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Introducing Feminist ‘Secureconomy’

by Sara Meger on September 4, 2017
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Feminist International Relations (IR) scholarship has rapidly developed in recent decades into a distinct and recognised body of scholarship encompassing a terrain of debates about what “the international” is and how we might study it. While feminist IR’s development and institutionalisation within broader IR scholarship can certainly be celebrated, myself, Amanda Chisholm and Saskia Stachowitsch argue in this post that we can perceive a growing divide between those feminists who study security and those who study global economy. Such an intellectual division of labour also mirrors in many ways the mainstream IR “economic” and “security” divisions. We find this replication in feminist work puzzling.

With raising the issue of the relationship between feminist security studies (FSS) and feminist global political economy (FGPE)—and with it the relationship between security and economy—we generally hope to challenge the constructed and sometimes violently sustained borders between public and private, domestic and international, political and economic, state and market, Global North and Global South. We also hope to challenge disciplinary camp structures and camp politics, which too often shape academic, including feminist, knowledge production.

Feminist scholarship has generally perceived of militarism, political economy, and the environment as interrelated, however the recent development of FSS as a distinct approach has fostered the privileging of researching security as an analytical category, sidelining issues of economic inequalities or economic determinants of (in)security. This work has, in many ways, reproduced the ahistorical and Eurocentric assumptions of the mainstream regarding the causes of war and political violence. At the same time, feminist GPE has largely avoided questions of security and violence, particularly in terms of how such gendered and racialised violence matter in the constitution of ‘value’. Thus, the assumptions of scholarship that takes security as a social good disconnected from either its use or (and even more so) exchange value within this political-economic system are implicated in its maintenance and reproduction.

The works in this blog series seek to re-examine the ontological and epistemological divisions that have fostered the drifting apart of feminist work in security and economy and, in doing so, offer a different starting point from which to re-think issues of both security and economy — not as distinct phenomena, but as always and intimately connected. We believe that linking FSS and FGPE perspectives enables us to critically examine the interconnections between economic processes, institutions, and practices under neoliberal globalisation and their role in the generation of gendered insecurities.

In our own work, we have used this lens to talk about, for example, the role of violence in production and the global supply chain, the labour of doing/achieving security, how the researcher is complicit in knowledge production of value and security and of the commodity-producing and fetishising effects of securitisation. Amanda and Saskia’s work on the recruitment of Nepali labour into global security industry highlights how coloniality, gender and economy all entangle in the production of the valued Nepali security contractor. It is a security economy within Nepal that, as Amanda’s current ethnographic work is revealing, profoundly shapes the everyday make-up of households and communities. Value and valuation of security labour is also very much produced through intimate encounters between security clients and the security contractors. Sara’s work similarly complicates assumptions about violence in the international system, revealing the systematic ways in which gendered and racialised logics of violence become integral to resource extraction and exploitation throughout the supply chain, and thus deeply imbricated in the valuation of both labour and products.

The entanglements of security and economy are also evident in the ways in which the advent of free trade and the global opening of markets have increasingly correlated with security practices aimed at reorientating social fabrics of communities to be more amenable to market practices, ironically resulting in decreased societal and social security with significant implications for the livelihoods, wellbeing, and labour of the most marginalised groups in society – especially, women. Dividing “security” from “economy” also has immediate material consequences for development. Feminists such as Sara Meger, Jacqui True and Claire Duncanson have highlighted that post-conflict reconstruction efforts continue to fall short of making lives better for women because they rarely address the economic concerns that underpin security reformation.  Thus, we must also be attentive to the socio-political effects of the neoliberal logics of securitisation.

These and the contributions of this ‘Feminist Secureconomy’ series complicate the neat divisions often drawn in mainstream and feminist IR scholarship between security and economy, thinking through the ways in which security logics are deeply embedded within the logics of neoliberal, globalised capitalism. They connect with our feminist predecessors—and indeed contributors within this blog series. Scholars such as, but not limited to, Silvia Federici, Angela Davis, Gayatri Spivak, Cynthia Enloe and Kimberlé Crenshaw, whose feminist research agenda was driven by a broader intellectual curiosity that sought to explain global politics through intersectional analysis attentive to social relations conditioned by interlocking oppressions of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy and capitalism—relations which do not attend to the same “security” and “economy” intellectual boundaries IR confines them to. All of the contributors draw on their own research to demonstrate the analytical and conceptual utility of ‘feminist secureconomy’.

Elisa Wynn-Hughes and Jutta Weldes draw our attention to the political effects of the analytical distinction between security and economy, particularly from the perspective of a feminist sensibility. They question the analytic utility of a simple re-integration of two masculinist frameworks of IR and propose a shift to focusing on political categories like power and inequality.

Carrie Reiling simultaneously builds upon this call, while also questioning the implications that follow from ‘needing to be an expert’ across a range of literatures to be taken seriously as scholars bridging conceptual divides. She exposes the additional academic and emotional labour that is involved with critical feminist engagement across the security-economy divide.

Juanita Elias and Amanda Chisholm use the framework to show how the military household operates as a site of both productive and reproductive labour that reproduces security markets and sustain a global security industry. For them, the household is reproductive of both militarism and neoliberal logics.

Also drawing on field research on households, Jenny Hedstrom directly engages the question of what work feminism is doing in analysing the political economy of global security. She shows how a feminist ethic could reveal the otherwise overlooked connections between the intimate sphere and forms of violence experienced therein and the political-economic determinants of war in the Kachin State.

Other themes explored in this series include Sara Meger’s defense of ‘old’ materialism for interrogating the ‘secureconomy.’ Revisiting feminist debates of the uneasy relationship between Marxism and feminism, Sara’s post demonstrates how a Marxist feminist ontology and epistemology may offer the necessary tools for foregrounding the relations of gender, race and class in the work of the ‘secureconomy.’

Finally, Caron Gentry’s blog post fleshes out the analytic leverage of this framework by exploring the profitability of terrorism as both a practice and a red herring in international and domestic policy. Returning to the fundamental question of critical political economy – who benefits? – she demonstrates how the security assemblages built around the threat of terrorism themselves produce deeply gendered and racialised insecurities.

While each author approaches the issues of the ‘secureconomy’ from their own research interests, what the posts of this series share is the desire to extend the boundaries of feminist knowledge in IR. In an era wherein feminist knowledge is co-opted by security governance and economic actors operating across realms of policy and the market, we believe the combination of feminist security studies’ critique of securitised gender relations and feminist GPE scholarship on corporate-led equality frames can be particularly fruitful. We thus seek to push further this nascent body of work and demonstrate how the joint research agenda on ‘secureconomy’ can contribute to a new vision for social, political, and economic relations in a violent world order.

Sara Meger

Sara Meger is a lecturer in international security in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on the political economy of global security, using a critical feminist lens. She is the author of Rape Loot Pillage: The Political Economy of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2016) and editor of the blog The Gender and War Project (http://www.genderandwar.com). You can follow Sara on twitter @SaraMeger

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