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Inhabitants of interstices? feminist analysis at the intersection of peace studies, critical security studies and human security.


The article places Feminist Security Studies at the centre of the analysis. The aim is to underline the unsettling yet crucial role Feminist Security Studies plays in the theorising of security. While it operates on the margins of mainstream International Relations, Feminist Security Studies (as a way of studying International Relations rather than a field of study) is uniquely placed in the intellectual interstices of several critical epistemological streams, such as Peace Studies, Critical Security Studies, and various human security discourses. Through an analysis of shared assumptions and also where Feminist Security Studies deviates, the article illustrates the way in which its outsider-insider status makes it ideally suited to both deepen and open up seemingly emancipatory fields without enforcing theory consensus. The article concludes by outlining how a specifically feminist gender approach that links everyday and global security theorising and activism, not only deepens critical discourses, but also encourages an opening up of security discourses through exposing the gender silences and co-option of critical discourses into the mainstream. By insisting that the various security discourses become more reflective of their own normative assumptions and political commitments, Feminist Security Studies thus promotes more responsible and responsive scholarship.


International Relations (IR) textbooks usually summarise feminist motivations for bringing gender into the study of security as firstly, that new issues and alternative perspectives will be added to the security agenda, and secondly, that the result will be a totally reconstructed notion of international security. Correct as it may be, this is a somewhat simplistic depiction which does not capture the actual 'how' of the process and also gives the impression that intellectual shifts are smooth, uncontested processes where theory drives or precedes history. However, intellectual shifts in the discipline of IR did not come about as a result of scholars' rigorous engagement with theory. The dramatic changes were mainly the result of broader historical forces which made the existing order unsustainable anyway. IR and its various sub-disciplines have been profoundly affected by the end of the Cold War. (iii)) The subsequent reshaping of academic agenda was inevitable. On the one hand, Strategic Studies was less prepared for the changes but nevertheless shed some of the militarist inclinations in favour of a more utilitarian threat analysis. On the other hand, Peace Studies (PS) softened its radicalism. Consequently both camps found a home within the realm of International Security Studies (ISS) (Buzan 1991: 13).

This cross-fertilisation is generally viewed as positive (Kriesberg 2002), since after years of lost opportunities the range of voices participating in the inter-disciplinary dialogue has increased, in particular from scholars from the developing world and feminists. Yet it presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, we have seen huge growth: From a disciplinary point of view, Feminist Security Studies (FSS), feminist International Political Economy, and feminist work on global governance issues are currently the three key fields of inquiry, but it is particularly FSS which has captured the scholarly attention. At the 2011 International Studies Association conference in Montreal, almost half of the 46 panels sponsored by the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section consisted of FSS (Prugl 2011: 111-112). FSS has offered an important feminist critique of core issues of the IR discipline, such as war, peace and national security (Blanchard 2003: 1289). Feminist security theory, through a dialogue with peace activists, policymakers and political theorists, thus "has subverted, expanded, and enriched notions of security" (Blanchard 2003: 1290).

At the same time, these convergences have also had their own 'traps'. First, critical security discourses often mask injustices and reinforce the marginalisation of those who lack agency. In other words, attention to shared questions and the pursuit of noble goals do not necessarily produce good consequences, such as the transformation of power relations. Cynthia Enloe quite rightly opines that "[u]nderestimating the amounts and kinds of power operating in the world is the hallmark of nonfeminist analysis" (Enloe 1989: xiv). Peace agenda becoming co-opted by elite echelons and strategists adopting the jargon but not the values of positive peace remain very real risks. Second, disciplinary conversations between feminist IR and mainstream IR have remained superficial. It is often lamented that the opening up of conversational spaces between FSS and IR has not yet facilitated the dissipation of the "gendered estrangement" (Blanchard 2003: 1290). The concern is not only the marginality of feminist scholarship within the discipline of IR, but also that the perceived voice that may have been gained is in fact a gross overestimation, as it has not encouraged a "deep rewriting of the androcentric grammar of the field" (Soreanu and Hudson 2008: 124). The fact that liberal/neo-conservative feminism is very much part of the mainstream explains why gender equality initiatives (gender mainstreaming) have simply been grafted onto existing power structures with little fundamental transformation in the lives of women at the grassroots level. This state of affairs poses a particular dilemma: Should FSS continue to operate on the so-called margins, acting out its role as critical voice or should it strive to become part of the mainstream? Critical feminist scholars view the integration of liberal feminism into the mainstream with suspicion--as a sign of its complicity in the modernist project (Zalewski et al 2008: 167), but is it inevitable that the priz(c)e for mainstreaming is becoming part of the politics of silencing?

