Power in International Relations- Feminism and Postmodernism

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POL 8041
January 16, 2012
Word count: 2,075

Newcastle University
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology
Power in International Relations- Feminism and Postmodernism

Power is a complicated thing. It can be different to each individual and furthermore there is no set definition of what power is. Steven Lukes (2005), in his book “Power: A Radical View” mentions three different types of power. The one-dimensional view, which is essentially that A has the power of B to make B do something that B, would not do otherwise (Lukes, 2005: 16). The two-dimensional view is when powerful people use force, manipulation, and coercion over others. It is when A establishes values, institutions and agendas and B and others follow along (Lukes, 2005: 21). Then there is the three-dimensional view which sees power as more than the one and two-dimensional views, which it views as “too individualistic and allows for consideration of the many ways in which potential issues are kept out of politics, whether through the operation of social forces and institutional practices or through individuals’ decisions” (Lukes, 2005: 28). The three-dimensional view sees power as more than just pure force and coercion and as something deeper and more complicated.

Each of these views of power has theories dealing with international relations and how states relate and interact with each other. Power in international relations (IR) is a contestable topic. For what is power, who holds the power, and what can power bring? Almost every international relations theory has unique views on power in international relations. Two different theories are the theories of feminism and the theories of postmodernism. They both have different views on what power is but in some ways are still interconnected.

Feminism is the international relations theory that is synonymous with women. Most feminists believe that “international politics is a man’s world. It is a world inhabited by diplomats, soldiers, and international civil servants most of whom are men” (Tickner, 1992: 1). Throughout history this has been the case ever since the Ancient Greeks. It was in Ancient Greece that women were relegated to the private sphere while men became elevated to political responsibilities, for “women had no role in conflict and therefore had no role in the ‘international’ relations between the Greek city states” (Grant, 1991: 14). This separation of these duties created a split in public/private sphere, a division that to feminists still exists. Feminism is known for it’s slogan that the “personal is political” which creates a bond between power relations and personal experience, but also tries to bridge the split in spheres of public/private lives (Connell, 1990: 507).

To feminists women have long been oppressed by the political world of men. Tickner (1992: 15) states that one of the goals of feminism is to “describe and explain the sources of gender inequality, and hence women’s oppression, and to seek strategies to end them”. This oppression is based on class, culture, gender, gender roles, race, capitalism (according to Marxist feminists), and patriarchy (Tickner, 1992: 15). To feminists this oppression lies within socially constructed values of gender and what gender is and what it means to be either a man or a woman. Women are characterized as being dependent, weak, emotional, passive and private. Masculinity has long been characterized with autonomy, public, rational, active, and power (Tickner, 2002: 536). The association with men and power in the public sphere is the reason for much of the oppression that women face in international relations.

Feminists understand that much of international politics, and our knowledge of it, is socially constructed- it is based in our place, time and social context. Gender and the idea of what feminism is in itself a social construction. In fact, had our history been different maybe at one point feminism would have been associated...
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