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UBC Theses and Dissertations

What ever happened to liberal feminism? : a discussion of the contribution of libral feminism to international relations theory Sindle, Jenna


International relations, as a theoretical and practical subfield of political science, has recently been the subject of much criticism due to the apparent hostility of the dominant realist paradigm toward the incorporation of feminist inquiry. Recently, in light of changes brought about by the end of the Cold War, alternative ways of thinking and theorizing about international relations have found avenues of entry into the central debates. Despite the presentation of feminist inquiry as a coherent theoretical perspective, it is more adequately conceptualized as a fractured discourse. The prevailing interpretation of of feminist international relations theory has been captured by radical feminism to the exclusion of all other perspectives. Despite its current credibility, it is suggested that the radical critique is fundamentally limited. In seeking alternative approaches to the development of feminist international relations theory it has been suggested that a liberal feminist interpretation may provide a more adequate theoretical foundation. What is at stake in pursuing a reconstruction of liberal feminism in international relations is whether ideas such as the division between public and private space, the empirical foundation of knowledge and the gender neutrality of institutions like the division of public and private space can sufficiently represent the interests of women without being co-opted into the mainstream of theoretical inquiry. This thesis argues that liberal feminism makes only a very limited contribution to the study of international relations theory. In its predilection for continuity over destabilization and description over analysis, liberal feminism analysis fails to embrace a critical perspective on gender inequality in the international system. It is only by broadening the scope of its discussion, in understanding gender as a description of an unequal power relationship created and sustained by the structure of social, political, and economic institutions, instead of a more functionally defined inequality, that a liberal feminist perspective could be legitimately included within the scope of international relations theory, This task would, however, appear to be an inherent feature of the contradictory relationship between liberal and feminist theories and, in all probability, is a fundamentally irreconcilable tension.

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