Review of Queering International Law: Possibilities, Alliances, Complicities, Risks
American Journal of International Law, 112(3), 540-543
4 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2018
Date Written: 2018
In the early 1990s, queer theory emerged as a method for investigating the role of sex, gender, and sexuality in the constitution of numerous social fields. Yet its impact on international law has been relatively recent and relatively limited. The new volume edited by Dianne Otto, entitled Queering International Law: Possibilities, Alliances, Complicities, Risks (Routledge 2017), could hardly be timelier, as the sexual contract that underwrites the constitution of liberal-democratic polities is being rewritten across the Global North, with the tide of same-marriage continuing to rise.
Rather than seeking to provide a comprehensive overview of the contents of this pathbreaking volume, the first part of the review focuses on the contributors’ distinctive understandings of the term “queer” and the ways in which it functions in their analyses of international law. The review distinguishes between analyses of international law that define queer theory broadly, as an antinormative method with the potential to question and destabilize a range of social binaries and hierarchies, whether or not they are explicitly connected to sexuality, in contrast to queer legal theorists who define their field more narrowly, primarily with reference to the subject matter they study—viz., gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities.
The second part of the review calls attention to the fundamental tension between queer theory and international law. The two protagonists of international law—the sovereign state and the individual rights-bearing subjects—are the essential building blocks of the modern liberal worldview. Operating from radically different premises, queer theory grows out of poststructuralism and its celebration of the death of the subject. In this light, is queering international law possible?
Finally, the review considers some recent strands in queer theory that might provide further avenues for using queer theory to think about international law.
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