Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Musty Smell Of Derrida

Not too long ago, over at Duck of Minerva, Laura Sjoberg wrote an open letter to some unnamed journal that rejected her work in which she accused said journal of bias against her sub-discipline -- feminist poststructuralist international relations theory. In part two of that letter, she writes:
I do feminist work because I'm interested in deconstructing gender hierarchies in IR as a discipline and in global politics more generally. I think that such a move would benefit everyone in IR/global politics, not just women (a category I'm not particularly fond of).

Now, to be perfectly honest, FLG thinks that's all a bunch of foo-foo nonsense that has little to no practical, useful, or even interesting bearing on actual international relations, which is probably because he's been so inculcated heteronormativity that he can't get passed it. Then again, FLG has been castigated by IR social constructivist grad students on several occasions for poo-poo-ing Jody Williams' work banning land mines as convincing nations to ban something that has little to no useful value to modern armies. So, maybe it's probably not just FLG's inherent heteronormativity, but also his deep disdain for social constructivism as an IR theory. (Well, that's not quite true. He does use Wendt's three cultures of anarchy to think through long-term issues sometimes.)

Getting back to Laura Sjoberg, she followed up her two part rant with a continuing series of posts entitled "Feminist IR 101." FLG admits he was biased against the entire idea from the get-go, but he gave as best an open mind as he could. The first two and so far only posts have been largely definitional.

The problem is, although this is unsurprising given the poststructuralism, the whole thing wreaks of Derrida, whom FLG loathes for a variety of reasons including that his entire idea of deconstruction is a load of shit that leads to nihilism because everything is inherently self-contradictory. But FLG has a more superficial objection to this poststructural/deconstruction bullshit -- aesthetics. Because deconstruction basically rips apart everybody's thoughts, those influenced by deconstruction are timid and explicit in their writing until it becomes a big pile of shit on a purely aesthetic level, even forgetting the content entirely.

Look at these definition for fuck's sake:
gender (noun?): 1) not equivalent to "sex." 2) (actual definitional discussion) Gender is a system of symbolic meaning that creates social/material hierarchies based on perceived associations with masculinity/ies and femininity/ies (most often assigned by the shorthand of perceived biological sex). It is expectations, assumptions, and outcomes assigned to people, things, concepts, and ideas based on their association with one of those categories (and often their assumed membership in sex categories). People, things, concepts, and ideas that are associated with masculinity (including but not limited to most "men") are usually valued differently than and often valued above people, things, concepts, and ideas associated with femininity (including but not limited to most "women"). Traits often associated with masculinity/ies include, but are not limited to, strength, rationality, autonomy, independence, aggression, protector-ability, assuredness, and the public sphere. Traits often associated with femininity/ies include, but are not limited to, helplessness, emotion, vulnerability/dependence, interdependence, peacefulness, maternalism/care, sensitivity, and the private sphere. These traits, and their gender-associations, vary over time and place.

cissexism (n.) - the belief that trasngendered or transsexual identifications are inferior to or less authentic than those of cisgender or cissexual persons; including (in Julia Serrano's words) trans-fascimiliation(viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating, or impersonating cissexual male or female genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexual’s identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designed for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures they’ve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexual’s physical sex and identified gender), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexual’s identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality – such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry.

These are big, unwieldy definitions that lack what FLG admires above all else in writing -- parsimony.

FLG will grant that the feminist poststructuralist IR theorist's road is a harder one to hoe given that, from their perspective, we're all blinded by our inherent biases. Therefore, they not only have to convince people of their argument, but also to some extent illuminate the need for the argument in the first place. But Jeh-Zus, is a 200-something word definition of sex really necessary?

Ultimately, FLG objects to the entire existence of poststructuralist feminist IR theory for three reasons. As mentioned earlier, his objections to poststructuralism and deconstruction generally, 1) the nonsense of basing a theory on the premise that everything is self-contradictory and 2) the awful aesthetics of trying to write from those assumptions. And he thinks he mention this earlier as well, 3) FLG doesn't think this stuff matters in so far as international relations is concerned. It's more a cultural/anthropological thing, not so much international. Oh, sure, people are sexing the borders even as you are reading this, but FLG doesn't know what it means. Moreover, when FLG thinks about international relations issues cissexism is probably dead last in his priority list. He's more worried about trade and security issues, you know, issues that matter in the big scheme of things. Not to say that transgendered people don't suffer discrimination of all sorts, but it ain't an IR issue. Perhaps a comparativist issue, but not IR theory.

The only time a professor brought up a topic where FLG thought feminist IR theory might be even the least bit useful was with sex trafficking. But even then FLG couldn't really see much use in specifically applying these theories. Kidnapping a person and bringing them over a border for whatever reason is wrong. Forcing people into prositution is wrong. In fact, deconstruction and poststructuralism only serve to confuse and undermine the issue.

So, while FLG feels for Ms. Sjoberg and her frustration with journals publishing her work, at the end of the day deconstructing gender hierarchies in international relations is irrelevant bullshit. Now, in complete fairness, lots of IR consists of irrelevant bullshit (and FLG might add lots is also aesthetically unpleasing), so poststructuralist feminist IR theory is no worse on that score than much of the discipline.


Withywindle said...

Fleet lost. Admiral dead. Don't know what to do. Mindarus

[As I recollect it, from hazy memory.]

Laura Sjoberg said...

At least be respectful enough to leave off with the "Ms. Sjoberg" crap and call me professor or doctor or whatever you call yourself. And, oh yea, tell me when you pick a fight, and I might actually argue with you. If you had an argument to make better than not wanting to understand, of course.

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