From margin to centre? Feminist Political Economy and International Relations at the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations in Giardini Naxos, Sicily

In 2014 we ran our conference funding for Early Career Researchers scheme for the first time. In this series of posts, some of the winners report from the conferences they attended with our support. 

By Sydney Calkin

The European International Studies Association (EISA) Conference took place in Giardini Naxos, Sicily from 23-27 September 2015. This is the 9th Pan-European Conference hosted by EISA, which is growing its reputation as an excellent forum for European IR scholars which includes a diverse range of scholars and engaging set of panels. 

The EISA conference is especially important for feminist scholars in the fields of Political Economy, International Relations, and Development Studies. The previous conference, in Warsaw in 2013, hosted an excellent set of feminist panels which sparked numerous collaborative projects and networks. This collaboration (and increase in interest in the field) was evident in Sicily, where there were four sections which explicitly focused on feminist Political Economy and International Relations. Sections on Feminist Global Political Economy, Re-thinking Sexual Violence, Beyond Social Reproduction, and Scandalous Economics addressed various dimensions of gender, sex, and sexuality in International Relations and Political Economy. This conference also saw the launch of a forthcoming volume from Oxford University Press titled ‘Scandalous Economics’ which investigates the gendered origins, impacts, and narratives of the global financial crisis. As the convenor of the Feminist Global Political Economy section, my focus was on panels and papers which examined gender, economic governance, and financial crisis. Across the work presented on these topics, five themes emerged: 1) valuing social reproduction and unpaid labour; 2) the gendered effects of crisis and global governance; 3) the relations between critical and mainstream political economy; 4) pedagogical techniques for teaching feminist political economy; and 5) the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

Numerous panelists raised the issues of social reproduction, its invisibility, and strategies for accounting for its value. Iratxe Perea Ozerin (University of the Basque Country) discussed the role of feminist activists in Southern Europe in raising awareness of the impact of crisis on social reproduction; similarly, Giovanna Vertova (University of Bergamo, Italy) introduced a framework for the analysis of financial crisis that drew attention to (among other things) the governance of the private social reproduction system in order to account for the increase in unpaid labour during times of austerity and state retrenchment. Juanita Elias and Shirin Rai (Warwick University) built on their previous work on the crisis of social reproduction to consider new conceptual frameworks to study social reproduction and the gendered labour of everyday life. 

The gendered effects of global governance of the economy and development was another prominent theme. Susan Jackson (Stockholm University) and Sydney Calkin (Durham University) discussed the growing power of corporate-led projects in development governance which often take the form of public-private partnership for empowerment and entrepreneurship. Isabella Bakker (York) addressed global governance through a critique of the gendered effects of macroeconomic governance, suggesting reforms and transformations of ideas, institutions, and power potentials in order to produce a more democratic and just order. Georgina Waylen (University Manchester) challenged the extant work on the global governance of gender, by suggesting that a feminist institutionalist lens is needed to understand the gender of global governance, or the gendered nature of the informal and formal rules that comprise the dominant governing institutions.

With regard to the discipline of feminist political economy, at the conference there was an ongoing debate about the relationship between feminist and mainstream’ political economy. While some contributors applauded the supposedly marginal position of feminist political economy (from which it can highlight exclusions and silences) others argued that the disciplines aim is to make its knowledge more mainstream and to influence other branches of the discipline to regard gender more centrally. The relationship between feminist and mainstream scholars is a long-standing source of debate, which stems in part from the (widespread, if changing) sense among the mainstream that gender isnt relevant to the study of IR or political economy. Cynthia Enloe has written eloquently about efforts to make the discipline of IR take gender seriously’ by challenging notions of what is serious’ in the study of the world. This process of course aims to change both research and teaching culture in academia. 

Pedagogical discussions also recurred throughout the conference, as participants sought to translate research knowledge into teaching practice. Ian Bruff (University of Manchester) raised concerns about the way that IR and political economy are taught within hierarchical and conventional structures that privilege realist’ approaches over feminist and post-colonial approaches. Laura Sjoberg (University of Florida) raised suggestions for tactics to teach sceptical students of the value of a gender analysis. This conversation is obviously closely related to the question of the (supposed) marginality of feminist approaches in political economy: knowledges that are relegated to the margins of the research community are consequently taught as less than or taken less seriously than mainstream approaches. 

As the conference took place in Sicily, with conference rooms looking out over the Mediterranean, the refugee crisis was a continual source of discussion and debate. On the second day of the conference, a roundtable panel convened to discuss the refugee crisis and the role of academia in responding and pressuring policymakers to act. The roundtable was prompted by an open letter to policy makers suggesting changes to the process of asylum and refugee laws in the Europe; Tiina Vaittinen (University of Tampere), one of the letter’s authors, spoke eloquently about the political climate in Europe and the need for action. In response, scholars from critical and post-colonial perspectives, including Gurminder Bhambra (Warwick) and  Zeynep Gulsah Capan (Bilkent University) analyzed the refugee crisis in terms of colonialism and inequalities. Robbie Shilliam (Queen Mary) directly and provocatively challenged the audience to consider their own complicity in normalising the on-going crisis. The roundtable panellists presented moving and critical messages which called the audience to action but also challenged the complacency of European societies in the face of profound structural inequalities that underpin the crisis (and allow for the narrative of ‘crisis’ to give a discrete temporal frame to longstanding and deeply imbedded inequalities). 

The emergence of feminist Political Economy as a major stream within the field of IR/IPE is evident in the multiple conference sections dedicated to it, as well as the feminist panels and papers that were scattered throughout other sections. Moreover, the conference helped to cement collaborative networks and produce plans for future work. The editors of the Scandalous Economics’ volume hosted a launch event after the conference, during which contributors and presenters developed strategies for maximising the non-academic impact of the volume and continuing collaborative work. 

From 2015, the Pan-European Conference will occur annually; the 10th Pan-European Conference  on International Relations will take place in September 2016 in Izmir. Section proposals are due by 25 October 2015.

Originally posted 2nd October 2015. 

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