I argue that the answer to this dilemma requires that we think differently about whether FSS is a subject/sub-discipline of IR to be studied or a way of studying IR, and where FSS is located. In the first instance, I concur with Wibben (2004: 109) that it would be more useful for the discipline as a whole to treat FSS as a way of studying IR. FSS is not just about adding women, but has a transformative aim, studying how Security Studies (SS) produce, disseminate, and recreate knowledges. Viewing FSS as such offers creative intellectual opportunities for deepening our understanding of the production of such knowledges. Such deepening is achieved through a linking of everyday knowledge of insecurity at the local level with knowledge of global patterns of insecurity. But critical feminist epistemologies and methodologies go beyond a deepening and broadening towards transcending boundaries and open up disciplinary silos and entrenched assumptions--starting at understanding how security has traditionally worked and how meanings of security are fixed in certain narratives that make up SS (Wibben 2011:6,7). In the second place, such an emancipatory purpose compels us to reconsider where FSS is located. As a critical discourse FSS does mainly function on the margins of the mainstream, but is simultaneously uniquely placed at the intersection of PS, Critical Security Studies (CSS) and critical human security discourses--in the intellectual interstices or crevices right at the heart of the so-called 'alternative' and critical discourses. This somewhat uncomfortable 'outsider-insider' status makes FSS ideally suited to facilitate an opening within SS.

The focus of analysis in this article is thus radical or critical variants of feminism and how these could enhance critical thinking within the three sub-disciplines. While all feminisms have a transformative goal in mind, these vary in degree. The position in this article challenges liberal feminist approaches which elevate gender equality as the route to emancipation. A very specific gender approach is therefore proposed, namely one that goes beyond adding women to existing structures. The underlying argument is that gender equality is not a panacea for an already dysfunctional system. Inserting women into such a system using the gender equality tool will not change skewed relationships and structures. Although these feminisms of cooption are not deliberately supportive of the dominant order, they "lack a discourse based on a radical critique of the present" (Jabri 2004: 265). In contrast, I regard engaged and critical feminisms as a vehicle for change, since they are transnational in nature, circumscribed by context, and defy--in the words of Jabri (2004)--"uniform definitions of what it is to be a liberated self" (Jabri 2004: 265).

The purpose is not to reify the feminisation of everything, but to illustrate how specifically critical feminist analyses can facilitate knowing about multiple worlds and communicate across them. The aim is to underline the unsettling yet crucial role FSS plays in the theorising of security (and indirectly IR theorising) and to illustrate this by focusing on the three areas of PS, CSS, and human security. The article opens with a brief discussion of the evolution of FSS and some of its key epistemological features. It then outlines what assumptions FSS shares with the three abovementioned areas, what FSS can add in terms of deepening and opening up, and how its 'outside in' placement facilitates this contribution. It concludes by proposing the use of a very specific feminist gender approach as analytical tool in the context of PS, CSS, and human security discourses.


In a day and age of globalisation where some (for example, Lawson 2002: 4) have claimed that IR has become an 'inter-discipline', mainstream IR remains all too fond of synthesis and finding 'third ways' and middle ground theories to bridge gaps between self-imposed disciplinary silos in its quest for order (see for instance the intra-paradigm debate between neo-liberalism and neo-realism) (Smith 2007: 12). In opposition to this mainstream which is positivist/rationalist in its approach to develop explanatory theory, those approaches deemed peripheral (such as critical theory, post-modernism, feminist theory, post-colonial theory, PS) are labelled reflectivist in their practice of constitutive theory. It is in this context that critical feminists argue that conventional approaches to state security drown out women's role in peace and conflict in their belief that their theorising is value free or not socially constructed. In comparison to the Copenhagen School which claims that it observes how 'others' practice politicised theorising, the CSS school is more in tune with its normative and political commitments (see Eriksson 1999). Yet, as I will show in subsequent sections, the discourse of emancipation and a focus on individual human beings do not insulate critical schools of thought from the dangers of universalising tendencies. Claims of reflexivity and self-awareness therefore do not always hold water in the face of gender-neutrality.

Broader societal processes of women's liberation during the 1960s played a key role in promoting the growth of FSS. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, feminist literature in the humanities (in fields such as sociology) experienced a growth period. Its impact began to be felt in IR towards the late 1980s. The high point came when a symposium on Women and International Relations was hosted at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which led to the publication of a special issue of Millennium in 1988. In 1990, the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of the International Studies Association was founded (Buzan and Hansen 2009: 141). Since the 1990s, FSS has moved beyond its critique of political realism, and now includes a diverse range of theoretical and methodological influences from constructivist and post-modern/post-colonial to poststructuralist and queer studies. The Tickner/Enloe approach of standpoint feminism (Tickner 1992) sees gender as a social construct, yet maintains 'women' as a referent object with real-world experiences. An epistemology of experience is attractive to FSS and CSS scholars, as it opens up space for subjects marginalised by state-centric security concepts and takes the analysis back to everyday life. However, because of limitations related to an exclusive focus on women as opposed to men, diversity (post-colonial) feminism views gender identity as informed by race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Poststructuralist or critical constructivist feminism studies the construction of identity by examining how states or international organisations are gendered (that is, constituted as masculine or feminine). Quantitative, positivist feminism offers a gendered version of democratic peace theory by studying the causal relationship between sex or equality between the sexes and attitudes toward war (for example, Caprioli 2005) while other studies simply adopt gender as a variable but are not feminist in nature. The various strands of FSS can thus be seen as a microcosm of ISS itself (Buzan and Hansen 2009: 208212; Confortini 2010).

