Changes in the environment can impact international relations theory, despite enjoying only a limited amount of attention from scholars of the discipline. The sorts of influence that may be identified include ontology, epistemology, concepts, and methods, all of these being related to varying perspectives on international relations. It is likely that the most profound implications arise at the ontological level, since this establishes assumptions about, for example, whether the world we wish to understand is both political and ecological. However, more recently the recognition of the practical challenge presented by the environment has become widespread, though it has not yet translated into a significant impact on the discipline of international relations, even when theoretical implications are noted. It is now almost obligatory to include the environment in any list of modern international relations concerns, as over time it has become necessary to include peace, underdevelopment, gender, or race, as they quite rightly became recognized as significant aspects of the field. Moreover, the environment, as a relatively novel subject matter, has naturally brought some critique and innovation to the field. However, studies of the environment are also subject to such descriptors as “mainstream” and “radical” in debates about how best to tackle the subject. As is often the case, the debates are sharpest among those with the greatest interest in the subject.
Feminist Security Theorizing is in many ways what it sounds like—thinking about security in the global political arena through gender lenses. Since early work in feminist International Relations (IR), feminists have been exploring research questions about the ways that gender shapes and is shaped by war, conflict, and militarism. The field has developed to be labeled Feminist Security Studies (FSS). Debates about whether FSS is “feminist security” studies or feminist “security studies” have asked about the subfield’s focus—whether it is toward rethinking security in feminist ways or toward the mainstream field of security studies as such. With space in the field for both approaches, feminist security theorizing has looked at revealing the importance of gender in conceptualizing security, demonstrating that gender is key to understanding causes and predicting outcomes, and showing gender as a key part of solving security problems. FSS has several common theoretical commitments and concerns. These include a necessary commitment to intersectionality, a recognition of the importance of theorizing not only about gender but also about sexuality, a consciousness about framing, and an awareness of the politics of sociology of the academic disciplines in which it is situated. It is important to explore the past, present, and potential futures of feminist theorizing about security, concluding with an invitation to expand recognition of feminist work addressing security issues across an even wider variety of perspectives.
Jennifer Heeg Maruska
Feminism operates on various feminist epistemologies, methodologies, and methods. While there is no consensus on how to organize or label these, there are a few generalities that can be drawn between these epistemologies, particularly in the international relations (IR) context. Classifying these epistemologies generally under the umbrella (or in the constellation) of postpositivism makes clear the contrasts between positivist social science and more critical approaches. Moreover, within the many critical approaches in feminist IR are many points of convergence and divergence. Feminist IR theory also focuses on the complexities of gender as a social and relational construction, in contrast to how nonfeminist ontologies focus on the rights of women, but including those of children and men as well. Hence, the postpositivist ontology takes on a more complex meaning. Rather than trying to uncover “how things really are,” postpositivists study how social realities (the Westphalian system, international migration or trafficking, or even modern war) came to be, and also how these realities came to be understood as norms, institutions, or social facts—often examining the gendered underpinnings of each. Most feminist IR theorists (and IR constructivists) share an “ontology of becoming” where the focus is on the intersubjective process of norm evolution.
Normative thinking permeates the work of the English School and has done so since its start as the British Committee for International Politics. Ethics, or, more precisely, the tension between ethics and power or interests, was one of the original concerns of the founding members of the Committee. It was an aim of the Committee to combine ethical reflection with the historical analysis of states systems. The approach in first-generation, or classical, English School scholarship to ethical questions primarily involved the identification of traditions of political and moral speculation about international relations (IR). Another significant feature of classical English School thought was moral skepticism, which seriously challenged what could be said about ethical choices within the forms of international interaction it charted. However, keen interest in what normative agendas can be supported within international or world society—basic subsistence rights, international criminal justice, and humanitarian intervention—does not necessarily amount to a normative theory. As such, order versus justice is a more productive starting point for normative theorizing within the English School. Meanwhile, there are two modes of normative thought in postclassical English School: practical and moral–philosophical arguments. The English School is grounded in the practical, in the real-world tussle of power and interests, while at the same time it works through what it is possible to say about the nature of obligation and moral responsibility among international actors. This is where ethics and practical interest meet, and it represents the unique contribution of the English School to contemporary normative IR theory.