Continuities, Ruptures, and Gendered States

The second post in our short series on the edited volume Revisiting Gendered States: Feminist Imaginings of the State in International Relations (Oxford, 2018) – the full series may be viewed here. In this post, Christine Agius revisits here contribution to the volume. Christine is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University and the author of a number of pieces on sovereignty, identity, foreign policy and security, most recently (with Emil Edenborg), ‘Gendered Bordering Practices in Swedish and Russian Foreign and Security Policy’, published in Political Geography.


Like some of the most important questions of the day – will there ever be a decent Terminator film beyond T3, and is it still ok to love Broad City after their Hillary love-in – the question of who or what the state is has perhaps never been as important as it is in these troubling times. As authoritarian and right-wing governments produce electoral wins, and initiate policies that seek to assert the power of the state in the name of ‘the people’, the effects and affects are becoming more and more visible across a range of levels and registers. So much has already been written about recent authoritarian politics, including in this forum (see here, here and here). As I began to write this blogpost, the US border with Mexico militarised with the visible presence of troops, tanks and weaponry in preparation for the arrival of the ‘caravan’ of mostly women and children from Honduras. Austria had rejected a UN migration pact in order to ‘defend its national sovereignty’. And Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newly-elected president, has projected the view that international climate action is a threat to Brazil’s national sovereignty. Public discourse and debate has been deemed to have become uncivil, individuals emboldened to ‘say what they think’ or act on impulses that until recently might have been kept in check, whether it be policing non-white citizens or ‘going in’, to deal with ‘invaders’ as the Pittsburgh shooter who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue recently did. The visibility of the alt-right in western democracies even conforms to specific aesthetics, from the alt-right art of ‘fashwave’ to MAGA caps and Hitler Youth haircuts.

Despite liberal anxiety about the rise of right-wing populism (or should we just call it fascism?) as a decisive and seismic moment of rupture for liberal democracy, this isn’t necessarily new. While we may be tempted to see this as a crisis point in ‘normal’ politics, some have highlighted how the very basis of liberal democracy might sow the seeds of the divisions we now see across lines of tolerance, race, gender and political economy. Here the debates are as complex as they are multifarious. Take, for instance, the rise of an overtly masculinised approach to protecting borders and defending sovereignty. This ‘strongman’ politics blatantly attempts to raise defences against imagined outside incursions – and it is easy to see the gendered dynamics that construct these efforts to reclaim and exert power, order and hierarchical relations. We see it in ‘America First’, and ‘take back control’, as well as replicant iterations elsewhere. It also provokes a sort of counter-strongman response. I’m thinking here about Arnold Schwarzenegger (as I often, inexplicably, do) taunting Trump over Putin, support for white supremacists or climate change denial. While Arnie gets a lot of likes for this, he’s still married to a conservative idea of what the state is, what statecraft should look like, and how strength should be used. This is part of the problem. Dig a bit deeper, and the very order we’re claiming to defend relies on ideas of strength, autonomy, rationality. This is highly gendered, not simply in the way ideas of strength and weakness are invoked, but in the sort of solutions and responses that are offered to counter such positions.

So instead of rupture, I’d rather talk about continuities. I was reminded by Debbie Lisle, at her recent workshop for Roland Bleiker’s Visual Politics seminar series at UQ, of the idea of intensification. Debbie used this a long time ago in response to the crisis of 9/11 – rather than see 9/11 as a rupture, it was an intensification of already existing and ongoing processes. It’s been a useful device for teaching my critical terrorism studies class, and I’ve referred to it ever since. At her UQ seminar, intensification again emerged in response to the migrant ‘crisis’, in this case, how ‘crisis’ invites affective modes of urgency, enabling and disabling certain actions, responses and responsibilities. Intensification has me thinking about this exact juncture between event, rupture, and crisis, which seems to constantly interject into ‘normal’ politics. There is a purpose and a danger to categorisations of rupture and crisis – such descriptors can invoke a range of different responses, placing events out of time, context and space. This has been interrogated in various ways across political economy, democracy, and security post-9-11 and in the era of Trump. So, I want to skirt away from the realm of urgency and instead look to and try and expose the continuities when apprehending how gender is threaded into the very fabric of states and the performance of statehood. And herein lies the complexity: gendered states are practised and performed in different ways, and often rework the very conditions they claim to try to change. Focussing on rupture can distract us from what is already embedded and part of the very thing we are trying to defend. So instead maybe we ought to look to the spaces in-between – the cases where we might miss the signs and connections of the ways in which gendered states operate and persist, or work in different ways.

