Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lauren Wilcox's Project

My dissertation’s central question is: how does explicitly theorizing bodies as political allow us to think about these forms of contemporary political violence in ways that allow us to answer these questions? One of the deep ironies of security studies is that while war is actually inflicted on bodies, bodily violence and vulnerability, as the flip side of security, are largely ignored. By contrast, feminist theory is at its most powerful when it denaturalizes accounts of individual subjectivity so as to analyze the relations of force, violence, and language that compose our profoundly unnatural bodies. Security Studies lacks the reflexivity necessary to see its contribution to the very context it seeks to domesticate. Security Studies has largely ignored work in feminist theory that opens up the forces that have come to compose and constitute the body: by and large, security studies has an unarticulated, yet implicit, conception of bodies as whole and inviolable. Attentive to the relations provoked by both discourse and political forces, feminist theory redirects attention to how both compose and produce bodies on terms often alien and unstable. Contemporary feminist theorizing about embodiment provides a provocative challenge to the stability and viability of several key concepts in IR such as sovereignty, security, violence, and vulnerability. Security studies emphasizes the strategic deployment of force in the language of rational control and risk management—and so pushes the threat of contingency and destabilization beyond its own interpretive territory. Feminist theory, by contrast, offers a critical re-thinking of analytic concepts in connection to notions as basic as power and security. In this project, I draw on recent work in feminist theory that offers a challenge to the deliberate maintenance and policing of boundaries and delineation of human bodies from the broader political context.

I argue that a focal shift to bodies in the practices of torture, suicide bombing, and precision warfare compels a different interpretation of the relationship between subjects, bodies, and violence than is currently explicit or implicit in IR, in which bodies are known purely as biological entities, relevant to violence only as they live and die. I turn to currents of contemporary feminist theory to suggest an alternative mode of knowing the human subject of international violence and security. I argue that human bodies as we know them are effects of political practices rather than natural entities. Violent practices of international relations produce the many bodies of IR as we know them. At the same time, bodily practices have effects that are, in turn, productive of international relations. I argue that bodies are also agentic, in that they can be consequential in ways that are not reducible to the will of the subject. I thereby show how practices of international relations can (and should) be rethought in the discipline of IR in terms of the production of bodies in their historicity and agency.

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