Knowing Like A Jinetera

The last commentary post in our forum on Megan’s From Cuba With Love, following contributions from Megan herself, Rahul, Dunja Fehimovic and Nivi. Megan’s rejoinder will be up imminently.


Visit Cuba Poster

So near and yet so foreign! declares the advert. Intimate and exotic, Cuba as a repository for fantasy and self-discovery, the neighbour with the mixed-race charms, the imagined nation Cindy Weber once analysed so relentlessly as “the near colony and certain feminine complement” of the United States. Megan’s new, and first, book – From Cuba With Love – exposes the same kind of dynamic, although from a different standpoint.[1] Hers is a near-seamless blend of reportage and feminist IR, moving from autobiography to testimony to political theory, translating from events on the Malecón (the long waterside promenade in Havana dubbed “Cuba’s great sofa”) to the masculine histories of the Cuban state and back again. It is also – for those seduced by such things – a book beautiful to look at, and to hold (which is a way of saying that you should buy a hard copy). It is a book about evasion, repression and muddled motives, but is itself a model of generosity and clarity.

The central figure throughout is the ‘jinetera’, superficially close to the idea of a ‘prostitute’ but evidently much more ambiguous in definition and shifting in practice. As Megan explains, the term ‘jinetera’ and the general practice ‘jineterismo’ are plays on ‘jockeying’, meaning to manoeuvre for advantage and also to have sex, both connotations clearly playful, if also risky (see the previous posts in the forum for more discussion on the meaning and forms of jineterismo).[2] It is with a curiosity about jineterismo that Megan starts. But where we end up is inside an indispensable guide to the ‘sexual-affective economy’, a bold innovation in disciplinary writing, and a testament to the difference gender analysis makes in studying the global political.

From Cuba With Love does what a certain kind of post-structural feminist IR does best, dissecting the identities created by, and in, a concrete historical system. Not the narrow ‘identity politics’ critics abhor, but identity as the fullness of lived experience shot through with power, subjectivities which are at once deeply personal (love, hope, desire, sex) and interwoven with the most brute forms of political violence (the state, the prison camp, the rehabilitation centre, the police system, imperialism and resistance, exclusion and poverty). It is a study that is undeniably ‘global’ in its scope, even about inter-national relations in a rather precise sense, given how often the admixture of sex and money circles the desires of the (usually) western male for a ‘local’ rendezvous, and how implicated notions of race, nation, difference, rivalry, trade, progress, savagery, miscegenation, and geopolitical virility are in that. A kind of diplomacy, even. This is an encounter with ‘the Other’, and a negotiation of the foreign, in its most visceral possible form. Or, as one key informant more bluntly puts it:

It’s different if one goes to bed with a foreigner, or a mountain of foreigners…Do we have to carry such chauvinistic patriotism with us in our pussies too? Is it obligatory to make use of a mambí dick? Or are they trying to avoid alienating penetrations?

Yet From Cuba With Love is not just a great success on those terms. It is also in many ways the stand-out example of ‘narrative IR’, that vague but increasingly popular sub-field (or is it a method?) devoted to exploring world politics from the situated perspective of someone experiencing it (that someone usually being the researcher themselves). Continue reading

Advertisements

The Science Question in International Studies: PTJ, CoI and follow-ups

Science Montage

From the beloved xkcd

Long time TDOT readers may recall the first ever book symposium we hosted, on Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations. PTJ’s argument regarding the status of ‘science’, epistemology, methodology and reflexivity has continued to generate vibrant and wide-ranging discussion in the discipline. At last year’s Millennium Conference on Method, Methodology and Innovation, PTJ’s keynote speech extended an argument regarding the distinctiveness of scientific knowledge, but argued that international studies did not have to be a science. Responses from Iver Neumann, Mark Salter, Nicola Chelotti, Laura Sjoberg and myself were invited in the follow-up special issue of the journal.

