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Feminism, war and the prospects of international government - Helena Swanwick and the lost feminists of interwar international relations

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posted on 2023-03-01, 11:16 authored by Lucian M. Ashworth
From the early 1980s feminist theory has made steady inroads into IR theory. The standard view, both amongst IR feminists and other scholars in IR, is that prior to this there was little or no feminist theory in IR. Yet, there was a distinct feminist IR prior to the 1940s that had its own particular take on the problems of global order. This paper seeks to reassess the ideas and impact of IR’s first-wave feminism by concentrating on the works of one particular writer, H. M. Swanwick. Certainly, Swanwick was not the only feminist writing on international affairs in the period. She is interesting, however, both because of her earlier involvement in the feminist and suffragette movements, and because she constructed a clear analysis of the problems of security in IR. Her criticisms of collective security put her at odds with many of her left-wing colleagues, who supported military sanctions by the League. While she gave very sound reasons for rejecting so-called ‘League wars’ against aggressor states, her position in the late 1930s brought her closer to the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government. Yet, despite this, her criticisms of both collective security and the old pre-1914 international anarchy are an interesting corrective to both the realist paradigm that emerged after the 1940s and the liberal-socialist paradigm that supported a tighter League system in the 1920s and early 1930s. It is also an indication of the extent to which a liberal feminist agenda had been part of mainstream IR prior to the realist ascendancy.



Limerick Papers in Politics and Public Administration;2008, No. 2


University of Limerick, Department of Politics & Public Administration





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