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How is rape a weapon of war?: feminist international relations, modes of critical explanation and the study of wartime sexual violence

Kirby, Paul (2012) How is rape a weapon of war?: feminist international relations, modes of critical explanation and the study of wartime sexual violence. European Journal of International Relations, Online. ISSN 1460-3713

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1354066111427614


Rape is a weapon of war. Establishing this now common claim has been an achievement of feminist scholarship and activism and reveals wartime sexual violence as a social act marked by gendered power. But the consensus that rape is a weapon of war obscures important, and frequently unacknowledged, differences in ways of understanding and explaining it. This article opens these differences to analysis. Drawing on recent debates regarding the philosophy of social science in IR and social theory, it interprets feminist accounts of wartime sexual violence in terms of modes of critical explanation – expansive styles of reasoning that foreground particular actors, mechanisms, reasons and stories in the formulation of research. The idea of a mode of critical explanation is expanded upon through a discussion of the role of three elements (analytical wagers, narrative scripts and normative orientations) which accomplish the theoretical work of modes. Substantive feminist accounts of wartime sexual violence are then differentiated in terms of three modes – of instrumentality, unreason and mythology – which implicitly structure different understandings of how rape might be a weapon of war. These modes shape political and ethical projects and so impact not only on questions of scholarly content but also on the ways in which we attempt to mitigate and abolish war rape. Thinking in terms of feminist modes of critical explanation consequently encourages further work in an unfolding research agenda. It clarifes the ways in which an apparently commonality of position can conceal meaningful disagreements about human action. Exposing these disagreements opens up new possibilities for the analysis of war rape.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 The Author
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
J Political Science > JZ International relations
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Date Deposited: 03 Jul 2012 10:53
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:57

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