A Feminist Voyage Through International Relations- Book review

‘A Feminist Voyage through International Relations’, is a book published in 2014 by Oxford University Press and is a collection of eleven articles and book chapters written by J. Ann Tickner between 1988 and 2011. Ann Tickner is one of the most renowned feminists international-relations scholar who is credited with creating the sub-field of feminism in international relations. The book is a portrayal of Tickner’s views on gender in international relations, along with how they have changed over time, as well as some of her reactions and criticisms of issues such as religion, imperialism, racism etc. Tickner has highlighted the importance of analysing IR epistemologies, methodologies and ontologies through gender lens for making it less male-centric and Non-Western. The book consists of introduction, three broad themes that consists of various chapters, followed by a conclusion.

In introductory part, Tickner has provided personal account of her life and career that made her interested in gender issues in international relations. She has described her journey as a child during WW2 and her experience of the effect of war on ordinary people and how these experiences helped her realize the importance of feminist understanding of war and conflict. She also described the arguments of various feminist scholars in other disciplines like Fox Keller, Carol Gilligan, and Carol Merchant which made her produce insights about feminist analysis in IR theory. She also talked about her academic career and how it helped her realise the value of feminist methodological approach in all fields which would help to bring new perspectives in the traditional IR scholarship and at the same time highlight the intersectionality of race, class, religion, etc. with a feminist approach.

Part1, which consists of five articles, gives a feminist critique of popular conceptions and theories as well as reformulation of these ideas through the feminist lens. Ann Tickner has critiqued a number of ideas for their limited and masculine framing, including peace, security, power, globalisation, international politics and international economics. Tickner’s reformulation of these concepts and predominance of men in the field of IR provides insights to the readers that knowledge is highly gendered in IR.

In first chapter, published in 1988, Tickner has challenged Morgenthau’s realist assumptions as based on objective reality and criticized positivist ways of knowing things and presented a feminist reformulation of Morgenthau’s principles. She argues that because men dominate the subject of IR, knowledge is highly gendered. Tickner first demonstrates how Morgenthau’s realism is gender-neutral and signifies autonomy, relationality, amoral behaviour, national interests, and power as control. Then, she highlights how these one-dimensional concepts are highly-gendered and highlights principles that acknowledge relationality, political morality, multiple interests, and enabling power.

She reinterpreted ideas like power and questioned why dominance was the only way it could be understood rather than coming from cooperation. She challenged the idea of security, which ignores structural violence and environmental dangers, and offered a feminist redefinition of security which introduces security not just for the state but also for people and environment.

Tickner’s feminist reformulation of Morgenthau’s realism occupies central place in IR and is one of the most popular theories taught to IR students. Her feminist reformulation of concepts like security, power, peace etc. are extensively studied by scholars.

In second chapter, which were two separate articles written in 1994 and 2007, Tickner has focussed on security and peace studies. She argued that security studies, which is a male-dominated domain, has privilege place in IR and despite the growth of feminist scholarship within the security domain, it still resists incorporating gender into its subject matter. Tickner believes that peace studies, which is often associated with women, has a long way to go before receiving the same level of respect in IR.

Tickner’s arguments in this chapter are still relevant and tremendous literature has further been produced which addresses feminist insights in security studies and relationality of women with peace studies.

In third chapter, written in 1991, Tickner has examined international political economy and its focus on economic globalization. She applied Robert Gilpin’s framework, in which Gilpin conceptualised IPE in terms of liberalism, realism, and Marxism, with individuals, states, and classes serving as units of analysis. Individuals and states, according to Gilpin, are rational beings who engage in competitive behaviour to maintain security in domestic and global economies. Tickner regards this behaviour as masculine and emphasises the invisible-economic work done by women. She also criticised the Marxist viewpoint for ignoring women’s roles. Tickner presented a feminist reformulation of the concept of IPE from the bottom up to ensure individuals’ needs near the end.

Since Gilpin’s three ideologies still apply to how we think about security and IPE, the notions in this article are still valid.

Fourth chapter, written in 1993, presents environmental perspectives on political economy. The article has explored exploitation of environment because of interaction between markets and state. Tickner has related this concept with ecofeminism which likens exploitation of environment with exploitation of women. She also argued that women are most disempowered by environmental exploitation because of their unique relationship with nature.  

Fifth Chapter, written in 2004, focuses on economic globalization and its consequences for economic security of women. She has explored feminist-analysis of globalization and the invisible consequences of globalization on women. She has described how roles of caring and reproductive work have been naturalized over time and how this division of labour in society has legitimised less wages for women. Tickner believes this ‘masculinised’ notions of globalization could be broken when traditional roles of men and women are broken which would further change the roles in institutions. She has also emphasised benefit of globalisation, i.e., improved communication for women, which has expanded social movements at local, national, and international levels.  