This brief epistemological history of the blossoming of FSS notwithstanding, the jury is still out as to whether there is cause for optimism or whether the feminist debate is a critique on the margins of IR with robust engagement within feminist circles only. Expectations of shifts in IR great debates as a result of this have not materialised. Instead, the conversation between feminist IR scholars and other IR scholars have produced mixed results, with those scholars using gender as an analytical category being more successful in engaging in dialogue with mainstream IR, than more feminist-oriented scholars (Sjoberg 2010: 1). That said, should success be measured in terms of critiquing from within the 'neo-neo' heart and running the risk of co-option, or should FSS rather seek to transform critical security discourses which share, at least, some kind of normative and epistemological foundation? Or do these attempts by FSS smack of universalising tendencies as well?

Evidence of regime change wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya testifies to the fact that underlying these interventions is a belief in one universal logic of security which determines all struggles. In contrast, theory pluralism carries within itself richer concepts of both peace and violence, but not a highly compartmentalised and "fortresslike" pluralism. Cognisant of the fact that certain pluralisms and political choices can also be used to maintain hegemony/order, I support an "engaged" pluralism (Lapid 2002: 253). An engaged pluralism would imply being open to 'the Other', yet not necessarily seeking consensus. In accordance with this view, a critical feminist IR scholarship seeks a different kind of synthesis or holism--one that does not confirm, but provokes instead. Feminist security theory is similarly about using gender as a social organising principle to put women's and men's insecurities in context. At the core of the normative and transformative vision of feminist security theory lies a rejection of realism/positivism; a critique of the abstractions of strategic discourse; a sensitivity towards women's everyday experience and security; problematising the state; and an awareness of the effects of structural violence (Blanchard 2003: 1298). The kind of holism referred to here is not interdependence based necessarily on equality or stability, but rather the kind that is open-ended in its recognition of difference. An inevitable part of theorising is to move to concrete studies based on 'fractious' (Runyan 1992: 135-6) holistic analyses--not to generalise and provide fixed universal answers, but to attempt a different kind of synthesis--a synthesis of problematisation, rather than of answers--showing where the different studies fit into the bigger puzzle.

Although slowly changing in particular non-American Northern circles, conventional IR (due to its privileging of the public over the private/personal) remains hesitant to develop 'practical knowledge', that is, knowledge that grows out of the everyday practices of peoples' lives (Tickner 2004: 45). In contradistinction feminist security analyses link the everyday gendered effects of militarism, underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and poverty to unequal and gendered structures within global politics. In conjunction with feminism as an empirical project concerned with the politics of the everyday, as an intellectual political theory project, it forces us to reflect on the meaning of the 'international' and the 'political'. As Jabri remarks, "[f]eminism disrupts the taken for granted boundaries of political theory and it has done so in IR through its focus on lived experience" (Zalewski et al 2008: 166). It contrasts the abstractions of the international system and the unproblematised state with the reality of life in all its complexity.

These two qualities, namely the commitment to a fractious and contested holism as well as connecting everyday insecurity with global injustice, place FSS in a unique position to promote "dialogic forms of knowledge building that is sensitive to different voices and traditions" (Tickner and Tsygankov, 2008: 664). For instance, Christine Sylvester (2002: 242-264) proposes the notion of 'empathetic cooperation' as a feminist methodology for mitigating the closures presented by the essentialist tendencies of standpoint feminism and the relativism within feminist post-modernism. In her words, this is a methodology for "managing, working with, respecting, and surpassing rigid standpoints, positions, and issues without snuffing out difference" (Sylvester 2002: 244). Between these epistemologies, borders are porous, so much so that 'conversations' could lead to cooperative or negotiated reinterpretations of knowledge and power. This method engages with--rather than run away from--contradictions and tensions once the conversation starts, levelling the playing field so that there is no clear or fixed theory to be used as starting point. Amidst identities which all of a sudden do not seem that fixed anymore, empathetic listening paves the way for alternative views of security to emerge.

