Feminism and Constructivism: Worlds Apart or Sharing the Middle Ground?

  • Citation: Birgit Locher, Elisabeth Prügl, "Feminism and Constructivism: Worlds Apart or Sharing the Middle Ground?," International Studies Quarterly, Volume 45, Issue 1, March 2001, Pages 111–129,
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • feminism in international relations
    • feminist constructivism

The discipline of international relations (IR) is witnessing a “constructivist turn.” In this article, we argue that the new preoccupation with constructivism provides a unique opportunity to further understanding between feminism and the IR mainstream. Feminism and constructivism share a commitment to an ontology of becoming that can serve as a common basis for conversation. Yet there are also profound differences between feminists and constructivists. First, most IR feminists approach gender and power as integral elements in processes of construction, whereas most constructivists consider power to be external to such processes. This failure to conceptualize power and gender as social and pervasive leads constructivists to miss an important part of the empirical reality of power politics. Second, constructivists tend to ignore the implications of a postpositivist epistemology, whereas for feminists the question of “Who knows?” is crucial. We argue that the constructivist failure to problematize the research process as a social (and therefore political) process of construction is logically inconsistent with an ontology of becoming. We introduce empirical materials to illustrate the advantages of feminist approaches. We hope to advance a dialogue between feminism and constructivism because the two approaches add to each other and in combination can yield better theoretical and empirical understandings of the world.

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