Magazine article Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review

Unpacking War & Conflict: Two Books about Human Security in International Relations

Magazine article Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review

Unpacking War & Conflict: Two Books about Human Security in International Relations

Article excerpt

Laura Sjoberg, GENDER, WAR, & CONFLICT. Polity, 2014. (Gender & Global Politics series.) 240p. bibl. index, pap., $22.95, ISBN 978-074566028.

Aili Mari Tripp, Myra Marx Ferree, & Christina Ewig, eds., GENDER, VIOLENCE, & HUMAN SECURITY: CRITICAL FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES. New York University Press, 2013. 336p. notes, index, pap., $27.00, ISBN 978-081476345.

In the field of international relations (IR), the relatively new concept of human security, which is discussed in both books reviewed here, is used as a framework to unpack and examine the roles that violence, conflict, and war play in the daily lives of people around the world. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) first defined the term in 1994, (1) and it has been important for understanding the impact of wars and conflicts on ordinary citizens.

Unlike the traditional policy development or IR approaches to war --both of which focus primarily on the state's agency or actions in making war and rebuilding from it--the human security approach focuses on individuals. The UNDP stated that the goal of human security was to ensure freedom from fear and freedom from want, focusing on seven threats to human security not usually recognized in the frameworks of human rights, human development, or state security: economic, food, health, environment, personal, community, and political threats. (2)

Laura Sjoberg begins Gender, War, & Conflict with a critique of traditional definitions of war, noting that the concept is fuzzy around the edges. Because those who live at the margins of political society (a category that often includes women) are affected by the social, material, and political destabilization of violence long before and after any "official" war begins and ends (pp. 9-10), Sjoberg introduces the extended term "war and conflict" to call attention to the violence that leads up to, surrounds, and continues after the central theatre of action. Studying conflict, she argues, allows us to look at all the other things that are left out of traditional war analyses--including domestic violence, poverty, and infrastructure damage (pp. 11-12).

While the book is not explicitly labeled a classroom text, that use is clearly one of its intended roles, as each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading (the bibliographic entries include helpful annotations), discussion questions, and key web resources. (3) Chapter 1 very carefully organizes and defines terms, serving as a primer on gender, intersectionality, and feminism. This chapter doesn't offer groundbreaking material to seasoned scholars and activists, but it makes the book ideal for courses in history, political science, and women's and gender studies, because it introduces the terms and their scholarly meanings for those who are unfamiliar with them.

The first chapter also focuses on the limits of academic talk. In the discussion of sex versus gender, for example, Sjoberg notes that there is longstanding disagreement about whether women should try to advance by acting more like men (which may help women be accepted in traditional masculine spaces, but reifies the trope of masculine = good while feminine = bad) or by highlighting the ways they are different from men (an approach that essentializes so-called gender differences even while it resists identifying traditionally feminine qualities as inferior). Even more important is Sjoberg's point that although gender is socially constructed, people live these expectations, these incentive structures, and this violence in their everyday lives; the concepts are not merely words (pp. 6-8).

The inclusion of men in the analysis is another strength of Gender, War, & Conflict. Often, as noted in the introduction, "gender issues" tends to be code for "women's issues," as if men are either genderless or don't have gender-related issues and expectations to worry about (pp. 3-4). Sjoberg also points out in a later chapter that while men are visible in traditional war narratives, masculinity is not usually discussed or unpacked (pp. …

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