Towards a feminist international political economy.

Author:Paterson, Ruth

To create a feminist international political economy (IPE) we must challenge both the scope and assumptions of traditional IPE. The spheres in which women are involved in the international political economy, as well as the gendered nature of international political, social and trade relations have been excluded from the study of IPE. This pervasive exclusion, in a discipline which is consciously critical and open ended, makes IPE look depressingly similar to the international relations and economics scholarship which it originally sought to critique. (1) As many feminist authors demonstrate, the theory and practice of international political, social and economic relations is strongly gendered, relying on women's unpaid, or undervalued, labour to allow men to play visible public roles as workers, diplomats, soldiers and refugees. (2) A feminist IPE would widen the scope of our study to include spheres dominated by women and to understand the gendered nature of international politics which allows the systematic differentiation between men and women to be understood as `natural'. In order to develop some suggestions for the development of a feminist IPE, I will outline what IPE is, why gender should be considered within it, and how IPE has dealt with issues of gender so far. Finally, I will consider what a feminist IPE might look like. I will suggest some new directions IPE should take in order to better represent the gendered terms in which the international political economy is experienced by people, states and markets.

IPE developed in the 1970s as a response to a number of pressing international issues that could not be adequately explained by international relations and economics. It reconstituted political economy--which had preceded the specialisation of the disciplines of IR and economics--in a modern form. IPE theorists hoped that, by taking an interdisciplinary approach, they would be better able to grasp the complex interaction of interests and events which precipitated the break-up of the Bretton Woods financial system, the OPEC oil crisis, the challenge of multi-national enterprises to state sovereignty and the difficulties experienced by development programs. Simple definitions of IPE's agenda suggest that IPE studies the relationships between "states and markets", (3) or "the linkages between the political and the economic on the one hand, and between the domestic and the international political economy on the other." (4) This nexus is understood in very different ways by the three dominant traditions of economic nationalism, economic liberalism and Marxism, and has been subjected to a wide range of interpretations. Continual debate between proponents of the three main approaches has led to a vibrant field where new methodologies and interests flourish, albeit primarily within the guidelines of each tradition.

When, in 1984, Susan Strange attempted to shape the direction of IPE research, she included "history, population studies, money, trade, technology and law" as "those elements of international political economy ... that it would be wrong ... for any would-be student or teacher to overlook or ignore." (5) Strange's definition was only inclusive in terms of its methodologies; she explicitly excluded "development economics" as "necessarily concerned with a part of the world economy, the developing countries, and not the whole system." (6) Her definition thereby denied the validity of dependency theories which had developed over the previous decade as a critique of development economics. Dependency theorists argued that, far from being unrelated, the underdevelopment of the Third World was directly connected to the development of the First World. (7) Like many IPE theorists, Strange was torn between an interest in asking "broader, deeper questions" (8) and the need to "find a way to effect a synthesis of some kind". (9) Although IPE has been concerned with adding complexity to the conceptual frameworks posed by IR and economics, and so has frequently appeared boundless, its expansionist tendencies have been countered by the desire to create a coherent discipline. While IPE has been open to a range of innovative methodologies drawn from other disciplines, its conceptual frameworks continue to revolve around the interactions of states, markets, firms, labour and capital. (10)

In order to reconcile the differences between economic nationalist, economic liberal and Marxist approaches, Strange argues that IPE needs a "greater openness about values" in order for debate to focus on the primary bones of contention. (11) For example, although each of the approaches may cite the welfare of people as their primary value, they would define `welfare' and `people' differently. Economic nationalists are concerned about security for their citizens; economic liberals hope to create opportunities for everyone; and Marxists advocate for resources for those who contribute labour to the market. In practice, however, each analytical approach sidelines the issues affecting individuals by using the states or markets as their primary units of analysis. While economic nationalist's arguments are based on ensuring the security and territorial integrity of the state over the market, economic liberals are concerned to promote `healthy' markets and Marxists look to create an alternative economic system altogether. Robert Isaak, for example, in his study of "world economic change" analyses the role that governments and businesses should play in maximising their own interests. (12) Hollist and Caporaso conclude that IPE provides a diverse range of theories on "war, uneven capitalist development, the rise and fall of hegemonic powers, social revolutions, and similar enduring phenomena that are of importance for the survival and well-being of people." (13) Thus, while people may be their primary value, within IPE, their interests are understood in terms of states, markets and grand phenomena. A feminist IPE should return people, men as well as women, to the centre of analysis.

Although IPE theorists such as Susan Strange include a wide range of theoretical approaches in their tool-box, they have consistently resisted the insights of feminism in illuminating the highly gendered nature of the international political economy. Before exploring the way that IPE texts have dealt with gender, and proposing new directions for IPE, I will briefly illustrate some of the ways in which gendered distinctions are crucial to the operations of the international political economy, historically and today.

As mercantilist theories (precursors to economic nationalism) were developing in eighteenth century Europe, the North West Company was putting theory into practice. When establishing trading posts in North America, the company explicitly relied on Native American women to provide sexual services as compensation for their men's isolated work. (14) However, sexual politics on the frontier was about more than sexual gratification. From the Native American women's point of view, their relationships with fur traders gave them significant power over the conduct of trade and relations between their people and the traders. Similarly, the North American women's families valued their intimate liaisons with the fur traders as they created familial obligations of trade. (15) Native bands could then create advantageous monopolies by acting as intermediaries between interior trappers and the European fur-traders; a lucrative business--and preferable to trapping--so long as the traders were unable to access the trappers directly. (16) For the fur-traders, the benefits of companionship and sexual gratification were augmented by the added security of becoming part of a local band. Without the skills of native women, many traders would have been unable to find sustenance to survive the harsh Canadian winters, let alone engage in trade. Native women were "remarkable economic partner[s]", and essential to the fur-trader's business. (17) By the early nineteenth century, however, sexual relations between fur-traders and Native Americans were assisting neither the profit margins of the Company, nor their imperial agenda. The obligations incurred through sexual politics were generating greater profits for the `middle-men' than for the traders. (18) In addition, their children challenged the racial distinctions on which colonial politics was based. Once the sexual politics of the fur-trade began to work against the company's interests, its policies changed to encourage white women to accompany the white fur traders to North America. It was hoped that they would provide the sexual services and companionship deemed necessary for men to conduct `business', without challenging the racial hierarchy. (19) As the fur-trade declined due to the decimation of animal populations, the companies began to establish agricultural settlements, expecting white women to reproduce and develop viable colonies. Native women had been "an integral part of the fur trade labour force, although, like most women, because their labour was largely unpaid, their contribution has been ignored." (20) By understanding the international political economy in terms of monetary transactions, women's role in the production of goods and services was and is overlooked.

Western policies of `development' and `structural adjustment', developed in the 1970s and continuing today, attempt to draw the post-colonial Third World back into the international political economy. (21) Each policy has a direct and gendered impact on the women and men of the Third World, effects largely ignored by IPE theorists. The development of agribusiness and the green-revolution in particular involved Western governments and companies restructuring entire systems of small-scale land-tenure and subsistence agriculture in the Third World, into plantation economies with the help of indigenous comprador elites. (22) By...

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