Rethinking Masculinity and Practices of Violence

The modified text of an introduction written with Marsha Henry for our special issue of International Feminist Journal of Politics on ‘Rethinking Masculinity and Practices of Violence in Conflict Settings’ (trailed here), which came out in December 2012. The full text of the issue is currently freely available. I don’t know for how long, so get to it!


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Why rethink masculinity and conflict? After all, the connection of men and masculinities to organised (and seemingly unorganised) violence has been subject to considerable academic scrutiny over the last decades, not least as part of the feminist critique of disciplinary International Relations. It is now increasingly common to both note the unequal character of gendered violence (it is predominantly men who do the killing and the maiming) and to stress the contingent and sometimes paradoxical status of this situation (women kill and maim too, and the content of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ varies significantly over time, space and context). The analysis of gender within global politics has also moved beyond the level of the state and war to interrogate the full spectrum of social life, from popular culture to political economy. And yet elite institutions still prove stubbornly resistant to teaching gender, feminism and sexuality within ‘the international’, despite introductory texts which increasingly offer such insights to the curious student.

Although you wouldn’t know it from some of the caricatures in circulation, feminist and gender scholars write often of multiplicity in masculinities, of varied and shifting constructions of gendered agency, and of representations of violence as themselves constitutive of gender, rather than merely reflective of a pre-existing distribution of essences. Some, like Melanie McCarry, have become rather sceptical of this situation, warning that the actions and power of men themselves are obscured in the consensus that there are many masculinities. In other words that multiplicity, discourse and construction are not advances in theory, but ways of displacing responsibility away from concrete male perpetrators. At the same time as they direct attention to the material practices of men such criticisms also tend to gloss over rich and situated examples of critical theorising along exactly those lines. A different brand of critic has sometimes suggested that feminism may be incapable of properly analysing the variety of gendered experiences in conflict. But here too, a comprehensive history of the field instead reveals many close and nuanced considerations of men and women at war.

Nevertheless, ambiguities do persist in the way feminist and gender scholars describe and account for masculinity. Against this background, a number of problems come into sharper focus. First, how are masculinities and violences connected in specific locations of power? Second, how do these connections play out internationally, in the interactions between political communities, however understood? Third, just how related are gendered identities to fighting, killing and dying in conflict settings? And fourth, how do the complexities of violence situated in this way reflect back onto theorising about gendered hierarchy and difference?

Some of these questions are more familiar than others, but the collection of articles presented in our special issue of International Feminist Journal of Politics substantially addresses them all (I know, get us, right?). Continue reading

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(Im)Possibly Queer International Feminisms

Wehrmacht DragWe’ve previously mentioned the 2013 International Feminist Journal of Politics annual conference – on the topic of ‘(Im)Possibly Queer International Feminisms’. It turns out that there is extra reason to trumpet its existence: our very own Rahul Rao (author these excellent posts) will be one of the conference keynotes, alongside such others as Lisa Duggan (NYU), Jon Binnie (Manchester Met), Vivienne Jabri (Kings), V. Spike Peterson (Arizona), Laura Sjoberg (Florida), Rosalind GaltAkshay Khanna, and Louiza Odysseos (all Sussex)! A lot of other exciting papers will be on display, some of which I’ll be associated with. And there’s also a pre-conference workshop on Queer, Feminist and Social Media Praxis. Clearly not an occasion to miss.

The full call is as follows:

(Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms

The 2nd Annual IFjP Conference
May 17-19, 2013
University of Sussex, Brighton, England

The aim of this conference is to serve as a forum for developing and discussing papers that IFjP hopes to publish.  These can be on the conference theme or on any other feminist IR-related questions.

Feminists taught us that the personal is political.  International Relations feminists taught us that the personal is international.  And contemporary Queer Scholars are teaching us that the international is queer.  While sometimes considered in isolation, these insights are connected in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. This conference seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners to critically consider the limits and possibilities of thinking, doing, and being in relation to various assemblages composed of queer(s), international(s), and feminism(s).

