm of International Security Studies (ISS) (Buzan 1991: 13).

This cross-fertilisation is generally viewed as positive (Kriesberg 2002), since after years of lost opportunities the range of voices participating in the inter-disciplinary dialogue has increased, in particular from scholars from the developing world and feminists. Yet it presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, we have seen huge growth: From a disciplinary point of view, Feminist Security Studies (FSS), feminist International Political Economy, and feminist work on global governance issues are currently the three key fields of inquiry, but it is particularly FSS which has captured the scholarly attention. At the 2011 International Studies Association conference in Montreal, almost half of the 46 panels sponsored by the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section consisted of FSS (Prugl 2011: 111-112). FSS has offered an important feminist critique of core issues of the IR discipline, such as war, peace and national security (Blanchard 2003: 1289). Feminist security theory, through a dialogue with peace activists, policymakers and political theorists, thus "has subverted, expanded, and enriched notions of security" (Blanchard 2003: 1290).

At the same time, these convergences have also had their own 'traps'. …

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