Since feminists occupy the interstice, they have access to a vast range of intellectual resources, "while other parts of the discipline risk stasis and ossification" (Soreanu and Hudson 2008: 150), and are therefore uniquely placed to engage with the 'unsettling' and the 'troubling'. My argument then is that one can use perspectives from the chinks, cracks, and crevices to provide particular insights in specific empirical contexts and to invigorate more parsimonious theories. Using gender as a conceptual tool (if applied correctly) has the potential of directing "IR theorisations towards new more open ... avenues" (Kurki 2006: 213). Such gendered relations should be appreciated for what they tell us about structural relations at many levels, be that everyday life or global politics. In this respect, understanding the connection between patriarchal power relations, domestic violence during peace time, and the use of rape as a weapon of war requires a much more sophisticated and integrated insight than what a statistical or observational explanation can offer and therefore uncovers more of the hidden layers which constitute our complex social reality. In the next three sections, through an analysis of shared and divergent assumptions of FSS vis-a-vis PS, CSS, and human security discourses respectively, I will show how feminist engagements deepen a fractured local-global reality, expose normative bias, and subsequently provide an opening for other voices to be heard.


Although PS defies exact definition, for the purposes of this article, I draw on Confortini's broad definition (2010) of it as the researching and understanding of causes of violence and the conditions for interpersonal, societal and international peace. However, the greater synergy between various sub-fields of IR, the broadening of their scope of enquiry, and the much broader range of argument about what should be included in the meaning of security have led to an identity crisis for PS, leaving it with less to address. Many of the so-called 'new' issues, such as environmental security, structural violence, and critiques of militarism, previously propagated by PS have now been usurped by the mainstream security discourse. Despite this, I argue that there is still room for a critical perspective on peace, provided as Patomaki (2001) cautions, that such a critical reflective process acknowledge an open-ended ontology and a plurality of discourses and peace theories along the lines of Bourdieu's heterodoxa (Richmond 2010: 30).

PS and FSS share epistemological and ontological commitments to positive peace grounded in the promotion of social justice by means of socio-economic and political change. Apart from a strong normative similarity and shared views on the role of structural violence, they also share the close cooperation and natural tension between theory and action (Reardon 1993). Whereas peace researchers, educators and activists seek to expose the causes of war and the conditions of peace through researching the effects of peace action, feminist security scholars expose the gendered nature of power and its negative gendered security effects (see Peterson and Runyan 1999). But this 'natural' complementarity has its limits: The extensive participation of women in Greenham Common and the prominence of the Women's Peace Movements have led many standpoint feminists to claim that there is an "inherent and inevitable logic" linking women with peace (Moolakkattu 2006: 138). The shared multi-disciplinary character of FSS and PS is also cited as the basis for a shared methodology (Galtung 1985: 143), which transcends disciplinary knowledge boundaries, thereby counteracting fragmentation in the social sciences. Both therefore propagate a broader, more inclusive approach to the study of conflict, peace and security and the desire to break down or transcend dichotomies of 'us' versus 'them'.

But the convergence ends here, especially if we consider that Galtung's theory of structural violence was silent on gender. With the inherent critical inclination of PS there is an automatic assumption that the discipline would be sensitive to the politics of identity. Ironically though, critical feminists targeted PS for creating a mere semblance of gender neutrality, of perpetuating the perception that gender issues are irrelevant to the theoretical assumptions of the discipline. These feminists contend that the multi-disciplinary character of PS is no guarantee that feminist viewpoints will be considered. Sub-areas such as conflict resolution, with its focus on conflict management and problem-solving, quickly became technicist and rather conservative fields of study which took little notice of issues of power and justice (with a few exceptions such as Lederach's work (1996) on conflict transformation). Similarly, the area of risk analysis has become a rationalist exercise on the basis of country case studies with consultants dominating the field. In this regard MacGinty (2011) points out that contemporary peace and conflict discourses "are oddly apolitical despite dealing with archly political issues such as the making and breaking of peace" (MacGinty 2011: 110).

It therefore comes as no surprise that feminist contributions within PS are under-represented--especially post-modernist or post-colonial variants (Confortini 2010). Recognising that not only women do feminist research, it remains indicative that only eight per cent of articles published in the Journal of Peace Research the first 25 years were written by women (Buzan and Hansen 2009: 138). Also acknowledging that women's issues should not be conflated with gender, the reality is that inclusion of those issues (in one way or another) does tell us something about the status of FSS within ISS. A quick survey of some of the most recent books on conflict resolution and peace theory reveal a rather dismal picture where few of the texts discuss gender as a variable: Peter Wallensteen's seminal textbook Understanding Conflict Resolution (2006) makes two references to women's issues under the Taliban in Afghanistan, one on the impact of violence on women or children, and one listing of women's movements as part of the civil society component of conflict resolution. The Transformation of Peace (2005), Oliver Richmond's book on the liberal peace, lacks any reference to women, gender or feminism. Lately PS scholars have begun to either acknowledge feminist contributions (by including the odd chapter or two (for example, Richmond 2010) or brief discussions of feminist contributions to peace theory (for example, Richmond 2008: 456), highlighting the everyday, empathetic and caring epistemological similarities.

