(Dis)Embodied Methodology in International Political Economy

Nicki Smith

Following some previous discussion on similar themes, a guest post by Nicola Smith. Nicki is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Birmingham and has published on a diversity of issues surrounding globalisation and social justice. She is currently writing a monograph on Queer Sexual Economies for Palgrave and has published articles in Sexualities, Third World Quarterly and the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. Other related publications include Body/State and Queer Sex Work. The following piece has been developed as part of a book project on methods in critical International Political Economy, edited by Johnna Montgomerie, and a version of it was recently presented at the semi-plenary session on ‘The body in/and international relations’ at the 8th Pan-European Conference on International Relations in Warsaw.


The Book of Life - Brain and Body - Zone of Civilization

There was a time when I understood International Political Economy (IPE) to mean ‘bodies of thought’ (realism, liberalism, Marxism, etc.) and so, not knowing which body to have, I tried each of them on for size. Realism didn’t fit (too tight); liberalism felt wrong (unethically-sourced materials); Marxism looked good (but I lacked the discipline to maintain it). Social constructivism suited my friends and felt pretty comfortable, so this was the body I decided to have. As a social constructivist, I did a lot of work on ideas (‘discourse’) and thought a lot about other bodies of thought. But what I didn’t do was to engage in thought about bodies. Bodies didn’t seem to happen in IPE; they appeared to exist somewhere else entirely, to be accessed only via metaphor (as in the above description) but always somewhere ‘over there’, never as the living, breathing stuff of the discipline. Bodies – or so I assumed – were off the cards.

In other contexts, though, I was thinking a lot about bodies: from the personal (‘will my body be able to produce another body, a child?’) to the professional (‘do I under-perform in job interviews because I gesticulate wildly when nervous?’) and the political, too (‘the government should de-criminalise the sale of sexual services’). Indeed, while I was writing a PhD and then monograph about states and markets – globalisation, economic development and social justice in the Irish Republic – it was bodies that I loved talking, reading, arguing about. I just didn’t see them as ‘IPE’.

In fact, bodies had been there all along; I hadn’t seen them because I hadn’t been looking.

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