However, female scholarship in international relation is not without stereotypes. First, there is often a tendency to identify women scholars as restricting themselves to issues of peace, racial politics, politics of sexuality, non-traditional security, and gender politics, whereas men are supposed to have a natural inclination for issues that pertain to war and military issues. Though empirical evidence, such as the 2006 Teaching, Research and International Policy Survey, it is important to acknowledge that such categorization of women scholarship represents only a partial truth.
When women scholars engage with traditional issues in international politics like war and peace, rather than affirming the conventional logic through which these issues are addressed, they have rather tried to innovate on the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological tools through which one can understand these age-old problems. Though many women scholars do prefer to work within Constructivist and other non-traditional paradigms, a substantive number of them have engaged with mainstream IR theories, including Realism and Liberalism. Women scholars in IR have often been criticized for using methods that are non-conventional and therefore, falling out of the favor in mainstream IR. However, methodological pluralism, rather than being abhorred, is now being more widely accepted, especially after what Yosuf Lapid calls the post-positivist revolution in IR, as a necessary requirement for making theoretical progress in the field.
The contributions of women scholars to the discipline are multi-faceted. First, women scholars have played a significant role in adding analytical rigor and expanding the scope of various debates within the broad discipline of international relations. One such crucial contribution has been the deployment of gender as an important analytical and conceptual category. The gender perspective offers an essential and a novel departure point to examine the existing power relations within the discipline, and also provide alternative viewpoints as opposed to the hegemonic top-down discourse in IR. For example, one of the major inroads in the conventional IR was made in the seminal article by J. Ann Tickner on Hans Morgenthau’s six principles on political realism from a feminist perspective. Tickner’s work has since then relentlessly endeavored towards bringing the gendered origins of IR into the discipline’s spotlight. Similarly, Cynthia Enloe made remarkable contributions by highlighting the issues of war, militarism, and security that presumes the concept of masculinity. Her work, particularly on the U.S. military presence in Korea, offers a powerful critique of the mainstream IR for having a strong masculine bias. Scholars like Mary Kaldor, Jean Bethke Elshtain, V. Peterson Spike, and Carol Cohn, to name a few, have shown how the study of security is extensively gendered in its outlook and clearly expanded the scope and quality of conceptual debates in international relations and security studies.
Second, a major endeavor of many wome n scholars (especially the ones belonging to the strand of feminist international relations) has been to move beyond the conventional wisdom in international relations, which seeks to privilege the male experience as the central reference point. Hence, re-conceptualization of certain major concepts and challenging the foundational claims of international relations (or ontological revisionism) has been the most natural and important response to widen the scope of the discipline. A re-examination of concepts such as sovereignty, power, security, violence, anarchy, economic development, and violence constitutes the core challenge, as well as the primary contribution, of women scholars within the discipline. In this regard, Helen Milner work on anarchy, Hannah Arendt re-conceptualisation of power, Anuradha Chenoy’s take on the issue of Militarism, and Jean Elshtain’s perspectives on war, state and citizenship are few of the various contributions which have left a huge impression on the field.
Finally, all women scholars cannot be identified within the contours of feminist scholarship. In fact, as the TRIP survey of 2006 indicates, at least in the U.S., a vast majority of women scholars work across theoretical schools in IR such as Liberalism, Constructivism, Diplomatic History, and also to some extent Realism and have extensively contributed to these fields. Martha Finnemore and Katherine Sikkink are notable scholarly figures in this regard. Their work on norms in international relations has been paradigmatic of the Constructivist turn in international relations. Similarly Susan Strange's take on market, capitalism, and the state figures prominently on the academic literature concerning international political economy.
Through this is just a snapshot of the contributions made by women scholars in the field, it is quite evident that their scholarship has highly enriched the discipline. However, as one of commentators noted recently in the Journal of Politics and Gender, “women are still second-class citizens within the IR profession”. At least in the case of U.S., the 2006 TRIP survey clearly indicated a huge gap in terms of both quantity and quality of work coming from women scholars when compared to the male scholars. To give just one indicator, only 2 female scholars–Martha Fennimore and J. Ann Tickner–appeared in the list of 25 scholars who have made the maximum impact in the field. The gap becomes even more apparent in other countries, especially in the developing world.
However, three factors might ameliorate the current situation. First, gender inequality is decreasing across societies and issue areas. More and more women are joining academics and producing competent scholarly work, including in the field of international relations. Second—and more relevant to the discipline of international relations—is the gradual expansion of the theoretical and methodological boundaries of the discipline, which had otherwise restricted women from full participation. The traditional gate-keeping practices of IR, to use the words of Gayatri Spivak, lie shattered under the collective impact of the post-positivist era in social sciences. Lastly, the changing character of international politics and global problems where the focus is gradually shifting from hardcore issues such as inter-state wars and balances of power to more shuttle issues such as ethnic conflicts, problems of identity and culture and the emergence of non-traditional security as major areas of research, there is a balance being formed in which women scholars can contribute substantively.
Junjun Sharma Pathak is an MPhil student at the Center for International Politics, Organisation, and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Yogesh Joshi is a PhD candidate in the same department.
This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's March/April 2013 print edition.