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“The Ecological Indian” and the History of Environmental Ideas

A guest post from Philip Conway, a PhD candidate in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. His thesis is titled “The Historical Ontology of Environment: From the Unity of Nature to the Birth of Geopolitics.” He blogs at Circling Squares and micro-blogs @PhilipRConway.


Cosmological questioning

‘But what about indigenous cosmologies?’ This kind of question is becoming more and more common in debates in International Relations, human geography and other fields. Whether articulated in terms of decolonisation, worlding, ontology, lifeways, cosmopolitics or pluriversality (other terminologies are available), there is a strong and growing conviction that making space for modes of collective existence beyond, besides and despite the hegemonic naturalism of the West is a pressing intellectual and political priority.

Indeed, this is a question that I am asked (and ask myself) on a regular basis. However, it is a more conceptually, ethically and politically complicated question than it may first appear. This essay explores some of these complications in relation to the research project that I am currently embarked upon – namely, a history of how ‘environment’ became a conceptual commonplace of Euro-American scientific, literary and political conversation by around about 1910.

The project investigates how this everyday expression – ‘environment’ – came to be taken for granted and, more to the point, what this tells us about the ways in which we think (or don’t think) about ourselves, the world around us and, in short, how our conceptions contrive to carve things up (and stitch them back together).

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Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part II

Based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee. See Part I here.

Nation-statist militarism is the default (‘normal’) setting for militarism in international and global life.  Following Mann, this manifestation of militarism is characterized by some form of civilian control over the armed forces and a state-led economic and social mobilization of ‘destructive’ forces. (Alternative labels are ‘Westphalian militarism’ and even ‘Keynesian militarism’). In claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence, the nation-state prioritized territorial defence; planned, built and consumed from its own arsenals; and engaged in military recruitment practices that reflected and reinforced the prevailing social structures of the nation (whether professionalized or constricted).

This type subsumes what Mann refers to ‘authoritarian militarism’ and ‘liberal militarism’, his main examples coming from Europe–the absolutist polities and their twentieth century authoritarian descendants (e.g. Germany, Russia) versus the polities deriving from the constitutional regimes (e.g. Britain, France).  It even subsumes the militarisms of the post-1945 nuclear age, which include, in Mann’s terminology, sub-types like ‘deterrence-science militarism’ (‘techno-scientific militarism’) and ‘spectator sport militarism.’

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Trumped: Beyond the Whitelash

The election of a manifestly incompetent, billionaire bigot as president of the USA has come as a shock to many people, as indeed it should, and a vigorous debate has emerged over the causes. Many progressives, rightly horrified by the vile, nativist and sexist rhetoric of Trump’s campaign, seem to be concluding that it is this rhetoric that explains his success. Trump’s victory – enabled above all by white men – exposes the appeal of retrograde sentiment on gender – because voters rejected a highly-qualified woman for a self-declared ‘pussy-grabber’ – and race – since his supporters endorsed or at least disregarded his intensely racist rhetoric and policy pledges. Trump’s win thus expresses a ‘whitelash’ – a vile defence of threatened, white, male privilege. However, while sexists and racists undoubtedly supported Trump en masse, this thesis cannot explain how he was able to win. Indeed, it distracts attention from the most glaring cause of the outcome: the rot at the heart of America’s democratic system in general and of the Democratic Party in particular.

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There’s A Focus On The Boats Because The Sea Is Sexier Than The Land: A Reflection on the Centrality of the Boats in the Recent ‘Migration Crisis’

Pallister-Wilkins.Profile PictureA guest post from Polly Pallister-Wilkins, Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Polly’s work broadly sits in the borderlands between International Relations, Critical Security Studies and Political Geography. More specifically she specialises in the intersection of humanitarian intervention and border control. Her current research is concerned with what she terms ‘humanitarian borderwork’ building on previous research into humanitarianism, border policing and the political sociologies of walls, fences and security barriers. Her regional areas of focus are the Mediterranean, specifically Greece, and the Middle East. She has been an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Amsterdam since 2012 after undertaking her doctoral research at SOAS, University of London. Recent work has appeared in International Political Sociology and Geopolitics. She is also the editor of a forthcoming forum in Mediterranean Politics on the ‘Migration Crisis’.


Lesvos boat landing, November 2015.Pallister-Wilkins

I grew up watching Baywatch. Saturday evenings were the highlight of my week. All that sun, sea, sand and heroics. This may account for my poor bastardisation—and for this I apologise—of Warsan Shire’s evocative verse. In addition I am not suggesting that all focus is on the boats that transport people and the sea they cross even as journeys and modes of travel become a central theme in border and mobility policing and the study thereof. I am labouring under artistic license here.