I’ve made my contribution accessible via academia.edu, but here’s a sneak preview: Continue reading

#occupyirtheory, International Studies Association (San Diego) Edition

ISA 2012 is just around the corner, and it will doubtless be as hectic and awkward and joyous as ever. Robbie and I will be appearing at an event on #occupy and its relevance for IR on Tuesday at 7 in Indigo 204 at the Hilton Bayfront. We’ll be joining Lucian Ashworth, Lara Coleman, Nicholas Kiersey and Wanda Vrasti (all chaired by Jason Weidner) for what I’m sure will be an exciting roundtable discussion. More importantly, it will be brief, with most of the session given over to a General Assembly-style discussion of what IR can learn from #occupy, what #occupy might get from IR, and how we might take the spirit and organisational form into the discipline itself (or not).

The hope is that the slightly later starting time will allow people to go both to the various Section receptions and meetings (briefly) and to come to this, whilst still leaving reasonable evening time for food and the rest. Please do get involved over at Facebook (see also the #occupyirtheory group and #occupyirtheory blog) and let interested IR-types know. Readers may also be (should also be!) interested in a recent forum from the Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies on ‘Occupy IR/IPE’, featuring Nick and Wanda (as well as Colin Wight, Michael J. Shapiro, Patrick Jackson and others), which I’ve parcelled together as a single pdf for your delectation here.

Hope to see you there!

TRIP-ing the Geek Fantastic: A Note On Surveying Disciplinary International Relations

The preliminary results of the 2011 Teaching and Research in International Politics (TRIP) Survey for the US are out (this is a way of saying that if you’re not an IR geek, you’ll likely find what follows boring and/or incomprehensible). As well as feeding into the usual list fetishism for “those looking to run the world” (*barf*), there are also a number of questions pumping faculty for predications, threat listings and popularity contests (turns out Professors of International Relations rate George Bush Snr. as a better President than Obama, but have almost nothing but contempt for young W.).

The self-image of the discipline continues to shift within the American heartland, not least with respect to the Big Other of Realism. The 2009 TRIP Survey recorded the percentage of self-identified Realists among US respondents at 21%, with Liberals at 20% and Constructivists at 17%. Things have progressed some way since then, with only just over 16% now willing to call themselves Realist against a steady 20% of Liberals and a narrowly triumphant 20.4% of Constructivists (and given the rankings awarded to Wendt within the ‘top four scholars’ sections, the shorter TRIPS may be rendered more simply as: ALEXANDER WENDT MADE ME A CONSTRUCTIVIST). Agnostics and Refuseniks together continue to outnumber these main categories with 11.5% naming themselves ‘Other’ and a further 25.7% declining to name any paradigmatic preference (a slight increase, but essentially the same levels as in 2008).

Continue reading

Men In High Castles: The Politics of Speculative Fiction in International Relations

(Man, one assumes, is the proper study of Mankind. Years ago we were all cave Men. Then there is Java Man and the future of Man and the values of Western Man and existential Man and economic Man and Freudian Man and the Man in the moon and modern Man and eighteenth-century Man and too many Mans to count or look at or believe. There is Mankind. An eerie twinge of laughter garlands these paradoxes. For years I have been saying Let me in, Love me, Approve me, Define me, Regulate me, Validate me, Support me. Now I say Move over. If we are all Mankind, it follows to my interested and righteous and rightnow very bright and beady little eyes, that I too am a Man and not a Women, for honestly now, whoever heard of Java Woman and existential Woman and the values of Western Woman and scientific Woman and the alienated nineteenth-century Woman and all the rest of that dingy and antiquated rag-bag? All the rags in it are White, anyway. I think I am a Man; I think you had better call me a Man; I think you will write about me as a Man from now on and speak of me as a Man and employ me as a Man and treat me as a Man until it enters your muddled, terrified, preposterous, nine-tenths-fake, loveless, papier-mâché-bull-moose head that I am a man. (And you are a woman.) That’s the whole secret. Stop hugging Moses’ tablets to your chest, nitwit; you’ll cave in. Give me your Linus blanket, child. Listen to the female man. If you don’t, by God and all the Saints, I’ll break your neck.)

Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)

The wordless histories of walking, dress, housing, or cooking shape neighbourhoods on behalf of absences; they trace out memories that no longer have a place… They insinuate different spaces into cafés, offices, and  buildings. To the visible city they add those ‘invisible’ cities about which Calvino wrote. With the vocabulary of objects and well-known words, they create another dimension, in turn fantastical and delinquent, fearful and legitimating.

