Feminist In/Security: Vulnerability, Securitization, and States of Crisis


The Institute for Research on Women (IRW) announces its twentieth annual interdisciplinary seminar, “Feminist In/Security: Vulnerability, Securitization, and States of Crisis.” We live in a time of fear, when “security” has become a keyword, promising to alleviate threats of violence at home and abroad. Securitization has also become big, transnational business. Techniques, methods, and technologies of securitization are mobile and adaptable, and they travel alongside experts and expertise within a global market that brings together various—and sometimes surprising—actors. During the 2016-17 academic year, IRW will look at questions of international and domestic security from a range of feminist and queer perspectives. How might feminist and queer analyses and methods help us better understand regional, international, and transnational crises—from Ebola to the spread of ISIS to the mass movement of refugees? How do concepts such as homonationalism (Puar) or methods derived from “queer intellectual curiosity” (Weber) disrupt conventional understandings of sexuality, power, statehood, and international politics?

Feminist and queer scholarship have challenged and re-conceptualized many of the key assumptions of international security discourse, critiquing mainstream debates and revisiting constructs, including political realism (Tickner, Peterson), militarism (Enloe), post colonialism (Alexander, Talpade Mohanty), and human rights (Thoreson, Aradau). Influenced by feminist scholars and activists, the United Nations has broadened its interpretation of security, incorporating aspects of human security, such as freedom from rape, environmental degradation, and poverty, into a definition typically associated with the territorial integrity and autonomy of states. Yet despite its lip-service to gender equity, the UN’s approach often conceals gender-based injustices (including those related to gender identity and expression) and regularly ignores the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and legal status. Indeed, gender is often introduced into studies of international and human security in ways that are trivial and tokenistic rather than addressing the complex realities of vulnerable subjects globally. Although these approaches aim at securing women or sexual minorities, technologies and theories of securitization are often articulated through class, racial, and gender difference. Old problems gain new descriptions: under- and unemployed young men, for example, are no longer threats to the health of a national economy but become security threats (Amar).

At the level of the state, feminist and queer scholars and activists have used the concept of security to critically examine a variety of issues, including mass incarceration, profiling, domestic violence, and sex work. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement developed an explicitly feminist analysis of state violence under white supremacy and the ways communities of color are acutely susceptible to police brutality. Within a transnational context, scholars have demonstrated how the migration apparatus of the United States inflicts violence and terror on migrant families, often in the name of “security” for the homeland (Schmidt Camacho, Golash-Boza). Trans Studies scholars have noted similarities between the policing of national borders and the policing of genders, and described how gender-nonconforming bodies can disrupt systems of surveillance utilized in the name of national security (Aizura, Beauchamp). Indeed, surveillance technologies are increasingly used both to terrorize women and to profile populations of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent, resulting in heightened surveillance and the increasing vulnerability and criminalization of already marginalized communities. Yet while vulnerability can prove dangerous, “brittle,” or insecure, scholars also note its potential to reorient relationships between self and others, creating generative spaces for feminist interventions through solidarity and resistance (Ahmed, Butler).


2016-17 Seminar Fellows
2016-17 Seminar Schedule
2017-18 Seminar Call