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Home arrow History arrow The Art of World-Making: Nicholas Greenwood Onuf and his Critics


Laura Sjoberg

In Nick Onuf’s “Constructivism: A User’s Manual,” he suggests, “Constructivism is a way of studying social relations - any kind of social relations” (1998, 58). Sexuality theorists Ann Pellegrini and Janet Jakobsen (2005, 432) argue that “sex is a social relation out of which people can, in their practice of sex, create values along with pleasures, intimacies, kinships, and also pain, sadness, and sometimes loss.” With or without this description, I think it would be largely uncontroversial to contend that one could study sex and sexuality with a Constructivist orientation, and that there are productive research questions that could be gained from taking a Constructivist approach to the queer in global politics.

For example, it might be useful to think of sex rules as mediators between people and society, the way Onuf talks about rules more generally There might be productivity in identifying the ways that sex rules are related to agent’s practices, and the ways in which, in global politics, there is governance by and governing of sex, sexuality, chastity, normalcy, and the like. It would be interesting to examine the relatively consistent but never fixed nature of sex rules and related practices, or to inquire into the co-constitution of sexual agents and sexual structures in global politics. Thinking of the ways that sex rules led to states of sexual rule, form institutions, and form societies might shed light onto the rule systems that exist in global politics more generally, and the state and nature of sex rules. Each of these research directions would be, of course, a significant undertaking in itself; individually and collectively, they might be thought of as research programs that explore the contributions of a Constructivist orientation to understanding sex and sexuality in global politics.

While those inquiries would doubtless be both fruitful and engaging, this discussion looks to take a different direction to think about the ways in which a “queer” ethos of IR might contribute to Constructivist theorizing. David Halperin

(2003, 340), in thinking about what queer theorizing is and how it does its work, describes it as a project which both

hoped both to make theory queer (that is, to challenge the heterosexist underpinnings and assumptions of what conventionally passed for “theory” in academic circles) and to queer theory (to call attention to everything that is perverse about the project of theorizing sexual desire and sexual pleasure).

(2003, 340)

This short piece, then, hopes both to make Onufian Constructivism queer and to queer Onufian Constructivism. It starts by talking about what it would mean to queer IR. It continues to discuss two contributions that queer theorizing might make to how Onufian Constructivism frames the process and constitution of social construction. First, it suggests that queer theorizing about gender construction can help rethink the stability of both rules and rule in global politics, and reveal some of the violences of the assumptions of stability and categorization. Second, it discusses the ways in which thinking of the social as seductive might enrich Constructivist notions of the social. The piece concludes with considerations about the politics of the move of “queering” IR Constructivism.

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