Feminist analysis and critical feminist peace research

We view critical feminist peace research as an expansive approach that involves authors, scholars, and movements that may or may not identify with peace research or feminism, let alone international relations. For us, critical feminist peace research includes all research, thinking, and action that uses, implicitly or explicitly, feminist insights to understand and act upon the world in ways that foster peace until justice. However broadly conceived, these terms are themselves problematised by various chapters in this handbook. Our authors may have different conceptions of the field of peace studies, its canonical understandings, and even its own self-identification (we use the phrases “peace studies” and “peace research” interchangeably and let the authors use them as they see fit). In addition, we use the term “approach”, rather than “field” intentionally when referring to critical feminist peace research; defining a field means coming up with fences and boundaries (Confortini, 2017; Lykke, 2010). Of course, we know that traditional disciplinary boundaries have mattered: what has become peace studies/research, security studies, resistance studies, feminist international relations, feminist security studies, feminist foreign policy, and postcolonial/decolonial studies have determined who and what is outside or inside, included or excluded. By contrast, in this handbook we have sought to “cross-disciplinarise” themes and approaches, breaking rather than building fences. We have also endeavoured to decolonise our approaches and methods by paying attention to the topics we have chosen, to wider authorship “of’ and not just “from” the global south, and to citation politics by encouraging the citation of authors who might not be the “usual suspects”, but whose research is important. Along these lines, we argue that there is a productive tension between the postcolonial global south as a geopolitical and historical reference point and the postcolonial as an analytical approach for deconstructing received realities. This tension informs the debates in the chapters, which unpack silencing and silences as postcolonial critiques of standard knowledge production. We feel that we need to pay attention to what has been missing, including non-hegemonic thinkers, traditions, and “local” knowledges as intellectual authorities (Shilliam, 2011; Partpart and Parashar, 2019; Brigg and Bleiker, 2011).

Central to feminist analysis is the concept of gender. While multiple strands of feminisms are sometimes labelled with adjectives like “liberal”, “radical”, “standpoint”, “postmodern”, “postcolonial”, and others, we find useful Laura Shepherd’s (2013) strategy of mapping different theories of gender onto feminist approaches. Shepherd distinguishes between essentialist, constructivist, and post-structuralist theories of gender, each preferred by different feminist approaches. Some feminists hold an essentialist view of gender, where sex and gender are mapped onto a male-female binary while body and behaviour are in direct relationship with each other. As such, in an essentialist view, women as a category are systematically victimised by violence because of their supposed gender characteristics (Shepherd, 2013, p. 13). Other feminist approaches hold a constructivist view and think of gender as a social relation of power mapped onto supposedly biological differences between the (two) sexes. Assumptions and expectations about what it means to be a woman or a man shape and are shaped by bodily experiences, including experiences of violence onto or by the body. Y et again, others challenge dualistic and determined notions of both sex and gender, seeing both along a politically, socially, and discursively constructed continuum (post-structuralist theories of gender). The categorisation of bodies into male or female at birth is itself an act resulting from ideas about bodies, not because there is anything essential about them (Butler, 1993; Shepherd, 2013; Vayrynen, 2019a). Both sex and gender, rather, emerge “into a particular ‘discursive context’” and “we make sense of bodies and ascribe them meaning (F/M) as a result of ideas we have about gender” (Shepherd, 2013, p. 14). The authors in this volume may ascribe to one or another theory of gender: our intent here is to “ride the hyphens” of the “cacophony” of voices that is feminism (Sylvester, 1995) and embrace the plurality of the feminist body.

While feminisms use gender as a central category of analysis, not all gender analysis is feminist. Unlike nonfeminist gender analysis, feminism is normatively and explicitly interested in both critique and emancipation. Feminism emerges out of women’s experience of oppression and violence and, as such, is attentive to and critiques any social order based on gendered hierarchies, violences, and oppressions. It does so in order to find ways to remedy those injustices and create alternative worlds (Naples and Desai, 2002). In that sense, feminist analysis is explicitly nonnative and interested in various forms of violence and injustice that affect all types of individuals, regardless of their gender. While this entails struggles, contradictions, and debates, it also entails constant self-interrogation and reflexivity, which are a fundamental part of feminist methodologies (Wibben, Confortini, Roohi, Aharoni, Vastapuu, and Vaittinen 2019; Ackerly and Tme, 2008). Epistemologically, feminism is grounded on a relational and embodied commitment to include knowledge from the margins, whether those margins are women or other (gendered) people, ideas, or other sentient beings. Feminist analysis is also open to untidiness, complexity, and coexisting contradictions, all emerging from the awareness of our “ethical precarity” (Lynch, 2020) and “response-ability” (Barad, 2012) in the world. Such awareness makes us mindful of the possibility that our own research/action might contribute to harm, violence, and/or oppressive relations.

Critical feminist peace research, in some sense, brings us together in our shared angst about the exclusion of feminists and the “whiteness” of peace research. Whiteness in our understanding is not an identity category but, rather, a set of attitudes and values (Bhambra, 2017).

Here, our varied research interests, “locations” and methodological approaches enable a productive space for disagreements and differences. Ours are times when differences look non-negotiable, perpetuate ideological divides, and generate anxieties; times when similarity of thoughts and beliefs are embraced as a mode of life and intellectual discourse. This project is an attempt to reclaim ground for feminisms and feminists to embrace and work with differences and empathetic critique in the production of knowledge about peace and justice and in activist network settings.

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