The concepts introduced in the last two chapter are worth reading since environmental problems and the consequences of globalization have become more pressing issues these days.

Part2 consists of essays that debate problems related to methodology and post-positivist discussions in the domains of feminist studies and international relations. Tickner has exposed methodology as highly patriarchal and emphasised the value of feminist-analysis within traditional-positivist subject of IR.

First article deals with engagements on methodology with various scholars. Tickner has described how despite various feminist IR approaches, traditional IR scholars, especially, in USA do not take them seriously arguing that these approaches lack empirical research and analytical mindset. Ticker identified three misunderstandings in regard to feminist place in IR: misinterpretation of meaning of gender by traditionalists; non-recognition of different realities and ethnographic, narrative, cross-cultural and other methods that feminist thought relies on; and misunderstanding that feminist thought doesn’t rely on theory.

In Second and third article, Tickner addresses those who pick up the methodological debate. She criticized quantitative research methods and highlighted the difficulties in collecting data and involvement of politics in it. She presents four features of feminist methodology: incorporation of women’s experiences to design research, challenging core assumptions through gender lens, engaging in reflexivity, and producing knowledge that helps in solving problems and transforming structures within existing power structures.

Tickner’s criticism of quantitative approaches has evoked debates within feminist IR scholars doing quantitative research. But later, she acknowledges the importance of quantitative work but still remained doubtful regarding its potential to support the feminist theories she has been constructing. Various feminist IR researchers have started to disagree with Tickner’s perspective on the topic of quantitative research, the problem has not yet been resolved.

Part3 of the book consists of three articles which mentions about contemporary issues such as 9/11 attacks, religion and IR’s understanding of its own history. Tickner has discussed how to understand and respect diversity, as well as how to facilitate talks across difference. Tickner’s focus has expanded to cover various types of religious difference, fundamentalism, race, and the colonial history of international relations (IR). She has discussed the shift in IR ontologies, example, that the foundations of the global order lie not only in Westphalia, but also in history of postcolonial studies, religion, imperialism, genocide, etc.

First chapter talks about 9/11 attack and presents a feminist analysis of the event and showcases how Occidentalism is taught in madrassas and western nations are seen as object of hate and accused of moral decadence. Yet people are promised sexual rewards after their spiritual death for the cause. She also brings forth the connotations of gender-negativeness through words of politicians and theorists. The article describes Afghan women as victims and shows how feminist analysis exposes and questions these stereotypical gender representation. The articles conclude with three generalized lessons: gendering of war and peace constraints women’s opportunities; women wear the burdens of religion and culture; and women’s gains from war may not last longer.  

In Chapter 10, Tickner showed IR’s inability to fit religion into its conventional explanations of war and begins to explore how methodologies used by feminists might help explain religious motivations. She has focused on ‘dialogues, hermeneutics and reflective’ approaches as a method to gain insight and knowledge favoured by feminists and with mainstream IR.

In last chapter, Tickner has highlighted how West has covered knowledge generating from other parts and feminist postcolonial voices and opines that knowledge is seriously hampered by “power of hegemonic knowledge structures”.

Tickner’s identification of different ontologies and methodologies in IR is still relevant because it highlights knowledge from position of those living at margins and investigate their silences and absence.

The book’s conclusion discusses feminist marginalisation in IR, IR feminist quantitative methods, and the future of feminist IR scholarship both inside and outside the field.

The feminist insights provided by Tickner are very forward looking and have great relevance in feminist IR literature.It has enabled researchers to understand the importance of using gender as an analytical tool and bluntly brought out gender-neutrality of concepts, methodologies and ontologies in IR and at the same time reformulated them in a gender-sensitive manner.

Although the book might be difficult to comprehend for young scholars trying to understand gender analysis due to presence of enormous theoretical perspective, specially, in last part of book. But, overall, the book is highly satisfying and has aptly captured the arguments and debates in feminist approach to IR. The book being a collection of an intellectual and personal journey of a renowned academician, J. Ann Tickner, who transformed the journey of traditional IR theory to feminist lens of IR, is worth reading.


A Feminist Voyage Through International Relations. By J. Ann Tickner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Liza Gupta
Liza Gupta
Liza Gupta is a student currently pursuing Masters in Diplomacy, Law and Business from O.P. Jindal Global University. She is fascinated about the Kashmir issue and the gender issues and wants to pursue doctoral studies in the subject.