The fact that FSS at once overlaps and is different from PS, has helped PS to regain its critical edge. Deepening sets in when FSS offers feminist reformulations of power. While feminists are not the only peace researchers who seek to reconceptualise power, they use gender analysis and women's experiences as the lens. Through integrated understanding of all forms of violence (namely that 'private' violence has political and international relevance) (Confortini 2010) and linking militarism and patriarchy (Enloe 1988), engaged feminism enhances our understanding of power as relational and helps to create alternative formulations of power as "mutual enablement rather than domination" (Tickner 1992: 65). The introduction of gender as an analytical construct has not only helped to broaden and reconstruct (deepen) the concepts of peace (Reardon 1993; Boulding 1992), but has also challenged the hidden biases (gender neutrality) of some PS research and practices. With the help of FSS we now know much more about the diverse roles women and other marginalised groups play in violent conflict and in peace processes (Chinkin and Charlesworth 2006; Porter, 2003). (iv)) Feminist research in this regard has, for instance, exposed the fine line between viewing women as victims and agents of war. Research on masculinities and the effects of gender-based violence on men and boys has also come under the spotlight, showing how changing gender relations (for example, in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) have contributed towards gender-based violence in the post-conflict period (Dolan 2010).


Similar to the case of FSS and PS, we generally assume a broad commensurability between CSS and feminist scholarship (see Tickner 2004: 46). Firstly, both fields share a practical and intellectual commitment to emancipation. Emancipation can be defined as the removal of structural barriers which create situations of insecurity for individuals. Secondly, both FSS and CSS view emancipation not as an abstract universal ideal, but rather as a process embedded in a particular historical and cultural context. In other words, it becomes a normative engagement rooted in a specific context of insecurity--surveying human rights abuses, oppression of minorities and violence against women, the poor, and the empirical evidence of agency resisting powerlessness. This would make security accounts more authentic and credible, which in turn would lead to security theory that is both more responsive/relevant and ethically responsible (reflexiveness). This means that emancipation must be understood as both an intellectual project and a practical act. Thirdly, for both CSS and FSS, emancipation and identity are therefore also deeply intertwined. For CSS, the issue is how state identities shape the identities they attribute to others. Similarly, feminist theorists examine how gender hierarchies promote insecurity through the way in which they are constructed and maintained (Tickner 2004: 46). In this context emancipation is not just about disadvantage, but about finding a balance between difference and disadvantage. Women's needs with respect to emancipation differ--gender subordination also often sits at the intersection of gender, culture, and race. An awareness of diversity is thus essential to an explanation of how and why systems of domination originate and enforce exclusions (Hudson 2005: 168). Finally, there is also an assumption that sharing a critical-political inclination means that both FSS and CSS seek to challenge the mainstream 'bordering' of what constitutes the political. Critical scholarship is supposed to open up borders, not close up intellectual spaces. It is supposed to share a commitment to producing empirically grounded theoretical work (or empirical work with a solid theoretical foundation) that explores the multiplicity of world politics (Smith 2002: 196, 202).

While it may be plausible to argue that feminist insights have entered the field of ISS through an opening in CSS (Wibben 2011: 5), the track record of the latter in sustaining a constructive dialogue is tainted. Calls for feminists to 'add' their insights to CSS are a fairly recent development (Wibben 2011: 7), and this suggests that the core underpinnings of the critical discourse remain unaffected by feminist insights. Despite the professed political commitment to emancipation and justice, critical approaches have been rather selective in allowing feminist critical security scholars to enter the intellectual circle. In this regard Blanchard contends that critical security scholars have "invoked, but not engaged, feminist scholarship" (Blanchard 2003: 1292). Sylvester (2007) criticises the gender neutrality of the C.A.S.E (vi)) Collective's "Manifesto", in particular the ill-fated footnote (no 3, p 444) where Waeever labels feminists as "other participants". The lack of recognition afforded to Lene Hansen's contribution to critical security (see her seminal article in Millennium on the "The Little Mermaid's Silent Security Dilemma and the Absence of Gender in the Copenhagen School" (2000)) highlights continued gate-keeping, even amongst the so-called converted!

The problem is that critical security scholars--despite their openness--very rarely ask feminist research questions and do not base their research on women's experiences. Consequently their selection of research problems lead them to answers and policy recommendations that tend to support traditional biases in knowledge formation (see Wibben 2011: 112). This therefore confirms the imperative to engender CSS, in spite of the perceived shared critical strand.