Michel de Certeau, Heterologies (1986), cited in Carolyn Nordstrom, Shadows 0f War

In ‘A Scanner Darkly’, as in ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’,  all intersubjective relations devolve into webs of suspicion and betrayal. It goes with the territory, and the territory is nowhere – an existential East Berlin where everything you do has to be deniable. You’re guided by the grim categorical imperative which agents ignore at their peril: act as if the person to whom you are talking to will sell you out. If they haven’t fucked you over yet, just wait… If they don’t fuck you over, you’ll do it to yourself… Before long, you split in two, like Arctor, and then there’s no way back (all the king’s horses and all the king’s men … ). But total mental breakdown is the best cover of all (‘they can’t interrogate something, someone, who doesn’t have a mind’). Double agents, double lives, shivering on street corners, not sure if you’re the Man or waiting for the Man, but you’re always waiting… Cold war and junkie Cold, cold efficiency (‘I am warm on the outside, what people see. Warm eyes, warm face, warm fucking fake smile, but inside I am cold all the time, and full of lies’), the duplicities and self-deceptions of the addict doubling those of the spy in deep cover.

Mark Fisher, ‘Mors Ontologica’

Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women’s movements have constructed ‘women’s experience’, as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.

Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1991)

These extracted sentiments cast a weird light on some recent examinations of Science Fiction and international politics. An emergent sub-sub-field its own right, the interface of SF and IR at first sight signifies the expanding openness of the discipline to the hitherto forbidden joys of aesthetics and culture [1]. Yet, despite nods to various low-political concerns, the more obvious, and better-worn, link between this social science and that culture is to trace a commonality of geo-political units and event cycles. Space opera empires, inter-galactic wars and cross-species diplomacy order the day in a game of analogues.

This incipient tendency indicates a rather different path than that suggested by the self-image of the cultural turn. Continue reading

Analytic Political Theory and the Science Question

Building on my post responding to Patrick Jackson’s The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations, I wanted to highlight a book on methodologies in political theory that I’ve been working my way through.

In my post I suggested that “normative” theorists would object to Jackson’s characterization of their work as essentially the same as political activism or religious speculation – which I stand by.

I struggle to think of an approach to ethical theory whose adherents don’t aspire to be systematic, accountable, and oriented toward discovering or producing practical ethical knowledge. While the meaning of these terms and the methods by which one pursues these aims would obviously differ from those used in strictly empirical investigations, Jackson’s broad practical definition of science raises the possibility that those of us concerned to make ethical evaluations maybe be entitled to declare: “we are scientists!”

I came across a chapter by Daniel McDermott in Political Theory: Methods and Approaches (edited by David Leopold and Marc Stears) that illustrates my point extremely well. In the chapter, “Analytical Political Philosophy,” McDermott says the following:

Analytical political philosophy is a complement to social science. Whereas social scientists aim to determine the empirical facts about human behaviour and institutions, political philosophers aim to determine what ought to be done in light of that information… There are a number of different ways to characterize it, but probably the best is that analytical political philosophy is an approach to gaining knowledge that falls into the same broad category as science.

McDermott goes on to draw parallels between the natural and social sciences and analytical political philosophy, which he admits depends upon the reality of moral facts. He avoids the controversies surrounding this issue by distinguishing metaethics from political philosophy, drawing a further comparison between science.

This leads to a deeper, and more interesting, version of the objection to the political philosopher’s project: there simply are no moral facts, ever. The theories political philosophers develop really are theories about nothing, like those medieval theologians developed about the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin. This is a genuine worry, but it is the kind of metaethical worry that is none of the political philosopher’s business. In philosophy, as in most intellectual endeavours, progress depends in part upon a successful division of labour. All of biology, for example, is ultimately physics, but that does not mean biologists should become physicists. Nor would they allow worries about the origins of the universe to distract them from their projects… My claim is that political philosophers should set aside worries about whether there are moral facts is controversial… Continue reading