Questions we hope to consider include:  Who or what is/are (im)possibly queer, (im)possibly international, (im)possibly feminist, separately and in combination?  What makes assemblages of queer(s), international(s) and feminism(s) possible or impossible?  Are such assemblages desirable – for whom and for what reasons?  What might these assemblages make possible or impossible, especially for the theory and practice of global politics?

We are interested in papers and panels that explore these questions through theoretical and/or practical perspectives, be they interdisciplinary or located within the discipline of International Relations.

Sub-themes include (Im)Possibly Queer/International/Feminist:

  • Heteronormativities/Homonormativities/Homonationalisms
  • Embodiments/Occupations/Economies/Circulations
  • Temporalities/‘Successes’/‘Failures’
  • Emotions/Desires/Psycho-socialities
  • Technologies/Methodologies/Knowledges/Epistemologies
  • Spaces/Places/Borders/(Trans)positionings
  • States/Sovereignties/Subjectivities
  • Crossings/Migrations/Trans(gressions)
  • (In)Securities

We invite submissions for individual papers or pre-constituted panels on any topic pertaining to the conference theme and sub-themes. We also welcome papers and panels that consider any other feminist IR-related questions.

Any inquiries should be addressed to the conference coordinator, Joanna Wood, at cait@sussex.ac.uk

Abstracts should be no more than 250 words.

Deadline for submissions: January 31, 2013

We will, however, confirm acceptance of submissions before the deadline if we receive abstracts early.  Early submission is therefore recommended.

Please submit your abstract here.

Fratriarchy, Homoeroticism and Military Culture

The ever-excellent Sociological Images offers up this 1940s advert, and others like it, as an example of how images previously taken to be innocent consumer bait for stereotypical homemakers now appear to us as dripping with homoeroticism. They may have added too that this half-ironic, half-nostalgic distance is what endears us to such images, which we then enjoy as vintage objects, for all that we know about the true historical context in which they were produced.

One common idea, which relates nicely to military bathing aesthetics (cannon towels? really?) is that many bonding behaviours in nominally heterosexual, male-dominated groups are in fact homosexual, but in a disavowed or repressed way. The scrum, the shared shower, the bunk-beds, the exclusion of women not only from the fields of play and war, but also from the various celebrations and carnivals that follow, all seem to indicate a desire for intimacy that cannot be named as such.

In the excellent Bring Me Men (which deserves its own dedicated review), Aaron Belkin identifies a more complex relation. In becoming military men, there is a need not only to disavow femininity, but also to become intimate with the ‘unmasculine’ and the ‘queer’. Rather than identifying a direct alignment of the masculine with the military, or seeing gender norms as accidental in their intersection with the military, there is instead a constitutive tension between the masculine and the unmasculine (or, we might say, between the strongly heteronormative and the homosexual). Basic training relies on a traumatic ambiguity, continually casting initiates as by turns masculine and unmasculine, so that no soldier can ever be sure that they were sufficiently on the ‘right side’ of the line. As one Marine put it: “The opposite of feminine? No. To me, what is masculine? I don’t know. [pause] And I’ve worked so hard at being it”. The continual ambiguity – what Belkin calls discipline as collapse – interacts with surveillance and punishment to produce the soldier-subject.

More brutally: Continue reading

Queerly Global Politics: Some Events

Normal blogging service soon to be resumed. In the meantime, two gender and world politics events of note. First, on Friday 2 November, a roundtable on gender, militarisation and violence at LSE, featuring Cynthia Enloe, Aaron Belkin, Kim Hutchings,and others. It will be excellent. Second, the call for papers for the 2nd International Feminist Journal of Politics is out. The conference is a way away (17-19 May 2013 at the University of Sussex), but early paper/panel submissions are encouraged. Details below the model military aesthetic.

(Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms

Feminists taught us that the personal is political. International Relations feminists taught us that the personal is international. And contemporary Queer Scholars are teaching us that the international is queer. While sometimes considered in isolation, these insights are connected in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. This conference seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners to critically consider the limits and possibilities of thinking, doing, and being in relation to various assemblages composed of queer(s), international(s), and feminism(s).

Questions we hope to consider include: Who or what is/are (im)possibly queer, (im)possibly international, (im)possibly feminist, separately and in combination? What makes assemblages of queer(s), international(s) and feminism(s) possible or impossible? Are such assemblages desirable – for whom and for what reasons? What might these assemblages make possible or impossible, especially for the theory and practice of global politics?

We are interested in papers and panels that explore these questions through theoretical and/or practical perspectives, be they interdisciplinary or located within the discipline of International Relations. Sub-themes include (Im)Possibly Queer/International/Feminist:

  • Heteronormativities/Homonormativities/Homonationalisms
  • Embodiments/Occupations/Economies/Circulations
  • Temporalities/‘Successes’/‘Failures’
  • Emotions/Desires/Psycho-socialities
  • Technologies/Methodologies/Knowledges/Epistemologies
  • Spaces/Places/Borders/(Trans)positionings
  • States/Sovereignties/Subjectivities — Crossings/Migrations/Trans(gressions)
  • (In)Securities

We invite submissions for individual papers or pre-constituted panels on any topic pertaining to the conference theme and sub-themes. We also welcome papers and panels that consider any other feminist IR-related questions. Send abstracts (250 words) to: Joanna Wood (j.c.wood [at] sussex.ac.uk)

Deadline for submissions: 31 January 2013

Rethinking Masculinity & Violence: A Call for Papers

Rethinking Masculinity & Practices of Violence in Conflict Settings

Special Issue of International Feminist Journal of Politics, guest edited by Marsha Henry (Gender Institute, LSE) and Paul Kirby (International Relations Department, LSE)

Actually, it’s critical analysis of men, masculinities and practices of violence that we want. While planning the forthcoming symposium on masculinity and violence (there are still a handful of places available), we thought we might be able to turn the idea into a viable journal special issue. So we asked the International Feminist Journal of Politics (IFjP for ease) and they said yes. And lo! A call for papers (also available as a pdf). Please distribute widely.

Continue reading

Symposium: Rethinking Masculinity

UPDATE (19 April): I’ve just received confirmation that a proposal based on this Symposium has been accepted as a Special Issue for the International Feminist Journal of Politics. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Papers not presented at the Symposium will not only be welcome but are actively encouraged. The deadline for first drafts is likely to be in August 2011 for eventual publication in 2012. Further details to follow…


A call for participation in a one-day Symposium at LSE I’ve been involved in organising. It’s taking place in just over three weeks and promises to be very productive and, yes, exciting. Thanks to some funding, places are free, but do email me if you want to come so we can get a sense of numbers for food. There will also doubtless be continuing discussion afterwards. Please distribute widely.


Rethinking Masculinity & Practices of Violence in Conflict Settings


Thursday 5 May 2011

Room Clem.D702, Clement House (on Aldwych), London School of Economics & Political Science

Keynote: Professor Cynthia Cockburn (City University and University of Warwick)

Sponsored by the British International Studies Association Gender IR Working Group, the LSE Department of International Relations and the LSE Gender Institute.

Thinking about masculinity, maleness and men has always had a place in the interdisciplinary fields of feminist, queer and gender studies. Discussion and debate about the relevance of masculinity as a shifting concept has recently been further developed in the fields of politics and International Relations (IR) where scholars have explicitly tried to address women’s experiences in relation to the persistence of the ‘man question’.

Despite this, masculinity in international politics remains somewhat amorphous. Research has tended to be disconnected, addressing particular wars or media events, rather than masculinity as an organising concept or its role across space and time in its historically variable forms. This symposium (and a proposed journal Special Issue arising from it) therefore seeks to extend and deepen work on the conceptual character and concrete forms taken by masculinity through the lens of violence and conflict settings.

Continue reading