FSS uses gender as a central analytical category, showing in a social constructivist manner how 'creations' of masculinity and femininity permeate global discourse and prop up a skewed global security system--the act of 'deepening'. The 'outsider-insider' positioning of FSS at the interface of CSS in the broader context of ISS can be exploited to not only challenge the lack of awareness of political implications, but also to expose the fine line between abstract (and self-righteous) claims that knowledge is always political and whether the actual research supports that claim. Critical security scholars usually pride themselves on their "denunciation of depoliticization" (research without politics) (C.A.S.E 2006: 445), but their gender silences tell a different story: the Collective politicises certain knowledge at the expense of others, with profound de-politicising implications for those who are being excluded (feminist scholars and women who are at peril in war, conflict and everyday life). The end result is a reinforcement of traditional hierarchies. Bringing normative assumptions to the surface thus constitutes the act of opening up.


Human security is one of the main categories through which the changing nature of security discourses and policy practices is understood and analysed (Hynek and Chandler 2011: 1-3), but the ensuing bifurcated debate underscores the fact that a singular human security discourse is a myth (Owen 2008: 445).

The concept has been appropriated by both critical and neoliberal/mainstream scholars. The former have honed in on the radical emancipatory potential of an understanding of security driven by people (not states) from different (including non-Western) contexts. According to this perspective, security is understood comprehensively and holistically in terms of the real-life, everyday experiences of human beings and their complex social and economic relations as these are embedded within global structures. It therefore becomes imperative to view security in terms of patterns of systemic inclusion and exclusion of people (Thomas 2002). In this regard the emphasis of the human security discourse on everyday security is quite suitable to the non-hierarchical way feminists theorise m they often start their critiques from the bottom up (Waylen 2006:153). The mainstream or neo-liberal perspective, in contrast, has deconstructed human security against the background of an externally imposed global governance project to order world politics on behalf of hegemonic power (see United Nations Commission on Human Security 2003). In the latter case the assumption that human security is universal, has led to a situation where international intervention in the name of liberal peace has concentrated on the protection of an abstract individual, disconnected from his/her context. This has invariably led to binary thinking and practice, where a radical view represents a localised and 'unsecuritised' paradigm, a heterodoxy, with a return of the political in the theoretical analysis of human security, and in contrast, the mainstream (UN) view which embodies a securitised homogeneity that neglects the key emancipatory issues of agency and autonomy.

Scholars such as McCormack (2008) and Franceschet (in Chandler 2008: 433) have voiced reservations about the power of the political in the discourse. It may have the opposite effect, namely instead of challenging existing hierarchies it may serve to institutionalise them. The neo-liberal reluctance to implement the radical reforms (distributional justice, land reforms and credit extensions) required to make the idea of human security work led to its deradicalisation (Nuruzzaman 2006:292). With that came an inevitable narrowing, risking co-option into statist conceptualisations of risk, thus watering down the emancipatory potential of the human security concept.

A pragmatist 'metaconsensus' amongst the great powers and international institutions, which sees state security and human security as complementary, is firmly in place. As McCormack (2008) also argues, although the human security framework problematises the relationship between the state and its people, it replaces this relationship with relationships with other states or international agencies that lack accountability, effectively disempowering citizens in weak states. In addition, human security also becomes the location where security and development are 'merged' or conflated (Duffield 2001). However, this nexus is built on a circular argument, often based more on anecdotal than solid empirical evidence. It thus perpetuates the narrow dichotomies of 'us' versus 'them'. The discourse has reverted back to a familiar tune where development institutions, strong states, development practitioners and now also peacebuilders and security sector reformers all pitch in to save the developing world from themselves.

Critical feminist perspectives challenge both the narrow (neo-liberal) and the broad (radical) human security discourses. Narrow neo-liberal discourses produce state-centric measurement tools (of conflict data) that continue to hide the implications of violence for marginalised groups in society. Rule of law institutions, peace negotiations and liberal-democratic constitutions also conceal gender biases and relegate women to the private sphere. Orthodox human security discourses are faced with a further complicating factor: the fact that liberal feminism is co-opted into this discourse. It thus makes it very difficult to break through seemingly progressive debates on promoting gender equality within the security sector, for instance. This 'add women and stir' approach may increase women's visibility in decision-making structures and peace processes (for example, in Liberia and Rwanda), but does not challenge entrenched power relations. Due to its co-option, liberal feminism is not suited to address patriarchal oppression or the gendered effects produced by military globalisation's interaction with the neo-liberal agenda. It also tends to conflate women and gender, thereby reinforcing the politics of silencing.

At the same time the broad school's inclusive nature also just provides a partial understanding of security issues, as it still tends to overlook the gender dimensions. In the case of interpretations based on critical theory there is a real danger that collapsing femininity or masculinity into the term 'human' could conceal the gendered underpinnings of security/power practices. The term 'human' is presented as though it were gender-neutral, but very often it is an expression of the masculine (Hudson 2005: 157). 'Human' development, 'human' rights or 'human' security thus too often fail, because gender differences are overlooked and men's experiences are assumed to be the norm.