The appearance of search and rescue operations (SAR) in the Mediterranean and Aegean—beyond those undertaken continuously by commercial vessels and the daily routines of state coastguards—is, Cap Anamur aside, a relatively new phenomenon. The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) was the first non-state actor to engage in humanitarian driven SAR in 2014, joined in 2015 by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and later Seawatch in the southern Mediterranean. These actors are also present in the Aegean, a wholly different operating environment, with smaller SAR vessels, where they operate amongst a plethora of other groups and individuals focused on responding to the danger of the boat journeys of people on the move.

I have the utmost respect for those engaged in a range of practices that I call humanitarian borderwork. These humanitarian borderworkers, mostly volunteers, work tirelessly to alleviate the violence of a European border regime that makes safe and legal travel an impossibility for those seeking life. These people step in and step up to provide assistance for people on the move where Europe, its member states and its large-scale humanitarian organisations, so used to acting the sovereign and intervening elsewhere beyond the borders of Europe, have failed.

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Ivory Towers and Sleeping Beauties: On the Importance of Political Activism in Academia at EISA 2015

FCasoA guest post from Federica Caso on the recently created petition from academics to EU decision makers on the ongoing refugee/migrant crisis (you can see it and sign it), which has also been subject to discussion by Federica and Tiina Vaittinen over at the Feminist Academic Collective. Federica is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at the University of Queensland, where she is working on embodiment and the aesthetics of militarism in the context of the militarisation of society. Her research is informed by feminism and queer theory.


What can we do as academics and political subjects in face of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Europe? Probably not much, but I would like to take the time and energy to tell why I think signing the petition by IR academics and community to address the EU to open safe channels of entry and mobility for asylum seekers is important, and suggest what can be done to mobilise at EISA.

So, does it take a picture of a dead boy on the shore of Turkey to awaken political consciousness? These days, tons of memes about Aylan Kardi circulate on the internet. Even those who oppose what has been called ‘trauma porn’ of sharing pictures of dead bodies cannot do anything but see these images on their social networks feeds. Megan Mackenzie, Annick Wibben, and Tiina Vaittinen have provided some insights into the debate surrounding the ethics of sharing these pictures. Most importantly, they all have raised important issues about what academics and scholars can and must do. As has been rightly pointed out in the context of images of refugees, we need to understand how they shape our emotional and ethical attitude, we need more insights, but we also need more political action. When considering the political impact that an image can have, Tiina Vaittinen says “To share an image of a dead child’s body on your Facebook page! It is truly immoral – while simultaneously it may also be the most moral act to do”, to the extent that it is the act that starts the much needed political mobilisation.

Academia and the discipline of IR have long been accused of being at loss with political action, or better, with the ability to speak to real world problems in a timely and effective way, which I see as academia’s political action. The gap debate in the discipline of IR is quite well known to all of us. Academia provides for a comfortable Ivory Tower from which the academic speaks, and this voice feeds the clouds rather than address an actual audience. Continue reading

The Status of Syrian Nationals Residing in Turkey

migrants-boat-capsize-mediterranean

Preface.

I have written this blog post about three weeks ago and have been sitting on it, reflecting about it since then, I was not sure if I wanted to write yet another piece on the “Syrian refugees”. But yesterday, we all woke up to the images of two young children lying on the beach lifeless around Bodrum, Turkey, and having read some of the posts available, I felt the need to post this. This is not a happy or “cool” post. This is a post about dire conditions and technicalities on the status of Syrian nationals living in Turkey, and it should be seen as a plea for assistance, and action.

The children in the pictures were Aylan Kurdi, 3 years old, and his brother Galip Kurdi 5, who drowned along with their mother Rehan Kurdi, on their way to Kos, Greece. They were from Kobane, trying the irregular route after their application for private sponsorship was refused by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), and presumably the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada this summer.

As an expectant father, and a human being, those pictures are too brutally heartbreaking for me. They are too real, yet unfortunately they are not exceptional or extraordinary. I was unable to look at the pictures for more than a second, and I don’t think I can ever get to share them or look at them again. Elsewhere on the Visual Cultures Blog, @MarcoBohr makes the point on how we can only confront the inhumanity of the situation by confronting such pictures directly, but I just can’t get myself to look at them again, so I am not posting them or really talking about them in this post. Instead, I look at some of the reasons (structural, institutional, situational) that pushes people to seek such a risky route out of Turkey. The images, in tandem with all those individuals dying in the Mediterranean, en route to Europe, represents a moral/humanitarian crisis and demonstrates the hollowness of the so-called “normative power Europe.” The European Union, US, Canada, Australia, and every other capable country – including the Middle Eastern countries – must be ashamed of their actions, or the lack thereof, in addressing this crisis. As scholars, individuals, and human beings we must not just read about these deaths, we must whatever we can stop others from dying the same way. 

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