In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Feminist Theories of International Relations

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Methodology

International Relations Feminist Theories of International Relations
Jill Steans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0044


The publication of the special issue of the journal Millennium on Women and International Relations (Vol. 17, no. 3, 1988) and the appearance of the pathbreaking book Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Enloe 1989, cited under Textbooks) marked the beginnings of the project to gender international relations (IR). There has subsequently been a substantial growth in research and scholarship, which bears testimony to the dynamism of the field. Indeed, the growth and vibrancy of feminist scholarship in IR was evidenced by the establishment of a specialist journal, International Feminist Journal of Politics, in 1999. Although there is a distinctive body of feminist literature with a recognizable international relations disciplinary focus, feminists often draw on scholarship from across a range of academic disciplines. For this reason, the indicative literature included in this bibliography includes some texts written by feminists working in other fields of study such as sociology, geography, and international law. Similarly, many feminist IR texts are useful to students studying global gender issues and global gender politics in other disciplinary contexts. Feminist IR embraces a range of approaches, which, in distinctive ways, interrogate gender as a site of power and social regulation. Feminist analyses interrogate how identities are constructed and reproduced, and how power relations and social and cultural norms, specifically heteronormative and patriarch norms, are constructed and maintained in varied contexts pertinent to international relations. In short, feminists study the difference gender makes in international relations. Often this entails embracing a normative commitment to progressive gender politics and, therefore, feminists are interested in tracking the trajectory of political and social developments that further, or conversely, impede, this project. The intellectual origins of feminist IR are rooted in distinctive traditions of feminist theory. Some strands of feminist scholarship also draw from critical work on gender identities and sexualities, including queer theory. However, feminist IR must also be seen as integral to the “critical” and “cultural” turns in IR in the 1980s; specifically, feminist IR emerged in the wake of the intellectual and political space opened up by the “fourth debate” (positivist-post-positivist debate) in IR. As such, feminists share with constructivists and critical theorists broadly conceived concern with ethical issues of exclusion and hierarchy; issues inherent in boundary-marking processes, notably the making of states and nations; and practices of “othering.”


A number of textbooks published in the 1980s and 1990s continue to serve as useful first introductions to the field. Steans 2013, Peterson and Runyan 2009, and Enloe 1989 have subsequently benefited from substantial updating and revision. Several new textbooks have been published since 2000, including Tickner 2001 and Shepherd 2009, which contain useful pedagogical features, such as seminar exercises and further readings. These textbooks are included here because they provide either an introduction to feminist international relations (IR) or offer helpful summaries of the wider literature in the field.

  • Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. London: Pandora, 1989.

    Enloe’s aim is to uncover the varied yet often invisible roles performed by women that are essential to the conduct of diplomacy, foreign policy, processes of militarization, political economy, and trade. Enloe demonstrates that women are already in international relations, but often rendered marginal or invisible in the study of IR. Her rich empirical illustrations support the central feminist claim that the private is political and international.

  • Peterson, V. Spike, and Anne Sisson Runyan. Global Gender Issues. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2009.

    Peterson and Runyan interrogate intersectionalities of gender, class, ethnicity, race, sexuality, and other facets of identity foregrounding issues of inequality and unequal power relations. They demonstrate how gendered inequalities have been reconfigured, but endure despite the plethora of recent gender mainstreaming initiatives and advances in women’s human rights. The book also covers major theoretical developments in feminist theory and feminist IR.

  • Shepherd, Laura, ed. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations. London: Routledge, 2009.

    Shepherd’s book interrogates theoretical and methodological questions and substantive debates and issues in feminist theory and gender studies in greater depth than standard introductory textbooks, thus providing an advanced introduction to the field. Contributions cover the application of feminist and gender theory to the study of security, political economy, environmental issues, conflict and violence, peacekeeping, human trafficking, and human rights.

  • Special Issue: Gendering the International. Millennium: Journal of International Studies 27.4 (1998).

    DOI: 10.1177/03058298980270040901

    A collection of articles published from the proceedings of a conference that marked the ten year anniversary of the publication of the 1988 special issue Women in International Relations.

  • Special Issue: Women and International Relations. Millennium: Journal of International Studies 17.3 (1988).

    DOI: 10.1177/03058298880170030601

    This special issue is generally regarded as a landmark in the study of gender in IR. It was one of the first publications to locate women in IR and examine the various ways in which women were impacted by and contribute to international relations.

  • Steans, Jill. Gender and International Relations: Theory, Practice, Policy. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013.

    This text provides a comprehensive orientation to gender in international relations, covering both problem-solving and critical/feminist approaches to the state and citizenship, gender, sexuality and human rights, conflict, peace and security, global political economy, development, global governance, and transnational politics. It includes a number of mini case studies of current issues, including the Arab Spring, multiculturalism, and the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Tickner, J. Ann. Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post–Cold War Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

    Tickner’s text contextualizes feminist scholarship within a discipline in which demarcations between “mainstream” and “critical” scholarship still matter, and in which feminist concerns are still apt to be cast as marginal. She challenges this construction, demonstrating how gender is core to developments in the post–Cold War political landscape and concomitant developments in the fields of security studies, human rights, globalization, and democratization.

  • Tickner, J. Ann, and Laura Sjoberg. Feminism and International Relations: Conversations about the Past, Present and Future. London: Routledge, 2011.

    Published in the wake of a number of events that marked the twentieth anniversary of feminist IR and structured as conversations among leading scholars in IR, contributors review feminist research and scholarship, highlight substantial theoretical advances and cutting-edge work in the field. They provide a commentary on parallel developments in the domain of policymaking and aim to push forward key research agendas.

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