So once again, FSS, being located at the 'junction' where many critical vantage points meet, can help to put the human security project back on track by reminding not only about differences, but also about disadvantage. A critical gender perspective of human security therefore becomes necessary not only to refocus security on the correlation between everyday real security and global structures in general (deepening), but more importantly to refocus on or open up abstract state security as a source of insecurity to ordinary people. Despite its relative co-option, the human security discourse, in theory at least, is still more prone to transcend traditional conflict situations and more open to empathetically cooperate with other perspectives. By recognising that there are many gendered security experiences that are shared across and within regions, the 'us-them' bifurcation can be overcome to allow for more equitable communication and cooperation between regions (Hoogensen and Stuvoy 2006: 209, 216, 219).


So far in the analysis, I have concentrated on identifying the gaps within critical discourses and underlined the potential of FSS to deepen and open up critical discourses. Particularly since feminist theorists have been lambasted for their "reductive concern with gender" (Booth 2007: 75), in this section, I elaborate on what is meant by the use of gender as a feminist analytical tool.

The use of gender as an analytical tool does not necessarily make a study feminist in nature. Gender can be used to support antifeminist positions. For instance, claiming that beliefs about sexual difference affect social behaviour is used to justify the exclusion of women from certain military positions (for example, nuclear submarine duty) (Carpenter 2002: 156). Similarly Goldstein claims that "gender can and should be deployed in conventional analysis to understand precisely the 'real world issues ... of war in and between states'" (in Carpenter 2002: 161). Feminist Studies therefore does not have a monopoly on the study of gender. It is rather about how gender is used. For example, liberal feminists as a rule make use of sex-disaggregated data, with little engagement with gender theory, and following on that, utilise gender as a proxy for women. Women's human rights security needs are then studied in isolation from those of men's (Harris 2010). Other studies are more conceptually sophisticated as they move into the inter-disciplinary domain, exploring both men's and women's gender identities and roles. On the other side of the spectrum, the use of quantitative data by positivist feminism is criticised for obscuring the lack of engagement with gender theory (for example, Caprioli 2005 (vii)). Although Caprioli self-identifies as a feminist this 'gender approach' stands in sharp contrast to the more theoretical analysis of gender as productive of security practices, linking "these practices to patriarchal conduct outside war, and interpret [ing] security politics as a politics of gender" (Prugl 2011: 112). But ultimately, gender as a tool of FSS must be a wide-angle lens to include the terrain of global politics and inequalities.

I identify with the latter position that views gender as productive of security practices and propose a relational approach to explain the process of using gender as a critical analytical tool. One starting point could be an attempt to understanding the practices and structures of the world 'out there' by examining how we think about the world (how we think), that is, feminist analysis of security discourse (ideology) and what subjective meanings we bring as feminist security scholars to our research (who we are) (see Marchand and Runyan 2000). At the structural or global level the gendered nature of power within a larger system of subordination (patriarchy) is studied, revealing how women are relegated to the private domain of politics. For example, women's informal peacebuilding roles are routinely and widely acknowledged, yet often do not translate into their representation at the formal peace processes. This is often explained against the backdrop of neo-liberal systems of governing peace and security.

The more abstract theoretical gender analysis informs (and is informed by) gender analysis of the differential material and structural effects of insecurity/conflict on both men and women in specific contexts; together with a look at women's and men's agency (resistances), identity and subjectivities in response to their insecurity (see also Waylen, 2006: 56-157; Marchand and Runyan 2000: 29; Hoogensen and Stuvoy 2006: 15). At the national and/or local level attention is paid to the differential gendered effects of power as they manifest between men and women during and after conflict. (viii)) Since a critical gender approach to human security relies on the security needs of those 'below', it offers a more inclusive, credible (authentic) and substantive analysis of contemporary security.

But regardless of where one starts the gender analysis, analysis always has to move towards synthesis, that is, moving beyond 'adding' women by showing how gender is constitutive of broader structures and processes of security. It is here that the interconnectedness between women's agency at the local level and the role of global processes and institutions is reinforced. So unless women are made conscious of the implicit link between their everyday insecurity and gendered global structures, their efforts will remain piecemeal. It is thus crucial to understand "the ways in which women's decisions interact with particular structures and institutions at all levels and thereby helping to constitute those processes" (Waylen 2006: 163). United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security serves as illustration. Conventional discourse advocates that local women must be aware of and understand the purpose of the Resolution for it to have meaning at the grassroots level. Proponents of critical FSS would, however, point out that the impact of such resolutions is severely curtailed by the fact that they perpetuate neo-liberal gender principles which fixate on the protection and formal representation of women within an untransformed global system.

The methodological and epistemological value of a gendered concept of peace and (human) security rests in its versatility. The 'gender' approach is not reserved for the promotion of women's or men's security interests. It has wider (identity-related) application and extends to include all non-dominant and previously silenced perspectives which might be subsumed under the label 'human'. Such an approach offers empirical knowledge to Peace Research and the study of CSS, as the security of people, individuals or communities can only be understood intersubjectively within local contexts. Its flexibility allows for identification of human insecurity in a variety of forms--domestic violence, impacts of climate change, and large-scale conflict. But what bearing does this have on how FSS interacts with PS, CSS and human security debates?


Based on the analysis of FSS contributions to PS, CSS and human security perspectives as well as the explication of a particular gender approach, I conclude that such a feminist methodology both deepens and opens up seemingly emancipatory fields, such as the ones under scrutiny. By using gender as a critical analytical tool in a way that links everyday and global theorising and activism, feminist security theorising has deepened critical discourses. This is particularly evident in the human security-FSS interface. Ali three areas of study have been criticised for their gender silences. By exposing so-called gender neutrality/silence for what it is, that is, gender bias in favour of the dominant perspectives of masculinity, FSS further encourages an opening up of critical security discourses.

Qualities such as critique, fractious holism, empathetic dialogue, a focus on the everyday, and also reconceptualising the connection between theory and practice all work together to push towards an opening in ISS. The aim is not only to make room for feminist perspectives of security within ISS or to ensure that FSS is taken seriously. Rather, the objective is much more ambitious (and indeed radical), namely to foster a theory pluralism that is not just limited to a dialogue amongst the like-minded. For this reason the article challenged the notion of one unified theory of security and argued that feminist methodologies can promote responsible and legitimate theory pluralism by making the various security discourses more reflective of their own normative assumptions and political commitments, thus exposing bias and reconceptualising political agenda.

Ironically though, whilst radical in spirit, the approach advanced in this contribution is also incremental. The reasons are two-fold: First, Northern (mainly US) hegemonic frames will continue to push back and the comfort of disciplinary silos is unlikely to yield to cataclysmic paradigm shifts. Second, FSS should focus (though not exclusively) on the normative deficits within critical discourses before it can realistically expect changes in the mainstream. Since the dangers of silencing critical voices through co-option into the mainstream are many, I maintain that an existence on the fringes probably is more a blessing than a curse. Yet, paradoxically, whilst a feminist version of theory pluralism presupposes conversations across all camps and not just those that are epistemologically related, charity does begin at home. Critical feminist scholars of security need to direct their intellectual energies at the debates within the feminist inner circle. The role that quantitative and liberal feminisms play in supporting the dominant international agenda should be receiving much greater attention.

The article set out to highlight the challenges faced by Peace Research, CSS and the human security framework to remain relevant and true to their original critical core. However, one of the biggest threats to the integrity of these academic enterprises has been the onslaught from the mainstream. PS has gone through a serious identity crisis and has come out looking a bit battered. CSS also faces a number of demons. The division in its ranks and intolerance towards other alternative approaches may be its biggest Achilles heel. As regards human security, co-option into statist frameworks has reinforced the dichotomy between mainstream and radical human security discourses with little prospect of the two engaging in meaningful dialogue. While we nowadays have numerous international legislative frameworks to help protect human security in areas such as human rights, these liberal instruments have not yet succeeded in reaching individuals and communities at ground level. As long as this disjuncture persists, abstract international law will not live up to its promises of a better life for all and the global North will continue to prescribe inappropriate security remedies for the global South.

The article did not seek to advocate that FSS can 'fix' all these challenges, but it did make a case for considering FSS' particular placement at the interface of these sub-disciplines. At the same time the challenges that PS, CSS and the different human security discourses face are at once IR/ISS and inter-disciplinary problems. FSS draws on long traditions of inter-disciplinary feminist thinking. This, and the challenge to be regarded as a way of studying IR rather than as a sub-section, makes feminist security theory suitable in the long term to facilitate a substantive reorganisation in the IR field.


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Heidi Hudson (ii))

Gender Studies Programme

University of the Free State


(i) See Soreanu and Hudson, 2008, p143.

(ii) This material is based upon work supported financially by the National Research Foundation of South Africa.

(iii) That being said, I do not discount the pre-Cold War contributions of security scholars such as Buzan (People, States and Fear (1983)) and Azar (1990) on protracted social conflict.

(iv) Also see Moolakkattu (2006: 137-162) for a comprehensive survey of feminist literature in the area of Peace Studies.

(v) Sylvester, 2007: 556.

(vi) The C.A.S.E. Collective is a network of scholars ascribing to "Critical Approaches to Security in Europe".

(vii) See Caprioli (2005) using quantitative methods to link women's treatment within states to the likelihood of these states to resolve conflicts in violent ways.

(viii) See for instance the work done by Dolan (2010) in the DRC.
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Title Annotation:Feminist Security Studies
Author:Hudson, Heidi
Publication:Strategic Review for Southern Africa
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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